Saturday, February 14, 2009

Old St. Paul's Lutheran Church

Old St. Paul's Lutheran Church is located in Newton, NC and is said to be the oldest church in Catawba County. While the congregation now worships in a newer building, which was built in the 1950s, the older Old St. Paul's still stands. The beautifully historical building was built in 1818, by a young man of only 18 years old. His name was Henry Cline and he built the church in just six short months using hand hewn logs and handmade nails. I was shocked to learn that this church seats 250 worshipers. There are two levels, with a wonderful old staircase leading to the gallery for the slaves of the members. Laura Anne Harrison, a current member of the church who is writing a book on the history of this wonderful landmark, pointed out to me the various differences of seating in the church. While the slaves were seated upstairs, the women, girls and very small children sat on a different side of the church than the men. The pews on the "women's side" are slightly different than that of the men. The back of the women's pews were open in order to accomodate their bustled dresses and their pews also had foot rails. The foot rails provided a way for the mother to comfortably hold her child on her lap during the very long service.

The church interior is absolutely breathtaking. The wonderful pulpit is up a few stairs, making it easy to see from the lower and upper seating areas. Above the pulpit is a strange looking item, called a "sounding board". The old rumor was that if the pastor told a lie, that sounding board would come crashing down on him.

A church this old is bound to have a ghost story or two. The most famous story is about a slave owner and his runaway slave. Legend says that in 1861, a Colonel Hildebran tracked one of his escaped slaves to the church and found him hiding in the upper level of the church. He shot and killed him right there in the church balcony.

A winding staircase takes you up to the balcony, where blood stains on the floor tell the story of the slave who died in the church. Some have claimed to hear the old organ still in the church, playing at random times. Colonel Hildebran is said to have died mysteriously several years later, at the young age of 32.

Old St. Pauls has a lovely cemetary, with the oldest grave marker belonging to a German gentleman born in 1702. The marker is inscribed in German and states, "Here lies in peace our beloved Abraham Mauser. He was old". These earliest markers are made from soap stone, are handmade and oddly enough, still very legible. The cemetary offers its own haunted look to the church, with many broken markers laying about. Some markers were so tiny, one can only assume they belonged to children. Many of the markers date back to before the Revolutionary War and as I walked through the cemetary, I was reminded of all the local men who perished in the Civil War. It is a humbling experience to see so many men who passed away in their 20s and 30s as they fought and died for what they believed in. It is very hard not to wonder about the lives, and deaths of those buried beneath the wonderfully historic soil. Anyone who has a free Saturday should travel to Newton for a tour of this beautiful church and its wonderous cemetary. It is truly a step back in time. Take it from me, you will not want to leave.

I would like to thank Rev. Paul Christ
for allowing me to view this lovely church during a time of year in which they normally do not do tours. I also want to express my gratitude to Laura Anne Harrison, who provided me with pages and pages of information on this church I grew up so close to, but knew so little about. This project reminded me that the southern hospitality on which this church was built, and for which its members died, is still very much alive.