Old St. Paul's Lutheran Church

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Old St. Paul's Church Catawba County's Oldest By Far

By Anne Huffman(copy of June 6, 1970 article in Hickory Daily Record)

The year 1702 is the earliest birth date on a grave marker in the Old St. Paul's Lutheran Church cemetery west of Newton. Born of sturdy German Palatinate stock, these early settlers founded the oldest church in what is now Catawba County. They had been persecuted in the old country by Catholic sovereigns, had traveled to the New World in search of religious freedom and land, had found the farming area filled in Pennsylvania, and finally had made the arduous trip by wagon down the Shanandoah Valley of Virginia to the virgin wilderness of this Catawba frontier.

Having been peasants and small freeholders in Europe, they mistrusted settlements and choose to continue their farming customs in this fertile Catawba River Valley. These stolid pioneers brought with them their German Bibles and hymnals. Protestant Lutherans and German Reformeds, they built their church and shared it on Sundays, even heard the same pastor on many occasions. Circuit rider ministers visited Old St. Paul's, and it was to become a rest stop for settlers on their way across the Blue Ridge into the West.

Love and Tragedy
Tied in with the faith of these simple people were all the love and tragedy common to the wilderness and the hardship which they faced made them even more religious. Their story is told in the Old St. Paul cemetery. Here are, the records on ministers dying serving their congregations, of wives and mothers who died in childbirth, of men worn away by the erosion of labor and of the children reaped by the Angel of Death before they had the opportunity to join the community as participating landholders.

Old St. Paul's was first called the Dutch Meeting House and was already established when George Washington was at Vallery Forge and when Lord Cornwallis crossed North Carolina in his flight from the Southern colonies. Its parishioners fought the British and took part in the birth of a new free nation.

Crude Cabin
The earliest recollections of the church among the records of the church indicate that there was a crude, one story log cabin between two white pines that was used as a house of worship as early as 1733. This log cabin was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. A new building was erected in 1757. In 1808 this structure was taken down and rebuilt, using the same logs and home-made nails. This time the building was ceiled and weatherboarded, and is the same structure that is still standing today.
Mrs. Doris Boaz, wife of a former minister of St. Paul's, relates this story:

It was about 1861 when a Colonel Hildebran became angered to the point of murder by the escape of one of his slaves, a big burly Negro. The colonel traced this runaway to the church, where he found him crouched between the pews and is said to have killed him on the spot. The blood stains are still there, it is believed.

Custom Followed
An old German custom was followed, with the men and women seated on different sides of the church. The slaves were in the balcony, and had to climb single file up the stairs. The minister climbed the high, narrow steps to the pulpit, which was originally in the center of the church. Over his head was an old sounding board, which it was believed, would fall on the minister if he spoke a lie.

War heroes of every major American war lie in Old St. Paul's cemetery, including the American Revolution and the War Between the States One epitaph reads:

"Twas thus when far, yea, far away
To camp disease he fell a prey,
No relative was by his bed,
No mother's hand to raise his head"

The land on which Old St.Paul's stands was deeded to the church in 1771. Eleven acres were given by Paul Anthony and his wife, Frony, to the two churches "Lutarin" (Lutheran) and the "Presbytarian" (Reformed), and to their heirs forever, to be used for religious purposes only and for no other purpose whatsoever. It was signed by Paul Anthony, and his wife, Frony, made her mark.
Among Ministers
It is known that a Swiss minister named Rev. James Martin, a member of the German Reformed church, preached at Old St. Paul's in 1757 to an established congregation. The firat resident minister, Rev. John G. Arndt, (1772) was a Lutheran. Stipulated in the call to the ministers was the point that the preacher would have a sermon one Sunday every month in both German and English, and that he would conduct classes regularly in the old meeting house.
In the early 1900's members of the Reformed congregation moved to Startown. Old St. Paul's Lutheran congregation worshipped in the old building until 1952, when they moved into the modern building across the road. Old St. Paul's is now preserved as an historic landmark in Catawba County and as a symbol of Christian faith.


At 7:56 PM, Blogger Trina said...

I have family buried here. Thanks for the story


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