One of the best things about living in this area is the rich history all around us. For the next few Sundays, I am going to visit some of that history from various angles, because this part of Union County abounds with individuals and institutions interested in celebrating the past while embracing the here and now.
Waxhaw neighbor and friend Kathleen (Katie) Tyson Von Bergen wrote to make me aware that the Walkersville Presbyterian Church will hold a Centennial Homecoming under the big old oak trees today. If you are reading this while watching the sun rise, it's not too late to work the celebration into your plan for the day.
At 10 a.m.. the church will hold a history hour (under the oaks, weather permitting). That's followed by a centennial worship service at 11 a.m. A covered dish lunch on the grounds will follow the service.
Katie whetted my appetite by telling me “this is as much a celebration of the community as it is the church. After all, the two were one for many years.” She went on to say that “Gary Brady will be your best source of information. Gary is perhaps the most well-read person in the community – due in part to his job as librarian at Central Cabarrus High School for 30-plus years. He lives on ‘Brady Road' just a few yards from the church. Yes, the road is named after his family.” Gary, she wrote, actually compiled the 200 pages of the history book (on sale at the celebration for $15) as a two-year labor of love. “And, he has probably memorized most of it,” she says.
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With a lead-in like that, how could I resist calling Gary? I got his answering machine at first, informing me that if my horse were dying, I had the wrong number. When he called me back, I got enough information for 10 columns, if only I could write that fast.
Walkersville, I learned, was named after the Walker family, who were prominent settlers at the time of the American Revolution in the community known as “the Waxhaws.” He went on to relate that the Walkers owned land on both sides of the North Carolina and South Carolina border, pointing out that if the original border agreement had been followed , a good portion of lower Union County would actually be in South Carolina.
Walkersville got its own post office in 1826, ( probably in a private home). A second one was built several years later. Katie had already offered me “one interesting tidbit ... the Walkersville post office actually pre-dated the Waxhaw post office and served under two governments – the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. Had the railroad not entered Waxhaw, we'd have a ‘Walkersville' address and ZIP code.”
The Walkersville Presbyterian Church grew out of Tirzah Presbyterian, a few miles away. The new congregation was organized by three families, who happened to mirror the origins of the population in the area: the Scots-Irish McWhorters, the English Norwoods and the German Starnes families. There were no paved roads in this part of Union County in 1908, Brady related, and the families wanted to worship closer to home. They began with a small chapel in 1902, and then constructed the current church in 1908, holding the first worship service on Sept. 10 that year. It was across the road from the Walkersville Post Office and took the name for the church.
In the early days, Katie had told me, “the church budget was dependent upon the price of cotton. If the price of cotton was strong, the church's bills were paid. If not, there was a deficit. This was due to the fact that practically every family lived and died by the price of cotton.”
The congregation in those days adhered to a very strict concept of how the Lord's day was to observed, which Brady likened to Orthodox Jewish traditions. The day was known as the “Sabbath,” not Sunday. Parishioners went to “Divine Worship,” not “church.” No fires were lit on the Sabbath, so dinner was cooked on Saturday night.
According to Gary, this strict observance continued until World War II.
We talked some about his compilation of the history. A century is a significant milestone for any organization. He told me that he decided early not to merely chronicle events. He planned to celebrate the people who made up the congregation, leading “faith determined lives.” I, for one, can't wait to put my hands on a copy.