Monthly Archives: March 2012

Churches and Emptiness Slideshow 1

“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness:”

Psalms 96:9. KJV


The hymn you will hear playing at the beginning and the end of the video is “When We See Christ”. It is being played by my school teacher and friend, Rhonda Farley, when we visited Whittico Memorial Presbyterian Church in Keystone on March 3, 2012. Thank you, Mrs. Farley, for encouraging and supporting me since the beginning of this project and for being a part of it.








Churches and Emptiness Part 7

To conclude from last week:


Whittico Register

While riding through Keystone, we saw a church across the tracks. From the way it looks outside, we thought that it was probably still in operation. As we got out to look at it, a man was walking across the tracks. There was a very large chain in his hand and a very large pit bull at the end of it. Introductions were made, but I did not catch his first name. I do know that his last name is Young. I told him about the project and asked him if he knew who I could contact to get inside to take some pictures. To my surprise, he pointed to himself! He said that he would go get the key and be right back.

When Mr. Young returned, he opened the door and allowed us to go inside. As we went in, I asked Mr. Young if the church was still operating. He said that it had been closed for a few years now, as there were only five members.

There were several items that were covered with sheets and he removed those so I could take some pictures. The first thing that I look for when I enter these closed sanctuaries is the register board. I want to know how many were in attendance during that last service. This is the first closed church that I have been in that the register board is still hanging on the wall. That was the first picture I took. Then I read it. I read that there were only five souls that attended the last service held in this church. Five — the number of grace.

Farley Piano

We all started looking around the sanctuary. Buddy started looking at all the furniture, Mr. Farley found some newspapers articles lying on the front bench, I was snapping pictures, and Mrs. Farley went straight to the old piano. She attempted to play a hymn, but the piano is very out of key.

There was another piano on the opposite wall, so she went to that one. This one sounded far better than the first. She chose the hymn, “When We See Christ”. She sat down and started to play. Everything got really quiet as we listened to the music. There was not even a train to go down the tracks. I have heard this lady play the piano many, many times. That day, though… it was different. As I videoed her playing, my thought was that this was probably the last time that piano would be played in reverance in that old Presbyterian church. I am so glad that she played it one more time.

After she finished the hymn, we began to look at the articles Mr. Farley had found. Those were a treasure! They were specifically about the church. The title of the paper was The Observer. I asked Mr. Young if that had been an insert in the Welch Daily News. He said that he thought it had came from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, but he wasn’t sure. I would love to have a copy of it.

Whittico Presbyterian

There was a little table set up in between the pews on the right side of the church. There were a few books with pictures and biographies of people who had attended the church. There were also some old bulletins. I asked Mr. Young if it was alright if I took one and he said it was. There was another one that had a man’s picture on the back of it and he said I could have it, too. That man, was Mr. Matthew Thomas Whittico. I’m not sure if Mr. Whittico had built this church, but it does have his name on it — Whittico Memorial Presbyterian Church. Mr. Whittico had purchased a newspaper after he had moved to Keystone. The name of that paper was the McDowell Times. I would love to see one of those newspapers. Mr. Whittico is the man who thought of McDowell County’s slogan: “The Free State of McDowell”! Besides being rich in coal, McDowell County is rich in history. The town of Keystone being one of the richest of all.

After we left Keystone, we traveled up Northfork Holler. There are a few churches up that way. Many are still operating and some I’m not sure about. We did find one that we knew wasn’t operating as the door was wide open. It is located in Ashland. The name of it was Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church. We were a little hesistant about going in as we looked at the condition of the vestibule. Of course, I reminded Mrs. Farley to let Buddy and Mr. Farley enter first!

Mt. Carmel Inside

As we went in, we noticed that there wasn’t much to see. This church had been robbed by copper thieves. The ceiling was torn down and insulation was thrown everywhere. I stood at the door and took pictures as I was untrusting of the floor. No register board in this forgotten church. The church covenant, however, is still on the wall.

Buddy walked in and went into a back room. He found some old church certificates and a document that listed the conduct required of a deacon. He told me what he had found and asked if I wanted them. There was no point in leaving them there in the building. I brought them home and preserved them. Certain things (church documents, church buildings, and the church itself) should be preserved.

Mt. Carmel Outside

“Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God; arise therefore, and build ye the sanctuary of the Lord God, to bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and the holy vessels of God, into the house that is to be built to the name of the Lord.” 1 Chronicles 22:19 (KJV)

Something is horribly wrong. We are not doing as we were commanded. We are not building sanctuaries to the Lord. We are letting them die. A building, whether it be a church or home, is much like the body of a person. When the body (building or home) quits being nourished by the flow of blood (parishioners or dwellers), the heart (the will) stops beating. The Soul (Christ, life) then departs. And then…. decay.


I am thankful for that day spent with Mr. and Mrs. Farley (I can not bring myself to call them Cotty & Rhonda — it just doesn’t seem right. Plus, old habits die hard). Even though I didn’t feed them the whole day and I’m sure they were starving (so sorry I didn’t feed y’all!), I hope they will go with us again sometime soon. I have promised to feed them next time!


Copyright posts & photos: Renee Bolden


Churches and Emptiness Part 6

The sixth day of our adventure was on Saturday, March 3. This day was going to be a little different than the others. My childhood teacher, Rhonda Farley and her husband, Cotty, were meeting us to go “church hunting”. Mr. Farley is a little familiar with the county, but Mrs. Farley had only been there a couple of times. I wasn’t exactly sure where to go that day, but I thought we wouldn’t go too far as they had already traveled a ways to get there.

We started out at Carswell Holler. We saw a few churches that were still operating, but decided to go to the one at the beginning of the holler named, Carswell Holiness Church. As I pulled up to it, I got a little nervous as the road is very narrow. We had experienced bad thunderstorms the night before, so there was a stream of water running down the road, also. There was no where to park, so I had to leave the Tahoe in the road. As we got out, we had to step in water.

Carswell Holiness Church

Buddy checked the door and it was locked. I was disappointed as I could tell from the outside that this was an older church and would be a good one to see inside. We asked a man who lived next door if he knew who we could contact to let us inside. He told us the man’s name and informed us that he was currently fixing it up. I took a few shots outside, and we all looked around to see if there was a window we could peek in. We saw one that looked like a small Sunday School room, but we could not see the sanctuary.

Buddy backed the Tahoe down the small hill as I was a little nervous about going in reverse on that narrow road. We headed south on 52 towards Langraff.

The next church we stopped at was Masks Chapel Church of God. The first thing we saw were beer bottles right beside the back door. What a horrible disgrace to a house of the Lord. Whether a church is operating or not, people should have respect for what is or what it once was.

Buddy checked the doors and they were also locked. Due to the evidence outside, I was somewhat relieved that they were locked. Maybe the people who had been drinking didn’t have access inside, after all. Buddy found the cornerstone and I took a few pictures. There wasn’t a whole lot that we could see as this church sits very high.

Masks Chapel

We went down the road a tad bit and came to another church named “Wingfield Baptist”. I parked beside the road and we walked across. There are stairs from the church that lead down to the highway. We started the long climb upward. In some places, there were some difficulties as the stairs had some weeds and debris in the way. Once we reached the top of the stairs, there was a small “tub” to our left. I thought maybe it was a cistern. Facing us was a door that led into the basement of the church. The sign above it says, “Palmers Pioneer Center”.

Wingfield Baptist

There were a few more stairs to climb, however, to reach the front doors. When we walked around the left side of the church, there was a small alleyway and doors that led into the sanctuary. The first thing I noticed was that they were filled with buckshot. One door had been shot from the outside and the other from the inside. Again, I was amazed at the lack of respect. Someone had put a board on the doors to keep them closed and prevented us from entering. As we started down the stairs to leave, we noticed that a window was out. We were able to peek into the sanctuary, through a small room where the window is located. Inside the sanctuary, I saw a sign that was above the pulpit. It read, “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism”. I wanted a picture but there was no way to get one through the window. As always, my mind wondered what had happened that these doors were closed and even more so why they had been shot. Was the latter part just an act of vandalism?

This church is very large. There is a beautiful window in the back of it. The sad part is that it won’t be there long. There is part of it that is ready to crash to the ground. Mr. Farley pointed out the architecture and design of it. When these churches were built, they were built beautifully. Not only were they built to be a house of the Lord, but also a monument.

Buddy found the cornerstone before we left and we were able to find out the name of the church and the building date. Buddy always looks for a cornerstone. If there is one to be found, he finds it. Genesis 28:22, “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”. KJV

As we left, Mr. Farley said that he thought the “tub” at the stairs was actually a small baptistry as there were small steps that led down into it. After talking to my aunt Audrey, she said that she thought it was a baptistry, also, as she could remember that a church in Langraff did have a baptistry outside.

From there, we went to Eckman. There are not many people left in Eckman now and no one lives in the holler anymore. There is a small church on the hill there, though. I am unsure what denomination it is as I failed to get a picture of the sign that pointed the way to the church. The only thing I remember was that it said, “Trinity”‘. At first, we thought this church may be closed? We noticed a window had been broken and was boarded. After peeking through the window, it looks as if church may still be held there. The outside looks decent, a new coat of paint would improve it dramatically. Mr. Farley pointed out the beautiful workmanship of the building.

My mom told me that my aunt Sylvia used to attend that church, so I may be able to get some contact information from her. If anyone reading this has some information on it, please let me know.


From there, we went through Keystone and Northfork. As we waited for the train to pass, I noticed that one of my oldest friends in the world — Tanya Asbury Sarver– was sitting behind us, waiting also. Tanya’s grandpa had passed away that week and they were on their way to his funeral at Burke Baptist Church. I was unaware that his services were being held that day. I can remember Mr. And Mrs. Asbury always being in attendance at Burke Baptist Church when I visited there. Although I know it is heart breaking for their family to see them go (as she passed away last year), they have reached their goal. They are walking on those streets of gold with their Savior!

Pen Ridge

After we talked with Tanya, we traveled up Burke Mountain. I was looking for the old Burke Baptist Church. I have only been there a couple of times and that was years ago. We were unable to find it, but we did find Pen Ridge Old Regular Baptist Church. This church is well kept and services are still held there. I love the location of this church. Being up there on top of that big, old mountain makes me feel like I’m on top of the world and that much closer to the Lord! I told Mrs. Farley that if there was one place I could live in the county , it would be on top of a mountain!

We went down the other side of the mountain, back into Keystone. I was getting disappointed as we had not been able to go inside any of the churches we had visited. Lucky for us, though, that was getting ready to change.

The next church we visited is in Keystone. It is currently closed, and we got to go inside. However, y’all will have to read next week’s post for more!


Copyright posts and photos: D. Renee Bolden

Churches and Emptiness Part 5

The next day of our photo adventure was on February 18, 2012. This day it was Buddy and me. The original plan that day was to go to Wilcoe. Buddy had other plans as he wanted to go to Bishop. I said, “Well, let’s go up Skygusty and then to Wilcoe.” He insisted that we go to Bishop since we were in Skygusty and so close, so we did.

Little Zion

We got to Bishop and looked around for the churches. The first and only one we saw on the West Virginia side was Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church. This church is still operating. I took a few outside shots as a reminder to come back to it this summer. I have to say that I love the burgundy color of the doors on this church. Something about these churches with the red doors or colors in the red family appeal to me. Those bold colors on those doors make the church more inviting for some reason. The sign next to the church said the pastor is Reverand Joseph Moore, Jr. I will have to contact him later for some inside pictures.

We left Bishop and started back towards Skygusty, but decided to take a detour into Brewsterdale. Now, I had never been to Brewsterdale, but Buddy had with my cousin Sam. That had been four years ago and Buddy couldn’t remember how long it took to get there or if a church was there. We went up a graveled road to the top of the mountain. Then we went down the mountain, and then down the mountain some more. I was amazed at how long it was taking us to get there. I had figured it was just a little holler like all the others. I was wrong.

It took us a good fifteen minutes to see the first structure in Brewsterdale. There stood a beautiful, little white church framed against the mountain on top of a hill. We didn’t go to the church right away. We rode around to see if there were any more churches, but we did not see any. We drove up to the church and could see how well kept it was. We knew before we drove up to it that it was still operating. There is a picnic shelter over to the left side of the road and the sign on it read, “Welcome to The Church of Jesus Christ of Brewsterdale”.


To the left side of the church is an old cemetary. As I posted in a previous blog, I love to visit cemetaries and this one was no exception. We saw a small chain on the gate that went directly into the cemetary, but we decided we better take the stairs that led up the mountain as the cemetary kept going up the mountain, also. The good thing is, halfway up the stairs, they have a bench for you to rest! I thought that was wonderful. Later I learned that the chain we saw had just a small clip that opened for you to walk through. We are not very observant at times.

Buddy went up the mountain and looked around up there, while I walked back down. It looked as if there were newer graves on the top and older ones on the bottom. There were several older graves. There was one that stood out. It was the one with the tallest headstone. It reads, “Maria C. Brewster Born May 3, 1883 Died June 13, 1903 Age 20Y. 1M. 4D.” Then at the bottom, in large letters, it says, “BREWSTER”. Of course, I wondered what happened to Maria and if she had attended this little church. I’m sure the church was there when Maria was living.

We looked around a little more and I took a few more shots. I loved this little community. I told Buddy that I could get used to living in a place like that. No worries, or traffic. I would enjoy it there. We left our Brewsterdale adventure, knowing that we would be back.

We crossed the mountain once again and arrived in Skygusty. The first church that we came to was the Church of Jesus Christ. The sign said that the pastors are Ronny and Kathryn Marrs. This church is also operating. I took a few outside shots but had to be careful. The church sits extremely close to the road and I had to listen for traffic.

Church of Jesus Christ

The next church we came to is a little church. It has been closed for several years. I remember going there once, about 25 years ago. At that time, it was a Baptist church. Before it closed, however, it was the Church of Jesus Christ. Many years ago, this little church was a schoolhouse.

I took some outsidside shots as we presumed that the door was locked. As I got closer, I noticed the padlock on the door, but something didn’t look right about it. What wasn’t right was that it was open. I motioned to Buddy, who was in the Tahoe, to get out. Of course, we all know that he had to enter first. He had just took the lock off the door and pushed it open when a car pulled up. A woman got out and asked if we wanted to see inside. I told her that we did. She explained that this was her family’s church and that her cousin owned it.

She went inside with us to show us around. In the back is a small room that has a lot of things stored there. One thing I noticed was a sign that said, “The Honor Roll”. There were names listed on it and what branch of the military they had belonged in. The frame is getting water inside, and I could only see part of the names.

Old Church Skygusty

There was a small altar at the front of the church and the woman explained that her mom had made it and put the crosses and the words “Jesus Saves” on it. She told us that her cousin had wanted to fix the church up but it was going to cost too much money. I suggested that he try to register it on the record of historical buildings as it had also been a school. After a little bit, she told us that she had to leave but we were welcome to stay as long as we liked.

While taking pictures, I noticed a vine growing through the window and down the wall of the church. Of course John 15:5 came to mind: “I am the vine, ye are the branches:” That verse goes on to say, “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” The Vine would be at all of these branches, but they are empty. Therefore, there is no fruit.

The word sad doesn’t even being to explain the emotion that I feel when I visit these closed churches. Another church with a steeple, but again, no people.


***I want to know your thoughts as you read.  Please comment!  Thanks!***

© Post & photos:  D. Renee Bolden

Churches and Emptiness Part 4

The fourth day of our adventure was on Sunday, January 29, after church. I really didn’t want to go that day because of where we had to go. Buddy insisted that we go, anyway, so that it wouldn’t be a wasted day. I reluctantly agreed.

We were at Mom’s, and we didn’t have to go far. Not even a mile up the road. We were going to go to the old Pageton Methodist Church and the other church that was down the track. I wasn’t sure what kind of denomination the church down the track was, but I do remember people going to it when I was a kid.

The reason that I didn’t want to go that day was because to get to these churches, we had to cross a bridge that was built by the railroad years ago. This said bridge is raised high over the Tug River. I was really hesitant in crossing the bridge…….so, Buddy went first. He volunteered to go, I didn’t twist his arm or anything.

Buddy went across and told me that the bridge still seemed very sturdy, as it is built from railroad ties. He said just to walk on the beam and I would feel a safer. As I crossed the bridge, I noticed that I felt safer on it than the stairs that led up to it. Years ago, the bridge used to cross the road that goes to “The Street”. (Pageton has one street. It is therefore called, “The Street”.) I remember the bridge going across the road, but I guess they shortened it for fear of it collapsing on someone as they went under. I’m not sure about that, just a guess.

After I bravely crossed the bridge, I noticed on the other side, there was a sidewalk. My first thought was, “What? A sidewalk!?” Why would there be a sidewalk on the other side of the river right beside the railroad track? Seems a little crazy.

Pageton Methodist Church

The Methodist church is right there as you cross the bridge, so we didn’t have to go far. I have yet to get the details, but this church hasn’t been closed that long. We went up the steps to see that the door had been left open. We walked into a small vestibule that had a bookshelf against the back wall that has some books in it and some scattered on the floor. To our right was white swinging doors that led into the sanctuary. We went in. Even though I had lived in Pageton all of my life, I had never been in this church. There were some pew pads that were in the floor. The piano was against the back wall, next to a window. On that back wall, is a design of woodwork that is simple, but beautiful. Looking back through the sanctuary, there are stairs in the middle that lead up to a small loft area. There are some odds and ends stored there. On either side of the stairs, while in the sanctuary, are small rooms with curtain doors. Also, in the back of the sanctuary, to the right, is a smaller room that had a couple of steps leading to it.

While I was in there, I kept thinking, this little church would make a great community room. A place where the elderly and the young alike could go to have some kind of classes, play games, or just talk. There is so much potential in these older buildings that is just wasted.

Pageton Methodist Church Front

I noticed something strange while in there, however, and that was that there was a few holes in the wall. I wasn’t sure why that had happened. Looking up, we could see that the roof was leaking as there were stains and the boards were beginning to fall down. Again, I felt such sadness at the sight of this little church. Just forgotten.

However, for this little church, I don’t have to wonder where the people have gone. They are now using the church that is on the main stretch of road that was once used by the black people in the community. Most of them have moved away and the people of the Methodist church started using their church as access is much easier.

We walked around so we could see the front of the church and I could photograph it. As I was looking around, I realized why there were holes in the walls of the church. The power meter had been jerked out. Someone was looking for copper.

Pageton Methodist Bell

We saw the bell that is still standing to the right of the stairs as you go up to the church. It is kind of hidden by brush, but we could get to it. I told Buddy to ring it. He asked, “Why?” I said, “Let’s just freak some people out by hearing the church bell again.” So, he rang it. Then a thought came to my head, “What if we had someone at each of these churches, closed and operating, one Sunday, to ring the bell? Just to let the people hear that the church is still there!” I think that would be so awesome.

We had another church to go to. Like the Methodist church, I had never been to this church. This church, though, it is special to me. This church inspired this whole project. I have been looking at it for over a year, wanting to go photograph it. Today, it was going to happen.

I was a little more apprehensive about going to this church because it was a ways down the tracks. Plus, we were in a place that was very difficult for anyone to get to us if they had to. Then I thought about animals….especially coyotes. At that point, I realized I had left my gun in the Tahoe. I would have felt much better with that pistol in my pocket! (Don’t worry! I’m legal. You just never know what you might come upon, especially in these old buildings.)

Buddy assured me that we would be ok, especially with all the noise we were making. Then began a most difficult task. It was not easy as walking down the tracks, as I had pictured in my mind. Those tracks have not been used in over 25 years, or more, which made for a very difficult path. There were trees and briers and weeds everywhere! Buddy went first to find the easiest route possible. There were a few clearings, but not many. I’m not sure how long it took us to get to that church, but I know it was awhile. Once we got there, though, we had to back track. There was no way to get up to it! It sits on a hill behind the track and the hill is straight up and down. We went back to where Buddy said it would be easier to climb. When I was a kid, I loved playing in the mountains! To go up a mountainside, was no big deal. Now, that I am 35 years old, and not able to move like I used to, it was very difficult. Buddy literally had to pull me up rocks that were moss covered, as I could not climb up them. I thank the Lord I married a strong man.

Once we got to where we were going, there was a little stream that was coming down the mountain. Once we turned around from the stream, we were standing above the church. I was totally amazed. I had an idea what it looked like as I could see it from the road. Being this close, though, was totally different. The front wall of that church is standing. The doors are there with a lock on them. There are two windows there, although they have no glass. There are stairs leading to the locked doors, but in very bad condition. The sanctuary is now in the basement of the church. It has totally collapsed, and the old thing left standing is that front wall that is painted blue and white on the inside.

St. John Baptist Church

Buddy found the cornerstone. There are two names on the cornerstone. While facing the church, that one says, “St. John Baptist Church 1950 Pastor Rev J.B. Evans”. The one on the side of the church, right beside that one says, “St. Joseph A.M.E. Zion Church 1950 Pastor Rev C.W. Ferguson”. Unsure of what the name actually was, we looked up the stairs and there above the doors were stickers that said, “St. John Baptist Church”. Again, I wondered at where the people went. Here’s their church, what is left of it.

St. John Cornerstone

Do you remember when you were a kid and you made the church with your hands and said, “Here’s the church, and here’s the steeple. Open it up and see all the people.” Here are the churches, and here are the steeples. We open them up, but there are no people.

As I looked at this old Baptist church, I cried. This church is not as old as mine. I thank the Lord that my little church is still there and operating. The Lord has really blessed it.

Over to the right, we saw some old outhouses, and a stone wall. I asked Buddy if he thought it had been a house or maybe another church? He looked at the stones facing down the track, as the other church faces down the track, to see if there might be a cornerstone, but didn’t find one. I took a lot of pictures and told Buddy that I wanted to take my time as I would never be back there. He, however, rushed me as it was getting late. It was already 4:30 and we were on the backside of that mountain and it was getting cold and a little dark.

We had to travel that difficult path again. It was very difficult to get to that church, but that was our goal.

Jeremiah 18:15-16 says “Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head.” Our county, state, and nation has forgotten the ancient paths. That is why our churches are empty — our country is on a path of destruction.

Jeremiah 6:16-17 says, “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.” There are few that are walking in the old paths and attending church. There are few that are hearing the sound of the trumpet, or the church bell that it is time to worship the Lord.

My prayer for our country is this: Psalms 25:4 “Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths.”

We finally got back to the bridge and again I noticed the sidewalk. Very strange to have a sidewalk here, I thought again. We crossed the bridge and went back to Mom’s. I called Dad to come look at my pictures. He explained the sidewalk. There used to be a train depot there! AHA! Sidewalk mystery solved. Then he explained the stone wall. There used to be another church there, but it didn’t face down the track, it faced the other church. Dad said that St. John Baptist Church used to be operated by white people and the one with the stone wall was operated by black people. When the white people left, the black people tore their church down and used the white people church, which is what is barely left standing.

I had told Buddy that day that I would never be back to those churches, and that I would never put myself through what I had went through that day, just to get a picture! But…..I have to go back. There’s a picture I missed and I want to make sure I get it. All the way back down that difficult path to St. John Baptist Church.

© Post & photos:  D. Renee Bolden

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