A special thanks to Rev. Ralph L. Reed and Jennie Lynn Krichbaum for the research and writing of this history.
Great spiritual enterprises have often begun in the dream of a few people. It was so in the beginning of Trinity United Methodist Church.
For some years prior to 1847, Peter Miller, a saintly farmer-logger became increasingly concerned that there was no building for “day school” and worship in the sparsely populated area west of the French Broad River that later came to be known as West Asheville. As Peter walked up the hill from his home he often dreamed that one day a “Meeting House” would be built in the greatly admired grove of of hardwoods and balm tress on the north side of the hill. After awhile he shared his dream with his wife, Elizabeth, and his brother, George, and with other persons who were to help his dream become a reality.
1847 was the year of fulfillment. One of the persons who shared Peter’s dream was Thomas L. Gaston who on September 6, 1847, deeded an acre of land on the hill to Peter and George Miller who were also appointed trustees. The land was given, as the deed stated, “for the benefit of the neighborhood.” Later, the Miller brothers were given the remainder of the land, including the tract on which the Trinity Church parsonage once stood.
(1847-1909) Miller Meeting House – First Church Building
In a very brief time, a small, one-room frame building was erected to complete the dream of Peter Miller and his supporters. Finally, there was a place for the “day school” and non-denominational preaching services standing among the balm trees and hardwoods on the crest of the hill. Among those who rejoiced to see a ”house of God” rise were the parents of Peter and George, the Reverend George W. Miller and his wife, Clarissa Eveline Stradley Miler. Rev. George Miller, the son of John George and Anna Alexander Miller, was a local preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. They lived west of Asheville, and were engaged in farming and carpentry. (References to Rev. and Mrs. Miller were taken from, Vol. I of “Old Buncombe County Heritage,” under James Stradley and Descendants, page 343.) In recognition of the significant role of the Millers in the building project, the newly constructed building was named The Miller Meeting House. The beautiful memorial windows in Trinity Church were placed in appreciation of Peter and Elizabeth Miller and the splendid service they gave to the church and community.
According to Terrie Buttrick, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Buttrick, “the interior of the school-church included homemade benches, a speaker’s stand, a wood burning stove, and kerosene wall lamps.” Perhaps, boards were attached to some benches for school use. Mrs. M. E. Hutsell was the first “day school” teacher. The most prevalent names on the first “class book” (1848) were Alexander, Brookshire, Clark, Collins, Cowan, Duckett, Gaston, Hughes, Jarrett, Ledford, Miller and Wright.
While the Miller Meeting house was originally designated non-denominational, and welcomed preachers from various churches, the Methodist influence was strong from the earliest times. It is believed that either “uncle” George Miller, a Local Preacher, or “Uncle” John Reynolds preached the first sermon. Rev. John Reynolds (born 1797, died 1876) was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1820, was a circuit riding member of the South Carolina Conference until 1826 when, because of failing health, he became a supernumerary (without salary or appointment) of the Conference, and located in Asheville where he and his wife operated The Carolina House Hotel for several years. The hotel was built on Broadway Street a few years before the Civil War. R. N. Price, author of the History of Holston Methodism, states that john Reynolds was active in the area churches before and after 1850. (In 1856, he and his wife built a large brick house on Westwood Place. The house, painted white is still standing.) They had four children. As a founding pastor of Central Methodist Episcopal Church (1825 – 26) he was buried in the old Church cemetery and his grave was left under a later church building. In 1855, he was admitted to the Holston Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He and Rev. George Miller preached in the Miller Meeting House between the monthly visits of the pastor and conducted class meetings and prayer services in the homes . Another evidence of Methodist “leanings” was adoption of John Wesley’s Class Book” method of enrolling members in “classes” for spiritual oversight, nurture and discipline as early as 1848. George Miller was the first class leader. e were 45 members in 1848. Also, it is significant that Dr. S.S. Grant of Central Church served as Sunday School Superintendent before James Buttrick arrived in 1870. It is thought that Miller Meeting House was supplied by regular Methodist preachers of the Leicester Circuit of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South some year before 1871. Terrie Buttrick wrote that 19 years of church records were retained by the Leicester Circuit and were presumed lost in 1878 when the church was placed on the Sulphur Springs Circuit. (Further research in the minutes of the Hoston Conference may cast light upon the date of Miller Meeting House’s first relationship with the Leicester Circuit.) However, some information suggests an early association with the Leicester Circuit of the Holston Conference. Rev. E. F. Sevier was the first Presiding Elder and Rev. Jackson S. Burnett (not to confused with Rev. John S. Burnett of the Methodist Episcopal Church) was the first pastor when the church became a part of the Leicester Circuit. Mr. Burnett married a daughter of James M. Alexander of Buncombe County. He was a merchant in what is now Alexander and preached often in various parts of the county, as well as serving pastorates. E. F. Sevier died on October 15, 1862, the opening day of Conference. Other leaders: P.W. Patty was Presiding Elder, T.M. Dula was pastor and G.W. Miller was Class Leader. When Mr. Patty was Presiding Elder, Rev. J.D. Baldwin became Pastor. When Rev, William Hicks was Presiding Elder, Rev. A. F. English was the Pastor.
In 1870, Epworth England, the birth place of John and Charles Wesley gave Methodism and the Miller Meeting House another zealous and courageous leader in the person of James Buttrick who came to Asheville to live and work. He had a true Methodist’s dedication to Christian Education, church growth and the disciplined life. In the words of Terrie Buttrick, “He joined heart and hand with the founders in an effort to make the Miller Meeting House larger and of more service to the community.” He encouraged the holders of the deed, executed in 1847, to properly deed the property to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, subject to the rules of that church.
On February 17, 1871, Mr. Buttrick’s efforts were rewarded by the execution of a deed transferring the property to The Methodist Episcopal Church, South. “It was done,” the deed stated, “for and in consideration for the love we had for The Methodist Episcopal Church. South.” The deed was signed by Peter and Elizabeth Miller, Canada Cowan, Mary C. Cowan, George Miller, C. B. Miller, L.F. Miller, N.J. Miller, Anna Miller, J.B. Gaston and Parley Gaston. After this, the name was changed from the Miller Meeting House to Balm Grove Methodist Episcopal Church, South because of the balm trees growing on the lot.
Shortly after the new deed was made, Dr. S.S. Grant resigned as Sunday School Superintendent, and James Buttrick took his place. Again, Terrie Buttrick wrote: “He accepted the responsibility as a scared trust and worked with untiring energy and devotion to enlarge the Sunday School, and build a bigger church in membership and building.” As the attendance at Sunday School and worship grew, the small building would not accommodate the people, so it was arranged to have adults and children attend at different times. This situation had to be addressed. A second story was added. The extra space was used for groups begun by Mr. Buttrick: The Sons of Temperance; the Juvenile Missionary Society (the first in the Holston Conference) called “Epworth Plants” in honor of John Wesley’s birthplace (the Epworth Plants later affiliated with a conference group called “Light bearers”); and a temperance society called “Band of Hope” for children and youth. The major group using the second story was The Sons of Temperance, and order for adults and youth promoting the cause of temperance locally and nationally. Mr. Buttrick started the first Sunday School library with George Miller as the first librarian. (Mr. Buttrick was a student of Methodist history and doctrine. The prized, rare eight volume set of John Wesley’s works, now in possession of Trinity, bear the date 1887, and the signature of James Buttrick. They were donated to the library in his memory by his family on September 12, 1848.)
On April 2, 1871, the officers of the Balm Grove Sunday School were: James Buttrick, superintendent; J.P. Gaston, secretary; Mrs. Dorcas Reynolds, Mrs. E. A. Luther and Mrs. M.E. Hutsell, teachers. The enrollment was 50. Mr. Buttrick was Sunday School Superintendent from 1871 to the time of his death on September 20, 1903, a period of 33 years. Mr. S. D. Hall followed him and served for 18 years. Those following Mr. Hall in the earlier years were: John Kille, C.W. Brown, D.T. Jarrett, J.W. McRary, John Eble, L. J. Brookshire, O.C. Mills and J.W. McRary (second term.)
The church remained on h Leicester Circuit until 1878 when the circuit was divided and the Sulphur Springs Circuit was formed. Balm Grove was included in the new circuit. At the time of the division the following were Trustees: James Buttrick, Peter Miller, J.P. Gaston, D. J. McLellan. W. H. Hawkins, James M. Jarrett and Avery Alexander. Rev. James Kennedy (former president of Asheville Female College) was Presiding Elder and J.S. Weatherly was pastor. Rev. J. L. Stover became pastor that year. He served the church in two pastorates.
New Church Building
In 1907 the church was removed from the circuit and made a station, a one church, one pastor charge. The enlarged Miller Meeting House, now Balm Grove Methodist Episcopal Church, South, soon became too small for a growing membership. The decision was made to build a new and larger church.
(1909-1926) Second Church Building
The cornerstone for the beautiful and enlarged brick church was laid on June 5, 1909. When this church was dedicated the name was changed to West Asheville Methodist Episcopal Church South. The membership at that time was 190. Located in a rapidly growing area, the church continued growth in membership and program. An interesting incident, along with a pressing need for more space, caused the church leadership to begin planning for a larger church. This decision resulted in the building of the present church 1926–27. It was reported that the room of the Baraca Class, taught by Terrie E. Buttrick, was located in the northeast end of the balcony. Frank Rymer, Sr. was president and Walter McRary was treasurer. When the class grew too large for the room, the young men decided to excavate a place under the building for an enlarged classroom. They worked night after night with pick and shovel until there was an alarmingly big cavity beneath the church. The trustees and other leaders, fearing there would be a cave-in of the walls, called a halt to the project. However, the trustees, awakened to the necessity of a larger, better equipped building, began to plan for a new church. This lovely church after existing for only 18 years, was torn away in order to build the present church. The remains of the deceased in the old cemetery were removed to other burial places. The grave stones of Peter and Elizabeth Miller were placed under their memorial windows on the Balm Grove side of the new church. A granite memorial stone giving information about the Millers was placed between their head stones by Frank Rymer in 1975.
Years later after the 1909 church was torn away, the cornerstone was set in a granite monument by Mr. and Mrs. James Arthur and placed on the east side of the present sanctuary with the following inscription:
IN MEMORY AND HONOR OF DORCAS JARRETT EVANS (1874-1966)
OLIVE EVANS ARTHUR (1897-1987)
J.N. (Nat) ARTHUR, SR. (1891 – 1978)
When the 1909 church building was razed, Sunday School classes were held in various places until the Education Building of the new church was finished. Mrs. H.E. (Irene) Rudisill, a member since 1920, recalls that she and others taught children’s classes in a building behind the present B&B Pharmacy. Mr. and Mrs. Rudisill were married by Rev. E. W. Fox (1918-21) after he left the charge.
The man for the times was Rev. J.S. Hiatt who was appointed pastor on October 19, 1925. He had won acclaim as a church builder and fundraiser. It is probable that the Cabinet of the Western North Carolina Conference selected him to lead in the momentous task of building the great sanctuary and education building that has graced Haywood Road since 1927.
(1927-Present) Third and Current Church Building
After a heroic effort, the new edifice was consecrated on May 29, 1927, by Bishop Edwin D. Mouzon. In the afternoon, Dr. J. G. Anderson, Chairman of the Building Committee, spoke on “Why Are We Here?” After an address by United States District Attorney Thomas J. Harkins, the large front window depicting Bible scenes and the symbols of the four Gospel Writers, was presented by Masonic Lodge No. 663 and accepted by L. Lee Marr. Then, Mayor Gallatan Roberts brought greetings and best wishes. At the evening service, D.T. Jarrett, Charge Lay Leader, also spoke on “Why Are We Here?” and Rev. Mr. Hiatt preached on the topic “A Victorious Church.” Dan Judd, a long-time supporter of this church, has told this interesting story about the Masonic window. Rev. Mr. Hiatt, a strong Mason, found several Masons in his congregation. One Sunday after church, a group of men meeting in front of the church decided to establish a lodge in West Asheville. Lodge members contributed $500.00 toward the purchase of a window in honor of Rev. Mr. Hiatt. (As far as can be determined, this is the only church window in existence donated by a Masonic Lodge.)
Masonic window in the balcony of the Church – also seen from the pulpit.
The contract price for the Education Building, which was built first, and the sanctuary was $125,000 but the entire cost, including stained glass windows, pews, and other expenses, came to $148,000.
Great Depression Hits
When the Rev. G.T. Bond followed Rev. J. S. Hiatt in 1930, the “great” depression was well underway and the church was under great hardship because of the large debt. The next pastor, Rev. Carlock Hawk (1932-1934), seceded in getting the note holders to reduce the interest and contribute substantial gifts of accrued interest. While E. H. Nease, Sr. (1935-1938) and Rev. A. C. Tippett (1939 – 1941) served the church, the financial burden was still very heavy, but the congregation was determined to pay the debt in full. The next pastor, Rev. Dr. H.C. Sprinkle, Jr. (1941 – 1942), found the church struggling to make monthly payments. He worked hard on plans to reduce the debt. In these years, and during the tenure of Rev. J. W. Fitzgerald, the church made a magnificent sacrificial effort to remove the indebtedness. Women of the church gave numerous suppers and sponsored a food service downtown. The famous “brick brigade,” launched by the Bond Class, soon had the support of other classes and organizations as well as the general membership. Symbolic bricks were sold for 50 cents. Each brick sold, by special arrangements with the creditors, was equivalent to $1 on the debt. In one year, $500 was raised, reducing the debt by $1,000. A special drive during Mr. Fitzgerald’s ministry resulted in the payment of the debt in full, a happy announcement at the Christmas service in 1945.
The present church was dedicated on July 1, 1945, by Bishop Clare Purcell. The dedication celebration was in keeping with the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream. The dedication was preceded by a series of special services, June 24 – July 1, 1945. Among the distinguished speakers were: Dr. E. H. Nease, Sr., Rev. Lee Tuttle, Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton, Dr. Howard P. Powell, Bishop Clare Purcell, and Dr. J.S. Hiatt. The Day of Dedication bulletin listed the following: Miss Viola Ownbey, Secretary and organist; C.J. Ebbs, Chairman Board of Stewards; J. Walter McRary, Church School Superintendent; C. H. Dickson, Charge Lay Leader; Mrs. Roy P. Byerly, President of Women’s Society of Christian Service, and J. F. Brown, Church Treasurer. At the service a Christian Flag was presented in memory of Mr. and Mrs. James Buttrick by their children: Misses Emalie and Terrie Buttrick, Mrs. Archie Nichols, Mrs. Frank Rymer, William Buttrick, Mrs. M. F. Moores and James A. Buttrick.
In 1950, the additional property adjoining the plot on which the Balm Grove parsonage stood was purchased from Elizabeth and Herman Nichols.
Names of the Church: Miller Meeting House, 1847; Balm Grove Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1871; West Asheville Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1909; West Asheville Methodist Church, 1939; Trinity Methodist Church, 1952; Trinity United Methodist Church, 1968, the year of the union of the Methodist Church with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The change to Trinity in 1952 accomplished three things: recognition of Abernethy (a new church in West Asheville); a more religious name; and avoided a locality designation.
New Education Building
Once again, Trinity was fortunate enough to have a growth problem. Because of over-crowding in the Children’s Division of the Education Building, the church built the Children’s Building which was dedicated on June 3, 1962.
In March of 1971, during the pastorate of Rev. J.W. Braxton, a movement began to secure a new parsonage. After much investigation and planning, a decision was made to purchase a suitable home at 32 Mountain Terrace in Echo Hills. The newly acquired parsonage, along with an extra lot, was dedicated November 17, 1974. The Balm Grove parsonage was used by: Associate Pastor Rev. Michael Anderson and wife; Director of Christian Education Janet Hitch and family; Music and Education Director Leslie Sullivan; and Education Director Ernie Mills and family. In the middle 1980’s the house was torn down and a large parking lot was created. (This is an incomplete listing.)
Church Pipe Organ
Pulpit and Choir Loft with Pipe Organ at Christmas
In the mid 1970’s, the 1913 concert organ which came to Trinity by way of the Grove Park Inn and Central Church was creating increasing problems. An investigation indicated that repairs would cost $18,000 without assurance that the instrument would hold up in the future. On Sunday, September 1, 1974, after three presentations, the congregation voted to contract for a new Reuter pipe organ at a total cost of $35,000, an amount which included the cost of building changes, possible interest charges, and other costs. The congregation expressed thanks to all who shared information about the present and future organs. It was understood that the basic cost of the organ would be $30, 842 with the use of some ranks from the old organ. The Committee on Finance was authorized to conduct a campaign to secure commitments for $35,000. In true Trinity style, the money was pledged and paid. In less than two years, the new organ was paid for and installed. The service of dedication was held on October 17, 1976. The Dedication Day bulletin listed hundreds of gifts given in honor of and in memory of family members and friends, the largest number being given in memory of J. C. DeLozier and Walter McRary.
In this period, the following improvements were made: pastor’s study, church office and choir room remodeled; new carpet in the narthex; sanctuary painted; basement hall carpeted and paneled. An outstanding achievement was the remodeling and paneling of the fellowship hall in memory Mr. and Mrs. Charles Zurhorst. A gift of $2,000 from relatives paid for the materials. While several members assisted in the carpentry and other work, Oscar DeLoach worked on and supervised the renovation as a service to the church. He was recognized before the congregation and given an appreciation gift. This was one of many services he rendered to the church. This work assured the church a useful and attractive meeting place for many future years.
An interesting example of Trinity’s willingness to venture forth into new ministries was the effort to establish Camp Danitaga in the late 1930’s. This project, which began as a Church school ministry, had the support of young people and the youth leadership. The location of the Camp was halfway up the southern slope of Spivey Mountain. The tract, which contained twenty-two acres of well-timbered land, provided a twenty mile view of the mountain grandeur. The dream was to have a recreation center with a picnic area, a swimming pool, and log lodge to accommodate forty persons overnight. For some reason Camp Danitaga was never completed. However, the legacy of this “vision splendid” and “bold endeavor” has remained to challenge the church to have great faith and launch out upon new and unique ministries.
As we celebrate our 150th Anniversary, there is evidence of a renewed quest for spiritual life and a growing awareness of the call to Christian discipleship. This call challenges us to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to dedicate ourselves to being His Church in “our time and place.” Let it our prayer that vital spirituality will under gird all future enhancements of facilities and programs. It is our hope that this partial account of Trinity’s history and continuing ministries will call to mind God’s blessings throughout 150 years of our journey of faith and inspire us to believe that with His continuing assistance a great past can be prologue to an even greater future.
(Sources: Material furnished by Miss Terrie Buttrick, Walter McRary, Catherine Bagwell, Marjorie Blakely, church records and bulletins, personal witnesses, new stories and historical research.)
Researched and edited by Rev. Ralph L. Reed
The Children’s Building
(Excerpts from a history of the building by Mrs. Leo H. (Catherine) Bagwell, Children’s Division Superintendent, 1954 – 1962.
In the 1950’s it became evident that larger educational facilities were needed to meet the needs of a rapidly growing Church School. In the fall and winter of 1956, Phil Sales, Assistant Superintendent, led in conducting a survey to determine future needs. The survey indicated a pressing shortage of space for children and youth.
On May 15, 1957, the Church Charge Conference approved a Building Committee of 25 members which held its organizational meeting on May 29, 1957. The officers were: Hal Starnes, Chairman; Mrs. C. M. Hill, Secretary; Don Williams, Treasurer. Later Hal Starnes was chairman of the Special Gifts committee and Phil Sales was designated General Chairman of the campaign. On Sunday, September 8, 1957, the congregation received the plans for the projected building and gave its approval by an overwhelming vote.
October 13-14, 1957, Rev. Rollin Gibbs of the Conference Board of Missions, conducted a campaign with a goal of $100,000. Cash and pledges amounted to $93,000. Church School classes and other groups pledged $7,300 to put the campaign over the top.
A ground breaking ceremony was held on June 7, 1959, and the cornerstone was laid on September 13, 1959. In March 1960, the building was occupied; pavement was completed in April and an open house was held on Sunday, May 1, 1960.
The building was dedicated on June 3, 1962. Total cost was $96,200.
To quote Mrs. Bagwell, “My heart swells with pride and I rejoice over a dream come true every time I come into Balm Grove Avenue and look on the Children’s Building. It is a a symbol of love and consecration – the holy place where little children learn of Christ; where God meets people and people meet God.”