Author Archives: Renee Bolden

About Renee Bolden

I thank the Lord for saving my soul and giving me His unspeakable gift -- the gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift." 2 Corinthians 9:15. I thank Him also for the ability to take photographs and the means to complete each photographic task. Without His guidance, I could not accomplish anything. I pray that my work will reflect Him. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." I Corinthians 10:31. I am married to a wonderful, supportive, and loving man. He has encouraged me to begin taking photographs and has faith in me that I will succeed. I have a nine year old little girl who is my life. A hug or smile from her thrills my soul. She is such a special person to everyone she meets. My family and friends are a huge encouragement to me. They have all allowed me to take photographs of them and their families and assisted me in gaining a lot of experience. I love taking photographs. I love the reaction of my subjects when they see my photographs. Not only have I given them something to remember and cherish, but they have given me the same.

Mt. Zion AME Church

On Saturday, February 16, Buddy and I were traveling to Kimball on route 52.  As always, we were both searching for a church that we had not visited.  As we crossed the bridge at Eckman, I said, “Hey, that looks like a church over there.  I’ve never noticed it before.”  Buddy insisted that he had told me it was there.  If he had, I didn’t remember.

After our visit to Kimball, we traveled to Vivian.  While at Vivian, I took some shots of the old Vivian Grade School.  We had been down there last summer with Elaine McMillion, who was filming for “Hollow”.  Everything was so grown up at that time, however, that we could not see the school very well.  Buddy and I found a side entrance that was easy to get to, but we did not go in.  Not because he didn’t want to, but because I am a chicken when it comes to old buildings.  I know they have been standing there for years, but today might be the day they fall.

After taking a few shots of the grade school, I took a few more shots of the Peerless Coal & Coke Company Store.  My Granddad, Eltrue Gordon, had worked for them at some time.  That fact alone makes that old, burnt, falling down building a part of my family history.

We then drove to Eckman.  As we always do, we “discussed” how to get to the church.  I always say, “Let’s go this way”.  Buddy always says, “Let’s go that way.”  Of course, since I am driving, I always choose my way first.  (I don’t like it when I have to turn around and go the way he said, but it does happen more often than I like to admit.)  On this day……I was right.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV Window

We pulled up to the church and the first thing we noticed was all the trash beside of it.  Looking at the church, we noticed how bad a shape it really is.  The roof on the left side is partially gone.  From viewing it on the outside, we were unsure if we would be able to go in.  I walked up to the window and said, “At least I can peak in and get some shots.”  As he always does, while I am repeating words of warning, Buddy ignored me and walked in the wide open door.

He came back out and said, “It’s ok, you can come in.”  I said, “Are you sure?”  He always gets aggravated at this time.  The time when my OCD kicks in and I require complete reassurance….once, twice and sometimes three times.  He calmly says, “Yeah, I’m sure.  Come on.”  I slowly and cautiously walked into a vestibule.  The first thing I did was look up for a bell.  I could see nothing but a wooden ceiling.  At least I would hear the bell before it crashed onto my head.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME Church, Eckman, WV, Vestibule

I walked into the church  more cautiously than I did the vestibule.  The whole time, I was gripping my camera in front of me.  This way, if a human or animal lunges at me, I have a defense.  The defense of shooting them first. Essentially, taking their picture BEFORE they harm me.  Laugh if you must….go ahead.  I know that you are.  I can hear your laughter before you read this.  However, this is truly how I enter these falling down churches or buildings.

The first thing I noticed in the floor was a piece of gold Christmas garland.  You know the kind.  The kind that we have all used in Christmas plays when we dress the kids up as angels.  My first thought was this:  “Was their last service a Christmas service?”  I started looking at the roof and the ceiling.  I noticed a ceiling fan whose blades are completely drooped down, as if it is in complete despair.  There are a few wooden pews over to the right.  Two of them are upright while one has a leg missing and the other is laying on it’s back.  To the left is another pew against the wall and an old cabinet that has hymnals and papers strewn all over the floor in front of it.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV, Sanctuary

Buddy was up to the front looking around.  There is a book laying on the altar that was a hymnal.  There is another book that is laying on the banister.  It has been purposefully laid there as if someone is coming back to take it home.   When he saw that book, Buddy said what he always says when he finds something unbelievable.  “You’re not going to believe this.”  “What is it?”, I said.   “You got to get a picture of it.  It’s a Bible with ice on the cover.”  He opened the cover to search out a name.  There is none.  Completely soaked through with ice on the cover, it is completely ruined.  It’s laying under a part of the roof that is halfway gone.  I took a few pictures.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV, Bible

Buddy started toward the back of the church and I followed.  There is some more garland laying on a step that leads to the back.  There is a wall that partitions the front of the church to make a little hallway to the side.  Towards the back, we could see a restroom that had a shower.  To the left before the restroom is another room.  This room has a piano.

The piano, like the Bible, sits in that room like it is waiting on someone to return to get it.  It is turned towards the door, as if it could watch for someone to come pick it up to take it home.  The light from the window behind shone on the top and back of it.  I took a few pictures of it, and went back to the sanctuary.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV, Piano

I took a few more shots of the Bible laying on the banister with debris all around, the pews that were left, and the falling in roof.  While alone in the room, I cried and said aloud, “Why, Lord?  I just don’t understand.”

I keep telling myself that population decline is one reason our churches are empty, am I lying to myself?  There are 22,000 people in McDowell County, enough to fill the open AND the closed churches.

As were leaving through the front door, we noticed it was starting to snow.  After taking a few shots outside, I went back in to attempt a few shots of the snow falling.  I said, “Can you make them a little bigger, Lord?”  And wouldn’t you know it, they got a little bigger.  I couldn’t hold my camera well enough, though, to take a good shot.  Before we left, I asked Buddy if we should take the Bible with us.  It didn’t seem right to leave it there, but then, it didn’t seem right to take it, either.  It is still there.

“And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.”  Exodus 25:8 KJV

I wish I could show you the snow falling through that church roof.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV

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Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Powhatan WV

© Renee Bolden

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Powhatan, WV

The first church I was able to visit this year was Sacred Heart Catholic Church, located on route 52 in Powhatan. Emily and I went on Thursday, January

10.

Sacred Heart was dedicated in Powhatan in 1895, making the church 118 years old! The land was donated by the Crozer Coal and Land Company. Sacred Heart will celebrate their 100th parish anniversary next year, as they became an official parish in 1914.

Mr. Jim Copolo met us there to give us a tour. We walked up the many stairs to the front entrance and into a vestibule. I did not notice the stained glass windows in the vestibule doors at first; however, they are beautiful. On each one, there is an angel. Under each angel is a dedication. The one on the left says: “In Loving Memory of Annie Fortuna Brant By Her Family”. The one on the right: “In Loving Memory of Giustina B. Simplicio By Her Family”.

Sacred Heart is deeply tied to the McDowell County coalfields. Mr. Copolo brought my attention to the stained glass window in the back of the church to the right that says: “Donated by J.J. Tierney and Family”. J.J. Tierney was president of the Crozer Pocahontas Company and Powhatan Coal and Coke Company. Tierney had also been a partner of Jairus Collins, one of the Bramwell millionaires. On the other side of the church is a window that bears the name of L.E. Tierney. L.E. Tierney was Treasurer of the Elk Ridge Coal & Coke Company, President and General Manager of Eureka Coal & Coke Company, and Treasurer and General Manager of the Powhatan Coal & Coke Company. These two men donated these windows to Sacred Heart, and were a great influence to the coal mining of our county.

© Renee Bolden

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Powhatan, WV

We walked up a small set of stairs that led to the balcony. On the balcony is an organ that sits in front of another beautiful stained glass window. From the balcony, one can ring the church bell and look out over the sanctuary.

The sanctuary has been enlarged and remodeled as the years have passed. There are two long rows of wooden pews. To the right, at the front, sits a piano and organ. To the left, are the prayer candles and then a small chapel. An entrance to the small chapel leads to the back of the church, which is handicap accessible. At the front is the altar. On the altar is a beautiful picture of the Lord’s Supper. On the back wall is a stained glass window of the Sacred Heart. Beneath the window hangs a large wooden crucifix, carved by hand in Vietnam.

Because our visit coincided with the Epiphany of the Lord, the church’s Christmas decorations were still present. There was a nativity scene in front of the altar, as well as Christmas trees on either side.

© Renee Bolden

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Powhatan, WV

Mr. Copolo showed us the rectory that is attached to the church and the fellowship hall underneath. The fellowship hall has a large room for dinners and gatherings, a kitchen, and rooms for the children for religious education classes.

It is evident that the people of Sacred Heart genuinely care about their beautiful church. As all churches in McDowell County have experienced a decrease in attendance, Mr. Copolo told me that the church started praying. As a result of those prayers, the church is once again growing! Parishioners who had to move out of the county due to the flood, but are

© Renee Bolden

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Powhatan, WV

close enough to attend, have remained loyal to their parish. During the flood, Sacred Heart was able to deliver food prepared by Sacred Heart of Bluefield to those in need in the county. Because there were so many displaced after the flood and in need, Sacred Heart was a blessing to those in the Powhatan and surrounding areas.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.

Thank you, Mr. Copolo, for the tour and history of your beautiful church.

**Note: God answers prayer. There are a couple more churches in McDowell County that I am aware of that are growing, also!


Review of 2012 Churches

“This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine”…….

On January 7, 2012, Buddy and I started this adventure of visiting the churches in McDowell County, West Virginia. Unfortunately, we did not get to visit as many as we would have liked. We still have many more to go.

This is what I have seen….in reality and in my mind’s eye.

All of the houses that we passed to go to one of the churches are standing. The houses are occupied, lights are on everywhere and the community is filled with life up and down the streets and rows! We are prosperous.

First Missionary Baptist ChurchKimball, WV

First Missionary Baptist Church
Kimball, WV

McDowell County is supplying the nation with coal, as we ARE the nation’s coal bin! Welch has one of the first parking garages in the nation built, downtown is full of banks, shops, and theaters. The lights from downtown light up the night sky! It is Little New York, the Free State of McDowell!

It is Sunday and in all the churches, I see people sitting in the pews and standing all around as there are no seats to be had. The children sing, “This Little Light of Mine”, the Gospel is preached, then the pianist plays “Amazing Grace” as the congregation sings. I can see them even now, as their light shines bright into the community.

Time flies as the hands on the clock circle unimaginably fast.

There are some empty houses now in the community, and not as many lights shining on the streets and rows. Many people have moved to find work elsewhere, due to the fact that there are no jobs to be had or because of the raging waters that claimed their home. Coal is still being mined, but the people are not benefiting from it as they once were. A few shops in town have closed and the theaters. Lights are still shining downtown, though!

© Renee Bolden

Long Point Missionary Baptist Church, Spencer Curve, WV

It is Sunday and my view is heartbreaking to say the least. I see a few empty seats, here and there. The hands on the clock continue to move. Then I see a few more empty seats. The hands are never failing on that old clock. It keeps ticking.

In half the churches, I see a few children still singing “This Little Light of Mine”, the Gospel is still being preached, and the pianist still sits at the piano playing “Amazing Grace” as the small congregation sings. I see them leaving now to come back next meeting time to this church house. It’s light continues to shine in the community.

In the other half of the churches, I see a handful of parishioners gathered with the pastor. I hear “Amazing Grace” being sung, but with no music as there is no pianist. I hear them talking. I’m not sure of the words that are being said, although I can tell they are words that these few never wanted to speak. I can feel the ominous meaning of them. I see them leaving now, not to return next meeting time to this church house. It’s light goes out in the community.

That old clock keeps ticking, just the same.

Many of the houses in the community have fallen in. No one has lived in them for years. Just as a body that has no life, the earth claims them with gravity, decay, and flood. There are a few standing. Some are occupied. There are a few lights on the streets and rows. Coal is being mined. There are not many people left to mine coal as machines now do what men used to. Mining is now all evaluations and regulations. Only a dress shop and a consignment shop now remain downtown. There are a few professional offices. The lights still shine at night….though somewhat dimmer.

© Renee Bolden

St. John Baptist Church, Pageton, WV

It is Sunday, and some of those churches that had to close their doors are as the houses in the community. Gravity has pulled in the walls and ceilings. Their steeples have crashed into the pews and beautiful wooden floors beneath. Pianos are underneath the collapsed walls, ceilings, and steeples.  Those ivory keys will never again play “Amazing Grace.”

Down the road, just a little ways, though, I can faintly hear sweet little voices in harmony: “Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” A pause as I hear the clanking of a coal train in the distance. Then much louder I hear someone starting to play old ivory keys to the tune of a beautiful song, and on cue, voices singing in unison: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound”…….

Tick, Tock, Tick.

I have always considered myself an optimist; however, before I reviewed the churches we had visited, I was convinced there were more closed churches than open. I was surprised to learn that they are even. We visited 35 churches. Of those churches, 16 are open, 16 are closed, 2 are used for missions, and 1 moved to another building. Those churches that continue to operate are still letting their light shine!

By doing this project, we have met and talked to so many wonderful people. For those of you I have I have met and talked to, thank you for your help, stories and encouraging conversations! For those I have yet to meet, I can’t wait to visit your church! Remember to keep your light shining as we still have amazing grace!

Thanks to all who have read the blogs and newspaper articles, encouraged us to keep going, and those who went with us on the journeys!

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.


Big Four Methodist Church Update

On January 8, 2012, my mom (Caroline Mitchem), my aunt (Audrey Goins), and my daughter (Emily Bolden) visited the Big Four Methodist Church.  We were unable to go inside as the floor was starting to separate away from the door.  We peeked in as best we could, as there was a piano behind the door.  I took a few pictures as we visited, and was heartbroken at the condition this little church was in.

Big Four Methodist Church: January 8, 2012

As I had stated in a previous blog and article, this little church was special to me.  My Granny (Laura Gordon) attended that little church, with my mom, aunts & uncles in tow.  It is located just across the road from where they lived on Big Four hill.  My aunt Audrey remembers going to this little church as a child.

Passing by this fall, I discovered that the roof had collapsed.  It broke my heart once again.  Many people have told me they considered that little church to be a beautiful, country church.  My hope was that it could be resurrected to be a tourist attraction as a little coal camp church.  A place to show people that pass through what we used to have here and how things once were in McDowell.  We have such a rich history that is slowly crumbling away.

Big Four Methodist Church: November 28, 2012

This little church now stands as a shadow of what it was once.  The steeple that once pointed proudly to the heavens, has now crumbled into the body of the sanctuary.  The reason I call the sanctuary a body is because that is what it once held — the members of the church, which was it’s body.  The church’s Soul, however, is in Heaven, as it always was.  The Spirit of it remains here on earth, just not in those four walls.  That is my comfort.

I wish I had the money to reconstruct this little church, as the little coal camp church as it once was.  It would then erase this memory that it is now.  What a difference the ticking of the clock makes — whether it be to the good or to the bad.


First Baptist Church Welch

© Renee Bolden

First Baptist Church, Welch, WV

On November 4, Buddy, Emily and I met Beverly Furrow at the the First Baptist Church in Welch.  The church is located beside the courthouse.  I had walked by this church many times, while in town, and had been wanting to see the inside for a long time.  Anyone can look at the building and see that it is huge.  I was unaware of how large this church actually is.

We went inside the activities building door and the first thing you see on the right is a marble staircase leading up. At the top of the stairs, there is a door to the left that leads to a small room, a hallway, and then to the sanctuary.  We found ourselves standing to the right of the pulpit, looking back at three rows of pews and a balcony.  The beautiful wooden pews have green pads, and the carpet is green, also.  Underneath the balcony, is an overflow room that can be sectioned off.  This overflow room has a fireplace, and today is used as a Sunday School room.  Behind the center row of pews, on either side are doors.  Each side leads to the front door and stairs that lead to the balcony.  I was anxious to see the church from the balcony and asked Beverly if it was alright for us to go up there.  She said it was and all three of us went up the steep staircase.

© Renee Bolden

First Baptist Church, Welch, WV Sanctuary

Once in the balcony, Emily was very excited.  She was also taking pictures with my iPhone.  Looking down at the sanctuary, the choir seats are to the right and the baptistry is to the left.  Behind the pulpit is a door that leads to the pastor’s study.  While in the balcony, we noticed a room behind us.  That room that is used as a Sunday School room.  This room is as wide as the balcony itself,  has doors on either side and stained glass windows that is in the front of the building.

We went back down the stairs, to the front door, and I noticed that the stairs led on down into another level, but did not check to see where. I later learned they lead back downstairs to the Sunday School rooms.  We went back inside the sanctuary and took pictures of the piano, the baptistry, and the old organ that looked as if it had ivory keys.

From there, we ventured into the pastor’s study.  Inside the study is a beautiful, built in bookcase with glass doors.  The room itself is quite large and has another door that leads to the right.  This room is the choir room.  The choir robes were in there as well as closed in book cases for the music.

On the other side of the choir room is a door leads back to the small hallway where we entered the sanctuary.  In the hallway is access to the baptistry.  From there, our path led back into the small room that we had entered from the stairs.  In that room, I noticed something that I was very surprised to see.  There was an old turntable built into a wooden cabinet.  I asked Beverly what that was for.  She said that the church used to be on WELC and they would record the church services back there on that turntable.

We walked back into the hallway at the top of the stairs where we had started.  From there, we walked into a large fellowship hall.  On one wall is photos of the pastors of the church as well as some members.  One of the members was Paul W. Jones.  This is the same Paul W. Jones whose name is on the Little League field in Southwood.

The fellowship hall has a piano, many tables, and theater curtains in the front. To the side, behind a wall, is a kitchenette.  In the wall of that kitchenette are two dumbwaiters that lead down into the kitchen.  Beverly showed us how they worked.

We went back down the marble staircase and looked at the many classrooms and large kitchen.  The church also has a library and stored in there are many old scrapbooks that the church has made throughout the years.

What I loved about this church is that it was like stepping back in time.  The old wooden pews, cabinets, bookcases, and coat racks are almost in the same condition as the day they were first used.  Furniture today is not built with the same quality as it used to be.   I had read in a book at the library that on any given Sunday, this church would have over 600 in attendance.  What a blessing this church has been to the city of Welch and the county.  This church, along with the others, were the hubs of our community.

First Baptist Church Welch Men

First Baptist Church Men, Welch, WV

It was and is the largest Baptist church building in McDowell County.  And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.”  Acts 16:5.  If only our churches were still increasing in number…. our cups would be running over.

Many thanks to Beverly Furrow for her time of showing us the church and providing the church’s history.  I hope to visit again.

© Renee Bolden, 2012


Welch United Methodist Church

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Welch United Methodist Church, Welch, WV, Sanctuary

On Thursday, October 11, my daughter, Emily, and I visited the Welch United Methodist Church.  Elena Muckenfuss, historian of the church, had contacted and invited me to the church.  I was excited as I had been wanting to visit this church for a long while.  Those red doors seemed to beckon me to come inside.   There is something about these churches with those red doors. Maybe it’s because they remind me of being covered by the blood.

As we entered the side door, I noticed the long hallway and figured that was where the Sunday School rooms were.  Mrs. Muckenfuss led us up a beautiful staircase, with a chair lift, and through a swinging door.   Not only does this church have red doors, but the carpet and pew cushions are red, also.  A black baby grand piano sits to the left at the front.  There is also an organ to the left behind the choir pews in the front. I was amazed at how large and beautiful this church is.

© Renee Bolden

Welch United Methodist Church, Welch, WV Stained Glass Windows

We went upstairs to the balcony and the church seemed that much larger!   The stained glass windows behind the balcony are beautiful.  Emily and I snapped pictures. (She uses my iPhone as her camera when it is time to take pictures!)

From what I understand, this church was the first in Welch.  This history that Mrs. Muckenfuss sent me states that this church began in 1892 with the first pastor being M.C. Graham.  This is taken from the history:  Persons of all denominations not only attended the Methodist Church but helped to organize and run the Church until their own churches were organized. Several well known Jewish women were tireless workers for the Ladies Aid Society and Jewish men served on the Board of Stewards and helped support the budget. At this time the Methodist Church had a number of Italian members also. This was attributed to the fact that the Holston Conference Board of Home Missions supported an Italian Mission in the McDowell County Coalfields.  A need for a church was clearly seen by everyone.

This building is the second one of the church.  With the growth in population of the county and the congregation of the church, a new building was constructed. This is another excerpt from the church history:   In 1950 a newspaper article announcing the consecration and formal opening of the new church building which we are in today, read and I quote “Welch can proudly boast of one of West Virginia’s most beautiful houses of worship when the First Methodist Church is consecrated and formally opened to the public here tomorrow. Of Gothic type architecture, every single item insures convenience and the height of beauty. The new Welch First United Methodist Church in Welch is one of the first major church constructions in West Virginia since the close of the war.”

© Renee Bolden

Welch United Methodist Church, Welch, WV, Row of Pastors

As we were led through the halls and rooms of the building, I was amazed at the enormity of it.  There were many Sunday School rooms, a choir room, a bell choir room, and the office (just to name a few).  There is also a smaller chapel and a large fellowship hall (kitchen attached) with a play stage on the first floor.  The tour of this church revealed to me at how much the Lord had blessed it. This church does not only reflect the religious history of our county, but history in general.  This is part of our heritage.

I can imagine when this church was packed with parishioners with the Sunday School rooms overflowing, the choir dressing in their robes (which they still do), and the sanctuary filled to capacity.  That was Welch, McDowell County, West Virginia.

Thanks again, to Mrs. Elena Muckenfuss, for taking time out of her day to show us this beautiful church.


Long Point Missionary Baptist Church

On August 12, my church celebrated it’s 69th Homecoming.  We enjoyed special singing, preaching, dinner on the grounds, and more special singing.

Long Point is located in Spencer Curve, a small community between Pageton and Anawalt.  The church was built in 1943 and started by the Blevins family of Spencer Curve.  In the first year, the attendance was 144.

© Renee Bolden

Long Point Missionary Baptist Church, Spencer Curve, WV

The church stood through the flood of 2001.  Water entered into the church by way of the basement door and exited only through one small window pane.  The rest of the water, the church held.  The church’s basement filled with the muddy water and came within an inch of flooding into the sanctuary, but that is where the water miraculously stopped.  That water line is left on the baseboard that leads downstairs to the basement.  Spencer Curve residents suffered great loss in the flood.  Three of the five houses that surrounded the church were a total loss.

With the help of other churches from different states, the church basement was repaired and is even better than before!  Because everything had to be torn out, the opportunity to install heat and air conditioning became available!  No more cold OR hot Sunday school rooms!  It used to be so cold downstairs on those wintry Sunday mornings and so hot during vacation Bible school.

Long Point Missionary Baptist Flood Repairs

All of the stairs had to be replaced inside the church after the 2001 flood.

Not long after the flood repairs, the church was able to add an elevator on the right side.  This has proved to be a great investment as the church sits high off the ground with many front steps to climb.  The elevator has been an opportunity for many who couldn’t climb those stairs be able to attend services.  A restroom was also added upstairs.

I can remember when we used to have to set out chairs for all the people that would attend homecomings, when attendance was in the 140’s and 150’s, Bess Yates playing the piano, the young people’s choir, our Christmas plays, and most importantly, the Spirit of the Lord filling that entire church.

When I see all the closed churches in the county, it truly breaks my heart.  I know how the people that attended these churches truly loved their church and the Godly messages they received in those walls.

I could write a novel about this little church, as it holds such a special place in my heart.  However, I will stop here…… for now.


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