History of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church and Cemetery
St. Peter’s United Methodist Church and Cemetery was organized in 1843. The deed for the land upon which the first building was erected is dated July 14, 1843. Solomon Young made the deed for 4 1/4 acres of land, and the total cost was $4.25.
The first Church was a small log house with no means of heating. It was used for 35 years until a frame building was built.
In 1874 the Rev. A.T. Edwards, a former captain in the Confederate Army and pastor at the time, tried to introduce Sunday School Literature and met with some opposition. Sabbath School was organized April, 1882 with Sanford Self as superintendent. 20 males and 16 females attended. Each spring the Sunday School was reorganized as it was discontinued during the winter months. New leaders were elected each year A few taking an active part in the Sunday School were John Boils, Joe Boiles, Max Boggs, John Boggs, J.P. Bingham, M.L.Willis, J.O, Willis, Gus Cline, A.H. Cline, W.F.Self, S.S.Self, and others. Women attended the Sunday school, but no official position of a woman was recorded in our early church history. Random items of interest were found in the old church records such as one Sunday 50 persons present with an offering of .$0.98, another 87 present and an offering $0.70,still another 70 present and $0.37 offering. Figures earlier were much less. Remember that the people during those times had far less cash but far less church expenses. The second building was a one-room structure, about 30×40 feet with plain glass windows, a steeple, and a bell. It was never painted. It stood on a spot north of the present church.
According to an old deed dated April 12, 1905 a small tract of land containing 2 5/8 acres was obtained from James R. Willis and wife Susan. This joined the original church land and a two-room schoolhouse was built on it. This was known as St. Peter’s School. This was a county school and not controlled by the church. Two teachers taught the first seven grades until Belwood Consolidated School was built and opened in the fall of 1926. After the school had been moved to Belwood this tract was bought by J.P Boggs, J.P. Bingham, J.H. Costner, J.A. Hallman, J.L Sain, F.D Edwards, Edny Willis. Edwards and Edny Willis. Later this was added to the church land, making 9 acres in all.
In the spring of 1904 the third building was begun. When it was nearing completion, a huge storm blew it off its pillars and damaged it to a great extent. However, after much work it was repaired and finished. It had double Gothic windows with colored glass in the upper part .The building was painted white. The church had no means for heating so it was closed in the fall and reopened for services in the spring. About 1910, members decided that the church should be open for services the year round and two flues were built and wood stoves installed for heating the building.
In 1923 a two story Church School annex was added at the rear of the Church building. Prior to that time, all Sunday School classes had been meeting in the sanctuary separated only by drawn curtains. The noise and confusion had intensified as the Church School had grown until it was necessary to expand. Each new classroom had a wood heater. Two large wood-burning stoves were put in the sanctuary. The men in the church supplied the wood by cutting trees on the church grounds, sawing and chopping them to fit the stoves. Then they would store the wood under the church. They also took responsibility for lighting the fires and warming the church. The stoves in the classrooms were thin and would get red hot quickly. The church did not have electric lights until about 1926.
The congregation continued to grow, and on the morning of June 15, 1941 the work to remodel the third building was begun. The outside was veneered with a 16-inch gray granite rock wall. Dr. F. D. Edwards gave the stone, and the stone mason was Albert Beynot of Valdese, N.C. Church members and other local people did much of the other work. The windows were changed from Gothic to Roman Memorial windows. The walls were plastered, a hardwood floor was laid, oak furniture was bought, and a heating plant was installed.
Prior to World War II the church members dug the graves when a member was buried in the Church cemetery. Someone would ring the church bell, then toll the hour of the funeral. The men would leave their farm work and come to the church to dig the grave. After the funeral the church members would fill the grave with soil.
In 1927 a Woman’s Missionary Society was organized. The following were the charter members Mrs. Edny Willis, Mrs. W.H. Young, Mrs. J.P. Bingham, Mrs. J.D. Boyles, Mrs. C.G. Boyles, Mrs. F.D. Edwards, Mrs.E.G.Self, Mrs. Dennis Sain, and. Mrs. Bert Sain. During the years, and with several name changes, it has been a vital source of help and strength in the work of the church. It is now called U.M.W.—–United Methodist Women.
St. Peter’s Church has under gone some changes in name. From The Methodist Church to M.E. Church South to the United Methodist Church. The Belwood Charge has changed from seven churches to six and finally to three. As a result of these changes the Belwood Charge had to build a new parsonage. Mrs. Maude Brackett gave the land that was needed.
The first pedal organ in the church was about 1890 an organ with two foot pedals. Hymn books did not have music, just the words for the song. Singing was always started by someone who was asked to raise the tune. Music has always been an important part of worship at St. Peter’s Church. Singing Schools were held at regular intervals for any one who wished to attend. The church has been blessed with talented people to lead the singing and to play musical instruments. In the thirties the church orchestra played each Sunday as the people sang. It consisted of Carmie Boyles, violin; Henry Queen , trombone; Floyd Willis, saxophone; Fred Willis , coronet; Mary Lizzie (Sain) Elam ,coronet;. Rosco Peeler ,bass horn and Helen Queen Oliver and others, piano. The orchestra added pep and life to the music. Sometimes there was an element of shock among visitors who were not accustomed to such in a church.
In later years a Hammond organ was installed in the Church. Meriel Tillman and Mrs. Paul Willis served as organists for many years. Chimes, providing more musical enjoyment for the people, were added at a later date.
Revival meetings held over the years provided a time for inspiration and renewal. They used to fill an entire week each summer often with three services daily. Later two services were held each day. Now it is difficult to find time for one service daily for a three-day revival as people have a tight work and other activity schedules. Older members remember the full church, the shouting, and the heartfelt prayers. Someone needed to take a jar of water for the preacher as we did not have a supply on the church grounds and some of those preachers really got dried out.
In 1949 an Educational Building was built west of the Church. It was constructed of gray stone like the church with the interior of white pine. A well was dug and plumbing installed in the building. Plumbing was installed in the church several years later. There were some objections to toilet facilities in the church. Most members did not have indoor toilets in their homes at this time and they felt they were out of place in a house of worship. Until this time people had used the two toilets located in the woods north of the cemetery. The Educational Building was heated with an oil heater . About 1985 Sam Sain had a heat pump and air conditioning installed in the building. Insulated windows were installed in memory of Ora Lane . Dennis Sain did most of the maintenance, building and repair work for the church.
During the years much work has been done to improve the cemetery and grounds. Formerly the cemetery was kept free of grass and weeds and the graves were mounded and covered with white sand. There were quite a lot of objections when people started talking about flattening the graves and sowing the cemetery in grass like a pasture. After more talk people were persuaded to try the new plan and finally agreed it was a good thing to do. Grounds were grassed; walks and roads paved, outdoor benches and tables placed on the grounds, flowers and shrubs planted, and trees trimmed and replaced as needed. Every effort was made to keep the grounds beautiful.
Even though the numbers of members have declined for unavoidable reasons such as smaller families, change in occupations and life styles, there remains a devotion to the church. This is shown by the many improvements they have helped to make possible:
- The front porch of the Church was enclosed with glass panels and doors.
- Railings were installed at the steps.
- New heating and air conditioning systems were put in the Church.
- Lexon was placed over the stained glass windows and thermal windows were installed in the classrooms.
- Stone covering on all walkways and steps.
- Sound system in church.
- Installation of carpet in halls and class-rooms.
- Hand Bells and equipment.
- Lighting in the Entryway.
- Hearing assistance devices
There is a Memorial Book located in the back hall of the Church which lists Memorials for people buried in the cemetery. Every gift is very important. The many other things that have been done for people in need must not be forgotten because the love and concern shown to them are of utmost importance. St. Peters is a church that feels great concern and love for others. Every effort is used to assure meaningful classes for children as well as for youth and adults. The various special services seasons, days, and occasions are observed. It is hoped that a day at Church is a joyous day.
Six persons from St. Peter’s Church have gone into the ministry.–Danny Sain, Donald Willis, Burl Sain, Carrol Brackett, Nicholas Elliott, and Greg Spurling.
The members of St. Peter’s Church owe a great debt to those dedicated members who have gone before us. They worked long and hard with limited resources to build and maintain a place for us to worship. Their devotion has left us a great heritage.
Slave Cemetery at St. Peter’s Church
According to Church records, St. Peter’s was built in 1843. Since this was during the time of slavery, it is believed that a Slave Cemetery was designated. The location was near the original Church Cemetery on the backside of our present Church. It was told by older Church members that stone markers once marked the grave location. This area was adjacent to and south of the original Church Cemetery, to the backside of the present day picnic tables.
Once slavery was abolished, the Slave Cemetery was no longer used and trees and underbrush covered the area. Sometime in the mid Twentieth Century, the grounds were cleared and the unidentified stone markers were removed.
Another generation passed by with no historical record of a Slave Cemetery. No evidence remained that anyone was ever buried in that location. Then in 2012, a Church member Michael McSwain asked the Church for permission to make a permanent identification of the Slave Cemetery as his Boy Scout Eagle Project. This was approved and permitted. Through his efforts, there is now an ornamental fenced area and monument identifying the Slave Cemetery. The project was completed January 1, 2013 and Michael McSwain was presented his Eagle Award at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church on March 9, 2013.
Since there has been no recorded history of the Slave Cemetery, we feel that this information will be helpful to future generations. We are thankful to Michael McSwain and all who rightfully helped memorialize a part of our Church history.
This information comes from Hugh King born October 16, 1921. Mr. King is a lifelong member of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church.
Hugh King and Tom Spurling, August 24, 2013
Note* Mr. King passed away on September 11, 2013 at the age of 91. This amendment to our Church history was approved three days earlier on September 8, 2013. Thanks to Mr. King’s interest, this information is now recorded history.
Following are Cemetery Records as of June 1, 2018.
ST PETERS HISTORY & CEM-Jnue ,2018
Can you tell me a y information action about Mary Isabella Watkins s Willis who buried in your cemdtary. She is my great 7th grandmother. Many thanks.m
Most of what we know is posted in the link at the bottom of the Cemetery Page. As you can see, there a a large number of Willis’. You are more than welcome to come and walk around the cemetery and look for the grave. I would also suggest the NC Vital Records which may give you date of death.