Category Archives: Family

Welch United Methodist Church

© Renee Bolden

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.

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Boyd’s Chapel

The second church that Buddy, Emily and I visited on September 16, was Boyd’s Chapel in Leckie. From what I have read on ancestry.com by contributor, Walter M. Bailey, the land that Boyd’s Chapel was built on was donated by John A. Bailey. Bailey had built a room onto his log cabin to serve as a church; however, the church grew quickly and there was need for a building. Bailey not only donated the land, but he also donated time and work for the building of Boyd’s Chapel. According to Walter M. Bailey, there was an article that ran in the Welch Daily News written by Reverend W.S. Barbery on May 27, 1952. The title of the article was “Pioneer Citizen Recalls Early Days In This Area”. This article was written about James Wesley Bailey, brother of John A. Bailey. This article explains the experiences of the Bailey family in the building of the Leckie and Anawalt areas.

© Renee Bolden

Boyd’s Chapel, Leckie, WV

Boyd’s Chapel was named after Isaac Charles Newton Boyd. Boyd had served as Chaplin for the Confederate Home Guard near Abington, Virginia, and came to Leckie in the fall of 1865. He was the first pastor of Boyd’s Chapel. He served there for 15 years. According to ancestry.com, Boyd had to temporarily retire from pastoring the church due to a fall from his horse.

The small road that leads up to Boyd’s Chapel is right in a curve. I was very cautious when pulling off the road. It leads straight to the top of the hill that the church rests on. There’s not a lot of space up there, so I’m sure the parishioners park on the roadside and then walk up the hill. The first thing I noticed when we got to the top of the hill was the cemetery. At first glance, I noticed the old graves. I did not have the time that day to walk through them all. There are many old ones that I would like to see. There is a lot of history to be learned in old cemeteries. Boyd’s Chapel is one of the few churches in the county that I am aware of that has a cemetery in the yard. Brewsterdale has been the only other church that I have visited that has an old cemetery.

I took several pictures of the cemetery and the church. The church was much larger than I thought it was. I’m not sure if this is the same building that was built by Bailey in the 1800’s. My guess is that it is and has been updated and restored throughout the years. As it was a Sunday afternoon, I was unable to go in the church, but would love to see inside and find out more history about the Chapel. If anyone has any more information about Boyd’s Chapel, please let me know. I understand it to be one of the oldest churches in the county. I wish I could have found out more about the church that day to share.

© Renee Bolden

Boyd’s Chapel, Leckie, WV

If anyone has any information about churches in McDowell County, please contact me at (304) 732-7578, (304) 320-5340 or at renee.bolden@me.com.


Gary United Methodist Church

That same day, June 20, I visited another church — Gary United Methodist Church. The pastor who pastored Thorpe had been the pastor here, as well. This was my first visit to this church. However, I have driven past it many times, going through the holler. It seemed to me that it wasn’t much larger than the houses. I was about to be surprised!

Upon entering the church, we went through the basement that is a large fellowship hall. Adjoining the fellowship hall, is a large kitchen that could be used to serve many people, as a cafeteria, if need be. The pastor told me that this church had also been designated as a place for residents to go to in case of an emergency. There are many Sunday school rooms in the basement area that have been set up to serve as a place for overnight stays.

Leading up from the basement is a staircase with a beautiful handrail. I had expected to walk directly into the sanctuary from the staircase, but this was not the case. At the top of the stairs is a large, framed document. The document is a charter that is a beautiful handwritten list of the charter members of the church and where they were from. It is dated June 19, 1964. The signatures look to read “R Howard Berg”, President, and “R.G. Mayfield”, Executive Secretary.

© Renee Bolden

Gary United Methodist Church, Gary, WV, Sanctuary

On this same wall is a door. That door opens up to the sanctuary. I was amazed at how large and beautiful it was. Extremely large and beautiful stained glass windows with inscriptions at the bottom from the Junior Missionary Society, the Young Peoples Missionary Society, In Memory of Mr. & Mrs. Eli Clemens, and Presented by Gary Lodge No 297. I can not explain the beauty of those windows.

The altar of the church sits back in a circular space with the offering/communion table, the American & Christian flags, and a pulpit on each side. When I stood in that area, the church seemed much larger. There was a large, opened Bible on the pulpit to the right.

There is a traditional piano, along with an electric one to the right, looking towards the altar. It looks as if the church had an addition as there are two large doorway areas to the back with additional pews. The front door is in the back of the church to the left. The front of the church has the most beautiful, heavy wooden doors. I’m sure those have been there since the church was built.

© Renee Bolden

Gary United Methodist Church, Gary, WV

We walked outside and I took some outside shots. Again, I had to be very careful not to step into the road. For the time being, coal is alive and well in Gary holler and the trucks run constantly.

We went back inside and in the hallway where the charter is are more Sunday school rooms and a large room that is designated as a smaller chapel. This room, also has a few pews, a piano, and a table at the front. This room could serve as a perfect place to hold children’s church.

© Renee Bolden

Gary United Methodist Church, Gary, WV, Small Chapel

In the hallway also, is a table that displays old photos of a children’s choir in the church and the combined youth choirs from Gary & Filbert Methodist Churches.

Across from the door to the sanctuary is another door that I thought was a closet. I was wrong. This door opens up to a small staircase and room that was designated for the choir to store their robes and to get ready for worship.

What I thought was a little church turned out to be anything but little! There is so much space and opportunity for this church to grow, be an asset to the Gary community, and most importantly, a beautiful place to worship.

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” Psalm 96:9

Photos © Renee Bolden 2012.


Thorpe United Methodist Church

On June 20, I visited Thorpe United Methodist Church. Buddy was working that day, and I went alone. This church is active, and I had contacted the pastor and asked permission to visit. He agreed and met me there that day.

© Renee Bolden

Thorpe United Methodist Church, Thorpe, WV, Sanctuary

I took a couple of shots outside as I talked to the pastor. When I walked into the vestibule, the first thing that caught my eye was a sign above a door that led into a room straight ahead. The sign said, “The cross made the difference for me.” There was a table to the left and a door to the right. The door to the right led into the sanctuary.

The sanctuary is small with a total of about fifteen pews. This little old-fashioned church is beautiful. There are two stained glass windows at the front of the church that has a cross in between them which is located behind the pulpit. There is a large, beautiful stained glass window in the back, as well as stained glass windows on the right wall. I would have loved to see the crowd that used to attend this little country church.

© Renee Bolden

Thorpe United Methodist Church, Thorpe, WV

On the left side of the church, there were two large wooden doors, and a smaller wooden door. The room that led straightway from the vestibule was where these doors led. The larger doors serve as a partition to the overflow room. A room to open up the sanctuary, if need be, to allow more people to hear the sermon. The overflow room has a large, beautiful stained glass window in the back. Today, this room serves as a Sunday school room, but the pastor told me at one time, this little church had been standing room only.

The smaller of the wooden door also open up to that room, but faced the stairway to the basement. The basement is set up as a fellowship hall with a new kitchen. It is a wonderful space for the parishioners to fellowship with one another. The pastor also told me that the church could serve as a place for McDowell County residents to come to in case of an emergency.

As we went outside, I took some more shots, but was careful how far back I stood. The highway goes right in front of this little church, and the coal trucks roar past every few minutes. Above the road is the train track that carries McDowell County coal, as well. Thorpe was a large community in the King Coal days. I don’t know of any other community that had as many coke ovens in a row as Thorpe. Those coke ovens can still be seen as you drive through. I’m thankful this little church can still be seen, also.

Photos © 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


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