Milton churches serve as historic landmarks

Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, July 30, 2018

Two historical Rutherford County churches, Stones River Presbyterian and Wards Grove Baptist, are landmarks we cherish today. These congregations exemplified great zeal and fortitude to establish roots and thrive within their community. Even though they were established 100 years apart, their deep influence is longstanding and historical in our fast paced and growing county.

Stones River Presbyterian of the 17 th District was organized on Halls Hill Pike on April 1, 1816, by the Rev. Jesse Eagleston Alexander, who led zealously as pastor for 47 years. This church was a mile from the Stones River east branch that is its namesake. The church is the second oldest denomination in the county and resulted from a camp meeting near Milton. The original congregation met for several years in a small, log structure across the road from the present-daychurch. Jacob Wright gifted the land for the Presbyterian church in a deed dated 1848. His wife, Becky, attended this Stones River assembly, while Jacob was a member of the Church of Christ. Charter members included McKnight,Knox, Ready, Weatherspoon, Porterfield, Andrews and Henderson families.

After a long tenure by the Rev. Alexander, the ministers who followed were Brantley, Thompson, Mosley, Crane, Patton, Riley, Johnson, Matherson, Janes and Peyton. Frank and Silva Brantley, descendants of Brantley slaves, faithfully attended services until their deaths in the early 1900s.

Sunday school began on the first day inside the schoolhouse and met within the church in 1879. Founders of the congregation included descendants of James Williams and David McKnight, who fought in the Revolutionary War for North Carolina.

There were three church buildings over time. The first structure was constructed of logs and built in 1816.

The second structure was positioned on the east side of the same grounds and known as the 12 Corner Church. Congregants worshiped there in 1859. This structure was a spacious log building with 12 corners and situated east of the present church.

The third church was a frame building constructed in 1878 and was 36by-52-by-25, holding 300 members. Metal shingles replaced cedar roofing in this edifice, and electric lamps replaced gas lamps. A piano also stood in place of a reed organ. School rooms were added in 1955.

Many wonderful memories were embed- ded within the walls of these three, early-framed buildings of unique architecture, and much good work was ongoing as a result of hard labor and enthusiasm for goodwill.

Wards Grove Baptist Church in Milton was established on Oct. 3, 1912, when 900 people pledged to build a solid congregation for community. Several new members included Sterling Wall, C.M. Sanders, Nannie Cresson, May Payton, C.L. Dillon, Ida Besper and Lela Duggin.

The Rev. M. L. Ward served as moderator and pastor for seven years, and Lela Duggin was clerk. Later members were Mattie Cox, 

Herschel Wall, Will Wall, Mable Reed, Daisy Duggin, Ethel Peyton and Ellis Peyton.

In 1912, Wards Grove conducted a five-day gospel meeting at Stones River Presbyterian, and great excitement ensued to construct a house of worship. A first baptism is noted on Oct. 7, 1912. On Nov. 14, 1912, the name Wards Grove was selected and much fanfare ensued.

The chosen location was on land donated by S.T. Wall. Early deacons included Wall, Bowling and Duggin. By 1914, the congregation was debtfree. Several pastors following Ward include Zumbro, Mahoffy, Castlebury, Ramsey, Kirtley, Sullivan, Ayers, Tarpley, Evans, Harvey, Holloway and Barrett. Allen and Helen Duke were first members to be married in the building and enjoyed a large audience for their nuptials. On July 16, 1936, a tornado blew through the grounds of Wards Grove, and the building was in ruins. While the church was rebuilding, Sunday School was held under an oak tree on the grounds.

The church suffered disaster once more on Oct. 11, 1970, after a gas leak and fire demolished the building. When it was rebuilt this time, a stone wall was erected around the historical and adjacent Wards Grove cemetery, known in the 1830s as Alexander Graveyard. A handsome stone wall encircles the cemetery built in the late 20 th century. Graves include several from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War.

Members of Wards Grove have been exceptionally strong-minded and forward-thinking in maintaining the congregation in Milton and working hard to sustain a solid church. Today, their proclamation states “we are a church that proclaims the written word of the Living Lord” and a theme “Christ above All.”

Currently, Monty Kapavik is the minister of this Southern Baptist congregation on Halls Hill Pike. The church continues to thrive this summer with an exciting Vacation Bible School. Former congregants relate many happy memories in recent years with mission trips, hayrides, volleyball, choir, ice cream socials and ongoing service projects to spread the gospel in their community.

Stones River Presbyterian and Wards Grove Baptist are two hallmarks that have stood the test of time and served as beacons of worship in Rutherford County. The great devotion and dedication of our forefathers made it all happen in a manner well done.

Contact Susan Harber at susanharber@hotmail. com.

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