Our Avery County: Avery County’s oldest house of worship
Michael Hardy / (email@example.com)
The oldest surviving log cabin in the United States is the C.A. Nothnagle house in Gibbstown, N.J., constructed ca. 1638; the oldest timber frame house is the Fairbanks house in Dedham, Mass., constructed in 1637; the oldest church in the original 13 colonies is St. Luke’s Church, constructed in 1632 in Smithfield, Va.
Of course, nothing in Avery County, structure wise, is quite that old. The earliest home still standing in Avery County is thought to be the Wilkins cabin in Plumtree, which dates early- to the mid-19th century, according to “A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina.” There might be pieces of an earlier structure hidden away in some larger dwelling.
But what about our places of worship? Where is the oldest church building in Avery County?
Many of the early churches in our area have similar histories. They were either started in someone’s home, or in a one-room, dirt-floor log cabin schoolhouse. The first church established within the confines of present-day Avery County was probably Pisgah United Methodist Church, between Three Mile and Linville Falls. John Weaver was reported as pastor of this church in 1834. By 1840, the members were meeting in their third building. However, the beautiful stone building that now graces the property is not that building. The current building was dedicated in 1951.
There were three Baptist churches in Avery County that appeared on the minutes of Roan Mountain Association in the early 1850s: Three Mile, Lynville and Cranberry. None of those three churches still exists; all of them were discontinued before 1870. Big Meadows Baptist Church claims a founding date of 1845. Various log structures served the church for various decades. The current building was constructed in 1948 or 1949.
Probably the third oldest congregation in modern-day Avery County is that of Pine Grove United Methodist Church. According to a history found in one of the Avery County heritage volumes, local residents were meeting in the area in the 1850s, possibly before.
The current building in use by Pine Grove United Methodist Church was constructed in 1878. Pine trees on the property were floated down the Toe River to James Wiseman’s mill, where they were milled and then returned to the church site by a horse-drawn sled. The church was constructed with the help of many locals, including McAmy and Bale Wiseman. While there have been many alterations over the years, such as additional classroom space and a fellowship hall, the beautiful interior of the sanctuary remains surprisingly original.
Other churches built buildings as they could – usually frame structures that were eventually replaced in the 1960s and 1970s. There seemed to be a rush of new church buildings in the 1920s, with the congregations of Aaron Baptist, Altamont Methodist, Arbor Dale Presbyterian, Crossnore Presbyterian, Mt. Pleasant Baptist, Pineola Baptist and Pineola Presbyterian all constructing new buildings that survive until this day.
The church buildings that grace our valleys and mountainsides are some of the most beautiful buildings in Avery County. Whether they are built of stone, wood, block or covered in bark, they are also some of the most important buildings in Avery County, a testament to the people who gave of their time and often limited resources to construct the cornerstones of their various communities.
Information regarding early churches in Avery County is an ongoing research project. If you have additional information, contact Michael Hardy at (firstname.lastname@example.org)