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"Old St. Paul's Church: Catawba County's Oldest By Far"

By Anne Huffman

Copy of article in "Hickory Daily Record," June 6, 1970 - Reprinted Sunday, March 26, 2006

The year 1702 is the earliest birth date on a grave marker in the Old St. Paul's Lutheran Church cemetery west of Newton. Born of sturdy German Palatinate stock, these early settlers founded the oldest church in what is now Catawba County. They had been persecuted in the old country by Catholic sovereigns, had traveled to the New World in search of religious freedom and land, had found the farming area filled in Pennsylvania, and finally had made the arduous trip by wagon down the Shanandoah Valley of Virginia to the virgin wilderness of this Catawba frontier.

Having been peasants and small freeholders in Europe, they mistrusted settlements and choose to continue their farming customs in this fertile Catawba River Valley. These stolid pioneers brought with them their German Bibles and hymnals. Protestant Lutherans and German Reformeds, they built their church and shared it on Sundays, even heard the same pastor on many occasions. Circuit rider ministers visited Old St. Paul's, and it was to become a rest stop for settlers on their way across the Blue Ridge into the West.

Love and Tragedy
Tied in with the faith of these simple people were all the love and tragedy common to the wilderness and the hardship which they faced made them even more religious. Their story is told in the Old St. Paul cemetery. Here are, the records on ministers dying serving their congregations, of wives and mothers who died in childbirth, of men worn away by the erosion of labor and of the children reaped by the Angel of Death before they had the opportunity to join the community as participating landholders.

Old St. Paul's was first called the Dutch Meeting House and was already established when George Washington was at Vallery Forge and when Lord Cornwallis crossed North Carolina in his flight from the Southern colonies. Its parishioners fought the British and took part in the birth of a new free nation.

Crude Cabin
The earliest recollections of the church among the records of the church indicate that there was a crude, one story log cabin between two white pines that was used as a house of worship as early as 1733. This log cabin was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. A new building was erected in 1757. In 1808 this structure was taken down and rebuilt, using the same logs and home-made nails. This time the building was ceiled and weatherboarded, and is the same structure that is still standing today.
Mrs. Doris Boaz, wife of a former minister of St. Paul's, relates this story:

It was about 1861 when a Colonel Hildebran became angered to the point of murder by the escape of one of his slaves, a big burly Negro. The colonel traced this runaway to the church, where he found him crouched between the pews and is said to have killed him on the spot. The blood stains are still there, it is believed.

Custom Followed
An old German custom was followed, with the men and women seated on different sides of the church. The slaves were in the balcony, and had to climb single file up the stairs. The minister climbed the high, narrow steps to the pulpit, which was originally in the center of the church. Over his head was an old sounding board, which it was believed, would fall on the minister if he spoke a lie.

War heroes of every major American war lie in Old St. Paul's cemetery, including the American Revolution and the War Between the States One epitaph reads:

"Twas thus when far, yea, far away
To camp disease he fell a prey,
No relative was by his bed,
No mother's hand to raise his head"

The land on which Old St.Paul's stands was deeded to the church in 1771. Eleven acres were given by Paul Anthony and his wife, Frony, to the two churches "Lutarin" (Lutheran) and the "Presbytarian" (Reformed), and to their heirs forever, to be used for religious purposes only and for no other purpose whatsoever. It was signed by Paul Anthony, and his wife, Frony, made her mark.
Among Ministers
It is known that a Swiss minister named Rev. James Martin, a member of the German Reformed church, preached at Old St. Paul's in 1757 to an established congregation. The firat resident minister, Rev. John G. Arndt, (1772) was a Lutheran. Stipulated in the call to the ministers was the point that the preacher would have a sermon one Sunday every month in both German and English, and that he would conduct classes regularly in the old meeting house.
In the early 1900's members of the Reformed congregation moved to Startown. Old St. Paul's Lutheran congregation worshipped in the old building until 1952, when they moved into the modern building across the road. Old St. Paul's is now preserved as an historic landmark in Catawba County and as a symbol of Christian faith.

Linked toJohan Wilhelm Diehl

Old St. Pauls' & Cemetery, Newton, Catawba County, North Carolina, USA

2035 Old Conover Startown Rd (828) 464-9786

St. Paul's Church is located in Catawba County, about two miles west from Newton. It was at first called the "Dutch Meeting House," while Rev. Arends referred to it as the "South Fork Church."

This is one of the oldest churches in Catawba County. The deed for their land was made May 20, 1771; however, there is reason to believe the church was started a few years before land was purchased, possibly about 1768. The property was jointly owned by Lutherans and German Reformed.

The first house of worship was a small log building, and stood where a part of the graveyard is now. The second building, which is the present one, was built about 1808. The walls of this building are of large hewn logs,weatherboarded on the outside and ceiled inside. Some of the timbers of the old building were used in this one. Homemade nails were used in its structure. This building has a gallery, which originally was used by African Americans. The building is rectangular in shape, with a door in each end and on one side. There was, at first, a high goblet-shaped pulpit, which was later replaced by a more modern one.

The first services conducted here were by visiting ministers, or by one or more of their laymen. Rev. Adolphus Nussman probably visited and ministered to these people soon after he came to America.

However, J. G. Arends is generally regarded as the first pastor of this congregation. He, like Pastor Nussman, first lived in Rowan County, but in 1785 moved to Lincoln County, and served all the Lutheran churches West of the Catawba River.

St. Paul's Church originally belonged to the North Carolina Synod, and may have taken part in the organization of that Synod in 1803. Then, after the Tennessee Synod was organized in 1820, a part of the congregation left the North Carolina Synod and united with the Tennessee Synod. In 1846, or possibly a little later, a part of the congregation withdrew from the Tennessee Synod and united with the newly organized body, called the Tennessee Synod Reorganized, under the leadership of Rev. Adam Miller, Jr., but later united with the Joint Synod of Ohio.

It should be noted here, that a part of the original St. Paul's Congregation remained associated with the North Carolina Synod, up to and beyond this time. In fact, the North Carolina Synod held its annual convention of Synod in St. Paul's Church in 1848. Now, when we remember that the Reformed congregation also shared in the ownership of the church property, and worshiped at stated times, in the same building, we need not wonder, if confusion existed.
In 1905, the Tennessee Synod Congregation built a house of worship of its own, at Startown, some two miles away, and relocated there. The name, St. Paul's Church, is retained, and the congregation is a continuation of the church at the old location, connected with the Tennessee Synod. Meanwhile, the group that adhered to the North Carolina Synod continued
in that relationship for a while, but later on discontinued as a separate congregation, and its members united with other Lutheran congregations in the surrounding community.

In course of time the Reformed brethren also withdrew and built a house of worship of their own which leaves Old St. Paul's in the hands of the American Lutheran Church, which is the successor of the Joint Synod of Ohio in that locality.

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