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Mt. Holly Historical Society opens church room exhibit

Sep 19, 2019 10:48AM

Erin Ball-outgoing MHHS President, and Garrie Brinkley cutting the ribbon on the new church room exhibit. Photos by Janice McRorie

by Janice McRorie

The Mount Holly Historical Society formally opened its newest exhibit on churches in the Mount Holly community on August 27, 2019.   This coincided with the Annual Meeting where the last year’s progress was reviewed and new board members were elected.  Erin Ball, Archie Huffstetler, Sarah Springs and Annette Williams are completing their terms as board members.  Will Crist, Tina LaBorde, Gloria Mack and Phyllis McConnell were elected to three year terms.  Garrie Brinkley will serve a two year term.

Think back about what life was like here in Mount Holly in the mid-1800s.  Gaston County had formed from Lincoln County in 1846.  The Mount Holly Cotton Mill (still standing today) opened in 1875.  Mount Holly, changing from the village of Woodlawn, became an incorporated town, formed by the NC Legislature in 1879.  And yet, there were very few churches.  That’s not to say there was no religion.  Thousands of Scots-Irish (many who were also Presbyterian) came to the American colonies because the King of England attempted to force them to join the Church of England.  The Potato Famine of 1845 sent many Irish Catholics to the colonies, seeking places to live and raise their families.  The First and Second Awakenings led to growth in the colonies for the Methodists and Baptists.  German Lutherans settled by the thousands in Pennsylvania and New York, eventually moving to the south where land was more abundant and less expensive.  Regardless of the denomination, families brought their religion with them.  As Mount Holly grew, there was an increasing desire to gather with those sharing similar religious beliefs.                     

Mount Holly was officially formed in 1879.  At that time there were no formal church buildings within the town limits.   Some local congregations met in a  store near the site of the Mount Holly Ice and Fuel Company, taking turns using the building.  Some families traveled to churches in nearby communities or gathered with other families in their homes.  As Mount Holly grew, the townspeople decided to build a church.  All agreed that the new church would be dedicated, and deeded to the denomination that paid the most money towards the church.  It was also agreed that all denominations could use the building for their services.  No records exist to tell us how the building was actually used.  The Lutherans, led by A.P. Rhyne and Ambrose Costner, raised $460 and therefore would own the building.  The lot was donated by A.P. Rhyne where the “Union Church” was to be built; where the Lutheran Church is today.  The Union Church, as it was known, was completed in 1881.  There are no photographs or sketches of the building, but Mrs. J.A. Costner, know as Aunt Gertie to many, said this in a 1976 interview.  “It was just a wooden building; looked sort of like a house over a river or something like that – if you have seen those covered bridges – looked like a covered bridge.  It had two aisles, three rows of seats and just plain windows.  It was awful – but awful plain.  One side of the church was for men to sit, and the other side was for women.  Courting couples or married couples that wanted to sat in the middle aisle.  I know the organ was down there in front of the middle aisle.”  

That organ, by the way, is in the MHHS Church Room.

And now a bit about the churches in our area, 61 congregations and 21 cemeteries have been documented.  These can be found on a map in the exhibit.  There are several large items worth mentioning in the exhibit.  The church pew came from the First Presbyterian Church.  The stained glass windows “may” have come from the Lutheran Church in downtown Mount Holly. The ceiling light fixture also may have come from a local church but that has not been confirmed.  The altar was contributed by Father John Hoover, who retired to Mount Holly several years ago.  He used it as a traveling altar and donated it, the crucifix on the wall and all of the alter items, including a Bible from 1874.  The organ came from the Lutheran Church.  It was the original organ for the church, purchased in the 1880s for $86.   

Churches in Mount Holly have certainly grown in number and size.  The First Presbyterian Church was an extension of Goshen Church over in North Belmont.  Goshen started in 1764 and First Presbyterian started here in 1891.  For a short time, the church used the Goshen name.  The Ebenezer United Methodist Church dates back to 1790s, maybe as early as 1764 although that date has not been documented.  The downtown Methodists started in 1883, building their first church in 1890.  The First Baptist down South Main was started in 1890, sharing a minister with Hickory Grove Baptist.  Two African American churches date back to the 1860s, just after the end of the Civil War.  Both Mt. Sinai Baptist and Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Zion are still operating today.  The Catholics started their Mount Holly church, St. Joseph’s, on Highway 273, built by Irish gold mine workers.  Completed in 1843, it is the oldest Catholic church in the state still standing.  The building there is the original structure.  It was the fourth Catholic Church built in NC.

Every church has a story and the exhibit tells it. There are three notebook binders on the shelf in front of the windows full of written materials provided by the various churches. The video screen has at least one photo for every church, and many photos for some.

There is always room for more artifacts, photos, etc. so please share items with the Society as you find them.

The Mount Holly Historical Society is open every Saturday, 10am to 1pm.  The next general meeting will be held Tuesday, September 24, 2019.  It will be held at the Evangelical Church of the Good Shepherd (110 S. Main St., Mount Holly).  The program will be about the Lutheran church and its Mount Holly history.