Tour-goers satisfy curiosity, explore ‘sacred places’
By Mark Wineka
ROCKWELL — By taking the Sacred Places Tour Saturday, Martha Kluttz and her daughter, Emily Driggers, hit the jackpot.
“We both like history, especially history of this area,” Kluttz said.
“We’re Lutheran, also,” Driggers said.
Historic Salisbury Foundation’s second annual Sacred Places Tour focused on nine eastern Rowan County churches, many of which were connected to German settlers who established some of the earliest Lutheran and Reformed churches in the state.
Wrapping up the slate was a tour stop at Soldiers Memorial AME Zion Church in Salisbury.
The tour took in the postcard-worthy country churches of Zion Organ Lutheran and Grace Lower Stone Reformed, but its other stops at churches in Gold Hill, Rockwell, Faith, Granite Quarry and Salisbury were just as impressive.
There seemed to be something for everybody, especially in terms of history, architecture, education and even genealogy. The tour did much to satisfy general curiosities, too.
Susan Sides of Salisbury said she has probably driven by many of the churches on the tour 100 times without ever having occasion — a wedding, funeral, baptism or the like — to stop and go in.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m seeing the inside of churches I’ve never been able to explore.”
Phyllis Hanna was similarly impressed.
“I’m particularly interested in the architecture of the buildings,” she said, while walking through the sanctuary of Ursinus United Church of Christ in Rockwell. “This is such a beautiful church with the stained glass windows.”
Leisa Steele, who only moved to Salisbury and Rowan County last September, said the tour was perfect for someone like her who is new to the area.
“It’s a great tour, and it’s a great way to get to know the county,” Steele said.
While she was visiting Grace Lower Stone Reformed Church, which was built in the late 18th century, Barbara Sifford decided to visit the grave of her grandmother, Myrtle Rhinehart, who had died in 1932 at only 30 years of age.
Sifford had never realized it before Saturday’s stop in the church cemetery, but her great-grandparents, George and Clara Brown, were buried close by. Sifford said she decided to take the tour thinking “There’s bound to be something I should know that I don’t know.”
And there it was in the church cemetery.
“I just figured there was something I had to learn today,” Sifford said.
Judy Crook, a friend, accompanied Sifford on Saturday’s numerous stops.
“I love old places, especially churches — and cemeteries just boggle my mind,” Crook said.
As with Sifford, some tour-goers spent considerable time in the cemeteries at Zion Organ Lutheran and Grace Lower Stone Reformed, where some of the markers have inscriptions in German and date back to the late 18th century.
The Michael Braun Cemetery at the Old Stone House also was a stop. Braun moved to Rowan County around 1758 and became a merchant and print shop operator in Salisbury, though he built his impressive house near present-day Granite Quarry.
His farm grew to about 2,000 acres in size.
Braun and his three wives are buried in a family plot near the Old Stone House along with many other members of the Braun (later Brown) family.
The original Organ Lutheran (built from 1792-1795) is the oldest example of Lutheran Church architecture in North Carolina, and along with St. John’s Lutheran in Salisbury and St. John’s Lutheran in Concord, it is considered among the “mother churches” of Lutheranism in the state.
In 1973, Organ Lutheran erected an impressive monument on its grounds to the Rev. Adolphus Nussman and John Arends. It was the 200th anniversary of the men’s arrival from Germany.
About 60 Rowan County families sent Christopher Lyerly and Christopher Rendleman to Germany in 1773 to procure the services of Nussman as a minister and Arends as a school teacher.
Nussman is considered the first pastor of Organ Lutheran Church; Arends, the second. Arends was ordained at Organ Lutheran Church in 1775 after Nussman moved to Buffalo Creek, and he became the first Lutheran minister ever ordained in North Carolina.
Tour-goer Kathy Price said the history behind all the churches was interesting, while just being inside the older churches fascinated her.
Sandra Bruce served as a docent at the 1795 Grace Lower Stone, and she described how the stone church is 4 feet deep at the base of the walls before it starts narrowing as it goes up.
“It’s kind of dizzying to be up in the balcony,” Bruce said, and many of the congregation members who go there often sit through the hymns to avoid that uneasy feeling.
Near the altar Saturday, church members had set out several artifacts, including old church keys, a pulpit Bible from 1892, a pewter communion chalice from 1820, an 1844 hymnal and wooden offering plates.
The offering plates were made from a cherished 200-plus-year-old sycamore tree on the church grounds that finally had to come down about five years ago. Bruce said the church uses those wooden offering plates for special occasions.
Like many of the churches on tour, Ursinis United Church of Christ had an archives or history room set aside. The Ursinus history room included photographs of the founding members, and all the names — Peeler, Holshouser, Bernhardt, Misenheimer, Bost, McCombs and Abernathy — have deep eastern Rowan County connections.
The history room included original windows from the first Ursinus church, whose construction was completed in 1904. The congregation dedicated the present church building, with its curved Akron-styled pews, in 1926.
Ann Teague, giving some of the tours through Ursinus, said the church pastor and his family had to live in the basement for 60 days until a new parsonage could be built.
The church’s pipe organ was installed in 1941 and refurbished in the 1980s. Margaret Tucker, the church organist for 27 years, was on hand Saturday morning playing music as the tour-goers passed through.
Tucker confided that she was practicing for an upcoming wedding.
Teague pointed out the frescoes at the back of the sanctuary that were recently donated to the church by James Ray in honor of Jean Puckett.
Another docent at Ursinus, Pat Holshouser, pointed out a picture of her grandmother in the history room. Lucy Ridenhour taught a Sunday School class and women’s class at the church for more than 40 years.
Other churches on the Sacred Places Tour included Gold Hill United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church of Gold Hill, Shiloh Reformed Church of Faith, St. Paul’s Lutheran, Christiana Lutheran and Wittenberg Lutheran.
The day started out at Organ Lutheran with a special presentation from Kaye Brown Hirst, who spoke on the first German settlers to Rowan County and the development of Lutheranism in the area.
She noted that the building of churches was not the first priority of the settlers. Rather, erecting barns and getting crops planted were more important things. The early German Lutherans and Reformers often worshipped together at “union” churches in people’s homes or cabins erected for the purpose.
Organ Lutheran organized in 1745, but it wasn’t until Nussman’s arrival that it had an ordained minister. The congregation still waited for 22 more years until it constructed a church building.
In 1960, a “new” Organ Lutheran Church was built beside the original one, but services are still held in the 1795 church at 8:30 a.m. Sundays during June, July and August (except for the second Sunday in August).
As a side note, Hirst noted the wealth of knowledge left behind by the Rev. Samuel Rothrock, one of the early pastors at Organ. He kept detailed diaries of his life and pastoring for 59 years, from 1834 to 1893, and the information he left behind is used today by researchers.
“He wrote down everything he did,” Hirst said. “It is phenomenal.”
The diary, housed at the N.C. Lutheran Synod, is laden with details and names of doctors, attorneys, postmasters, ministers and hundreds of others from Rothrock’s day.
“This was a super minister,” Hirst said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.
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