Monthly Archives: February 2012

Churches and Emptiness Part 3

Morning Star Baptist Jenkin Jones, WV

The third day of the project was me and my aunt Audrey on Sunday, January 22. We decided to stay within the Jenkin Jones, Anawalt, Conklintown, and Leckie area. We started with Jenkin Jones first and rode up to the old company store. We looked around in both of the Pocahontas Fuel buildings and the craftsmanship of both buildings is amazing. They don’t build anything like that anymore. In a way, I wish there was time travel. I would love to see things in McDowell County as they once were when coal was king.

The first church we stopped at was Morning Star Baptist Church. There is a road that leads behind the church, but there is a large ditch in the road and Audrey was afraid I would mess up the Tahoe going around the road. We got out and decided to walk up the steps — the many, wooden steps. Audrey went first and I very cautiously followed. The good thing is, if one of the steps were to break, the ground was about a foot underneath, so injury would be minimal….hopefully.

Morning Star Sign Jenkin Jones, WV

Once at the top, we could see that this was a fairly large church. Those stained glass windows in the front are very tall. I was really excited in hoping that we would get to see inside. Audrey tried the door, but it was locked. We thought that maybe someone uses it for storage, as it doesn’t look as if church services are held there anymore. The paint is chipping on the walls and the road and stairs aren’t maintained. I took several pictures, and tried to get a good shot of the bell that is still in the belfry. I love those old bells. Audrey looked to see if there might be another door opened, but the back door was locked, also.

We cautiously descended the stairs and I took a picture of the sign that is by the road. The only word on that sign that is complete is “Church”. Like the word on the sign, that church building is still there. The Church, however, … is gone. Again, such sadness and the same wandering thought: “Where did they go?”

Clinton Chapel Jenkin Jones, WV

We went down the road, not even a quarter of a mile, to the next church which is Clinton Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church. This little church looks well kept and the door was locked, but we were unsure if services are still held there. I took a couple of photos and we left. I think we now have a contact that may be able to let us in to take some inside shots and give us some information about the church. Is this light still burning for the Lord?

Down the road, “just a fer piece”, is a church that is now being ran by another church from North Carolina. It is now called “The King’s Closet”. They bring in clothes and food and hand them out to whoever needs or wants them. I was told that after the pastor of this church died, the parishioners would attend church and listen to the pastor’s tapes that he had left behind. They worshiped this way for years. I’m unsure of why they decided to close the doors, but they did. The church had the name of the pastor: “Wylie Davis Baptist Church”. This is a picture of the way it looked that Sunday we were there.

The next church we stopped at was the little Methodist church on the school road in Anawalt. This little church doesn’t have services anymore, but is used as storage. It does have a sign on the front that says, “Hope Chest”. Where did their hope go that the doors had to close?

Anawalt Methodist Anawalt, WV

Jenkin Jones, Anawalt, and Leckie used to be full of people and things to do because of coal. That’s why all these churches are here in the county — coal. People came from everywhere to mine coal and established these churches for worship. Those people got coal in their veins. While the heart of the county was beating like a drum with every piece of coal that left the mines, the soul of the county was somewhat Spirit filled. Everyone knows the history of Keystone. Although, there were and are churches there, too. “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” John 1:5.

McDowell County’s coal filled blood is still flowing. It is barely being pumped by the heart that is trying to be mined, despite objections and stipulations. In order for us to keep going, we have to mine that coal because we can’t survive without it. But what is a body without a soul? “And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” Luke 4:4 As man can not live by bread alone, we can’t live by coal alone. We need the Spirit here with us, to feed us from heaven, just like in the old days when coal was king.

McDowell County needs to look to the One who gave us coal in these mountains that we love. He is the only One that has the answers we need.

*Update: Wylie Davis Baptist Church was also known as Jenkinjones Southern Baptist Church.

*Note: I did not photograph the churches in these areas that are still operating. I will come back to those this summer.

© Post & photos:  D. Renee Bolden


Churches and Emptiness Part 2

The second day of church searching began with the blessing and privilege of attending church.  Buddy was unable to accompany that day, but I had two eager project enthusiasts ready to go with me.  That would be my Mom (Caroline Mitchem), and my aunt (Audrey Goins).  They were both very excited to go and couldn’t wait to get going.

I had decided to go to their childhood neighborhood:  Big Four.  The Gordon Family (who are all listed in a previous post — “A Tribute and A Sister”) were all raised in Big Four and their family home is still there (although not lived in presently and in need of repair).  My aunt Audrey told me that my Granny (Laura Gordon) used to walk them over to the Methodist church across the river and that is where they would attend church.  That was our destination.

There was a very small underpass here, also.  This one is a little bit wider, but not near as tall as the one in Gary.  I would have been EXTREMELY nervous if there had been a train coming or going at that time as it would have been just a few feet above us as we went through the underpass.  Those of us from the county know that Big Four is Norfolk & Southern Main Line territory.  The trains haul coal (or whatever else) as fast as they can move on the Main Line.

We went through the underpass and took a left turn.  After going down a small dirt a short distance, we saw the little white church.  From the outside, it looked like it was in rough shape.  I was disappointed as I really wanted to go in this little church with the red door.

My first thought was that Mom or Audrey would stay in the Tahoe with Emily, as I would not allow her to get out.  I was, of course, wrong.  Audrey said that she wanted to see, and Mom said she had better check the steps and look inside.  Being the big chicken I am of rats and bats, I agreed.  My Mom deals with rodents way better than I do.  (As I run and scream like a little girl.)  Audrey was looked in the basement while Mom went up the stairs.

Mom said the steps and porch looked ok, but not to step inside.  The floor is starting to pull away from the door frame, so not a good idea to step in.  While Mom stayed with Emmie, who was watching a movie in the Tahoe, I went to take some pictures.

Big Four Methodist Church

I cautiously went up the steps and onto the little porch.  I tried to open the door, but it would only open halfway.  I looked to see what the obstruction was and there sat a piano.  Almost all of the closed churches we have visited have one piano, but a few have two.  It would be a good idea if these old pianos could be harvested from the churches, tuned up, and given to some kids who want to learn to play.

I had to keep my foot in the door to keep it open so I could take some pictures.  I noticed the other piano on the right side of the church.  The roof and wall has caved in somewhat around it.  I took some pictures of that piano and looked around.  I noticed the pews.  They were wooden with slats and painted white.  What a sweet, little church this was, but so, so sad.  My Granny sat on those pews.  I wish I could have walked in, looked around, and sat on one of those pews and imagine a church service there.  My Granny passed away in 1968 — 8 years before I was born.  And this little church is where she worshipped the Lord.  I wanted to see that.  Again, the sadness, but for me, more personal this time.  My mind questioned again — where have all the Lord’s people gone?  The houses of worship are empty.

I took as many different pictures as I could, which was quite difficult while keeping my foot in the door and not stepping on the floor or door frame.  Finally, I decided to leave.  After I walked down the steps, my aunt Audrey took her turn.  She remembers going over there to church with Granny when she was a little girl.  I took some outside pictures of the little church with the red door and we decided to leave.

Another verse that keeps coming to my mind when I visit the closed churches is 2 Chronicles 7:14:  “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  Our land, McDowell County, West Virginia, and the USA, needs healed.  Whatever religion, or non-religion, that you may be, you can not deny that fact.  Our country is in bad shape right now.  The Lord gives us 4 commandments in that verse to heal our land:  humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our ways.  Then, and only then, will our land be healed.

After a drive on Kimball Hill, we decided to go to Belcher Mountain.  If I ever moved back to McDowell County, Belcher Mountin is where i would want to live.  I love being on top of the mountain! There are two ways to get there. One way is to go through Maitland, then up the mountain.  The other is a scenic one lane road, from route 52 outside of Kimball,  that curves around the mountainside. I chose the scenic route, which made Mom very nervous.  There are no guardrails on this little road and if you meet an oncoming vehicle, you are both in trouble.

Elkhorn Regular Baptist Church

We got to the top of the mountain and drove out to Elkhorn Regular Baptist Church.  According to the front of the church, it was founded in 1854.  This little church is still operating and from what I could see inside is very nice, and it has that little, old country church feeling to it.  (That’s the kind I like!)  I took a few pictures outside, but I need a contact person to get inside.

Mom, Audrey, and Emmie decided to walk down to the graveyard while I drove the Tahoe.  That little graveyard is very special to us, as that is our family cemetery.  Call me crazy (which many do), but I love visiting graveyards.  I don’t think that I have ever been anywhere as peaceful as that little graveyard.  We looked around a bit and decided to leave.

We drove out to the airport.  We walked the runway, looked around in the old hangar, and decided to call it a day.  I enjoyed the time spent with my daughter, my Mom, and my favorite aunt.

I wish that I could have know my Granny.  Today is her birthday and she would have been 96 years old.  This day, however, is an extra special day. Our family was blessed with the arrival of my great nephew — Aaron Wayne Church.  He is brand spankin’ new and will forever share his birthday with his great-great Granny — Laura Scarberry Gordon.

© Post & photos:  D. Renee Bolden

Churches and Emptiness Part 1

I have recently started a photography project. My goal for this project is take photos, inside and out, of every church in McDowell County, West Virginia. Whether or not the church is operating does not matter. My concentration right now is on the closed churches, as I’m not sure how much longer some of those buildings will be standing. I want to make sure that I capture them before they collapse. My hope is that this project makes a difference to someone, anyone.

The first day that the project began (which was January 7, 2012), my husband, Buddy, went with me out of curiosity and to “hold my hand”, literally. I am scared to death of rats and bats (which are just flying rats) and am very sure that there are some that live in these old buildings.

Conley's Chapel Gary, WV

The first church that we decided to go to was Conley’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church behind the Bantam in Gary, WV. Buddy and I had noticed for quite some time that the steeple was no longer on this church. We thought because of deterioration it had fallen. Later, I learned that was not the case; it had been stolen for the copper it was made out of. We drove up to the church and I photographed the entrance while Buddy walked around to the back. We did notice that the shingles were starting to slide off the roof, which we decided made it a little dangerous to be walking around. Buddy found the cornerstone and I photographed it and then we decided to give the stairs a try. Of course, Buddy went first and looked inside the door. Unfortunately, what he saw was not good. There is an old piano sitting in the vestibule and the doors to the sanctuary are open somewhat so that we could peer in. However, we thought it was too dangerous to go beyond the vestibule as we could see the ceiling had fell inside the sanctuary. I took a couple of photographs and we decided to go. As I took a few more outside, I felt such sadness for this church. My first thought of sadness was for the building. What was once a beautiful place, is now standing in ruin. Then, I thought about the souls that once worshipped the Lord there. Where are they now? Conley’s Chapel is now just an empty building that will soon be just a memory.

Filbert Methodist Church

The next church that we visited was Filbert Methodist Church, which is located up Gary Holler. It’s a little white church that is beside a large house on a hill as you go into Filbert. We drove by the houses that are on both sides of the road and only inches away from it. At first, we weren’t sure how to get to the little white church, and then guessed at a road that we thought was a driveway. We drove behind the large house and the road continued behind the church. It’s a typical, little country church. In my mind’s eye, I could see the former parishioners gathering every Sunday at this little church. We did not see a cornerstone, so I am unsure of the age of the church. We were not sure if it was closed or not because the outside is in really good shape. I tried the doorknob and the handle turned. Buddy walked in first and checked everything out and then I went in. After we went in, we knew for sure that it was closed. There are no pews. The floor is beautiful hardwood and the windows have purple stained glass. It looked as though the roof may be leaking somewhat as parts of the floor looked as if it had been wet. It was evident that animals had been in there. The bell is still in the belfry as the rope is still hanging down in the vestibule. I took a few photos inside and then we decided to leave. Again, sadness. What a beautiful little church. Where are they now?

Upon leaving Filbert, we went up #8. There are a few houses that way and at the end is a coal loadout. As you pass the houses, you can see the old coke ovens that are still in the side of the mountain. At the end of the row of houses, there is a church there. I don’t know the name of it. There is no cornerstone, nor anything inside that said the name.

After taking a few photos outside, we tried the doorknob. Like, the two before it, the door opened. Upon stepping in, the first thing that we saw were red stairs that led up to the sanctuary. On the left of those stairs was an old chair lift. As we walked up the stairs, to the right were stairs that led down to a basement room that looked as if it had been used for a Sunday School class. We stepped into the sanctuary and saw that there were pews still there. Most of the pews had names on them. There was “King Harvey Family”, “Alfred Francis Family”, “Cumy Bell Lawrence Family”, “Roscoe Mathew Family”, and the “Tolliver Family.” In the back of the church, was a small balcony.

As I took pictures of the pews and the piano, Buddy said, “You have to come up here and see this.” He was standing behind the pulpit. I said, “Why? What is it?” He said, “You have to see it.” When I went up there, I saw what he was amazed about. Lying there on the pulpit was a Bible. It was open and, of course, dust covered. I immediately took a few pictures. The Bible was opened to Psalm 56 – 58. I told Buddy that maybe it was meant for us. I picked up the Bible, and checked the cover and the inside for a name. Just like the church, the Bible had no name. I had hoped maybe the pastor or someone had left us a clue to the last parishioners or the name of the church. There was no name to be found. We looked around a little more. Before we left, I again, for the third time that day, felt sadness. This little church immediately became special because of the opened Bible. This church seemed as if the people had been there and just disappeared.

Kyle Chapel

That night, at my church (Long Point Missionary Baptist in Spencer Curver), preacher Donnie Farmer, Jr, preached on Psalm 58. We did not get to attend that night, and my Mom was so excited to tell us about it.

I still don’t know the name of this little church. If anyone that reads this does, please let me know. The building seems sound except for the wall where the piano is located. There seems to be a leak there as the paneling was starting to peel.

We were enjoying our adventure and the little bit of history that we were seeing and decided to go look for some more. Back in the day, Gary, Elbert & Filbert were BIG towns. I’m sure there used to be more churches there than what are left now.

Before we got back to Gary, I saw a white church on the hill across the bottom. We drove down there and I asked someone who lived there how to get to it. We found the way and what a way it was. There was a very small underpass that we had to drive through, and a turn that immediately turned left and and a turn that continued up the hill. We took the left turn and came to the church that I saw. We were unable to get very close to it as there was a large ditch that had been dug behind it. I took a picture of the outside. The name of the church just said Metropolitan. A friend told me that he had seen the cornerstone on this church and it was early 1900’s. This is one church I will have to visit again.

When we left the Metropolitan Church, we took the turn that led up the hill. It was a small road, but it had a view. You could see Gary Bottom, the Catholic Church, and the Gary District High School that was closed in the 1960’s. We found another little church on this road that is still in operation. I do not know the name of this church and it will have to be revisited for some inside photos. (Update 2/7/12: Known now to be Apostolic Temple Church).

From here, we drove back through the very small underpass and came out by the old Gary District High School. I had never been there before. That is a blog for another day. On the other side of the school stood Rock Hill Baptist Church.

Rock Hill Baptist Church Gary, WV

According to the cornerstone, Rock Hill dates back to 1903. This church is still in operation. I have no other information on it than what was listed on the cornerstone. I took several photos outside and then we left. That church, also, will have to be revisited once I find out who the pastor is and obtain permission to take photos of the inside.

The Bible says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Where are the two or three that used to be there? Why did they give up hope? What happened to their faith? Is it simply because of the population decline in the county? Or is it the population decline in God’s people? As we visited these empty churches, I had one verse that kept going through my mind: Psalms 9:17: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” Have we forgotten God? Where is He in our lives, county, and nation?

This project has become more to me than just taking pictures of old buildings. It is a history lesson, an adventure, and I hope for it to be more.

* Update: A name for the church in Gary (on the hill on the right after going through the underpass) is Apostolic Temple Church. Many thanks to Jayne E. Callahan for providing the name.

**Update: The Church at #8 is Kyle Chapel Church — name provided by Clifton Moore. Many thanks to Clifton Moore for the name.

(These photos for the blog will look much better in the finished project.)

(Note: I write as I talk. I know the correct word is “hollow”, but those of us from McDowell and Wyoming counties know the correct pronunciation is “holler”!)

© Post & photos: D. Renee Bolden

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