On October 4, 1984, Phena Fincher interviewed Helen McKinney; who now resides in Hope, and is the wife of Reverend Dale McKinney who has pastored several of the local Methodist churches, about the Carolina Church located in South Nevada County. The interview begins as follows...
Phena: First of all, give us a description of where Carolina Church is located.
Helen: Carolina Church is located in a wooded area in the very remote southwest corner of Nevada County. It is situated off Hwy 4 from Rosston, five miles, turn left on a gravel road to the intersection of Cale Road, which comes in on the left. Now this is one mile from Hwy 4. Right 5/10 of a mile to the church building. It is in a remote wooded area and there is nothing there except Carolina. This was once a very active community with people residing all over the area, but now it is lonely.
Phena: Like a lot of places in the rural area are today. Do you have any idea as to when the church was founded?
Helen: There is a rumor, unconfirmed, that the church was started in 1856; when the first settlers came in there it was 1855, and it is believed by some people who have tried to research this, but I have been unabel to confirm it. But we do know that in the deed, when the land was given to Carolina Church it was stipulated in the deed that it was for the purpose of building a church. The deed is dated 1871, so this, I believe, is the authentic age of the building. Now the church itself could have been started many years prior to that and have met in the the homes or school building or some other place. The only way we can confirm this is by going to archives at Hendrix College and researching the conference records which are hand written. If someone had the time, it would be great to do that.
Phena: You indicated there was quite a community there at one time. Do you have an idea how many families originally attended the first year or so?
Helen: No, but in thinking about the names of the families, we do know that the Blakeleys, Shells, Potters, Ingrams, Scotts, and at the moment, I cannot think of other families, but there was a real nice settlement of people there.
Phena: That is five very familiar names there and with the size that families were in those days, that would indicate there were a good number of people attending church there in the beginning, because a lot of people really had dediction to their churches at that time, too. Do you have any idea at what years the membership may have been the greatest? Do you think it was probably during those early years?
Helen: I would think so, because as people moved to larger farms they came in and farmed the sandy lands, of course cleared the timbers and sandy land with Little Georgia stocks and possibly a team of mules and maybe 40 acres. And as their families grew they had to have more land for production to make more crops in order to survive.
Phena: Is the original building still standing?
Helen: Yes, the original building is still standing today and it is a tribute to the builders who constructed it. It is pegged entirely. The framework, the original part of the building that remains today, is pegged with large pegs on the basic structure. When we restored it we adhered to the historic features and had our windows pegged together and the doors are pegged; everything is kept as authentic as possible.
Phena: When was this restoration?
Helen: We started the restoration, in getting funds together, in late 1976. We started the actual construction on the repairs in the first of August, 1977.
Phena: Well you've indicated that you did everything to keep the original there. Has it changed in appearance and features in any way?
Helen: No. The only thing that has been added are the transom glasses over the front door. There are many people who are possibly in their 70's who don't remember the glasses being there and one day we were down there painting on the woodwork, Dale and I, and I discovered that the styles (?) were still there and they had been boarded up for many years with just a 1x8.
Phena: Tell us something about the benches. I was so impressed with the benches that were in that church!
Helen: I will never forget the first time I saw them there. They are made out of one continuous piece of virgin pine timbers, free of knots. There is not a knot in a bench. And then the cap molds over the top of them are hand hewn. You can see the hewn marks. And Phena, one thing we need to mention is the divider right down the middle. That is made of two pieces of timbers, and it must be 32 inches high. This lets us know there were some beautiful timbers somewhere. There is a tradition that says that the people who came from Carolina, South and North Carolina, who came by way of the northerly route into that area brought with them this divider, but I really doubt that. It makes a good story but I don't think that is true. I really believe that the timber that went into that was virgin timber, possibly on the site or nearby. Now Carolina received its name from the early settlers that came in there and they simply called it Carolina.
Phena: Was that the name of the community as well as the church or do you know?
Helen: It still remains Carolina community to this day. The voting precinct still went there a couple of years ago. I think they have moved to another location now, because there were not enough people in there, but they retained it as a voting precinct and used the building for voting.
Phena: Do you happen to know the names of any early pastors?
Helen: I have a record that goes back to 1936 and C.V. Mashburn (?) is listed as a pastor in 1948. I don't see a pastor's name here. Brother Eloe (?) Lee was the last pastor to serve the church when it was active.
Phena: What year was that? Do you know approximately when services were no longer held on a regular basis?
Helen: So far as I can determine from the records that we have available, they were discontinued in 1954 when the tenure of Brother Eloe (L.O.?) Lee ended. There were only two active members left, I believe, at that time, and that was Houstan Delaney and his wife from Camden. He was getting in failing health and they decided it possibly would be wise just to discontinue services.
Phena: Since that time have there been any services there?
Helen: Yes, my husband Dale McKinney and I, conducted services there in 1977 for the purpose of raising funds to go in the restoration. We went each 5th Sunday that year and all the money that was received went into the building fund for the restoration of the building which had deteriorated horribly at that time.
Phena: Has there not been any vandalism to this beautifuly old structure?
Helen: Prior to when we started the restoration, someone had gone in. And one day we carried our district superintendent's wife, Peggy Mousson (?) Mann, down to see Carolina and she was so impressed. As we walked around the building, we found a cluster of bullet shells laying on the ground where apparently someone had stood and deliberately shot out glass by glass. I think there was something like five glasses left when we started our restoration. Then someone went in and kicked out the panels, the bottom pieces of the panels in two of the doors. And about two weeks later, someone went in there, after we had started the restoration and had the seals replaced on the bad side, and kicked out the other two low panels in the doors.
Phena: But since the restoration?
Helen: Not one glass has been broken.
Phena: That's wonderful!
Helen: I told Ralph Hale. He was so concerned, he talked about putting a 6ft. chain fence around the building and the grounds, and I said, "It would not keep anyone out who is bent on mischief". So I said to him, "Ralph, I asked the Lord to protect Carolina Church and I believe that the Lord can do it". And He has.
Phena: I know that you and Bro. Dale have a great affection for this church in the way that you have worked for it and we appreciate what you have done, and it certainly is a marvelous part of our Methodist heritage in Nevada County. Can you remember, or have you heard any interesting stories concerning the church?
Helen: Oh my goodness... It touched so many lives in the early days; I am sorry that we don't have a complete history. One of the stories that I have been told is by Mr. Robert Purifoy who is the son of some of the original settlers there, and he says as a child they used to go there, and of course during church, when you went to church in the old days you stayed 2 1/2, 3 to 4 hours; we didn't get fidgety if we just stayed an hour. He says that he remembers one time being on a pallet and there was a red-haired lady that he can see to this day and she was singing, and of course, the children were bedded down on pallets because they couldn't stay awake that long.
Phena: For our young people today, maybe we need to explain what a pallet is.
Helen: Right, I doubt if they know. But of course people came by horseback, they came in wagons or buggies, many of them walked. And there was a spring adjacent to the church; it's out as you walk in front of it out to the left. Dale and I explored about three years ago and found Mr. Keeley McDonald had gone over to bushhog around the church and he bushogged out the wagon road, which leads to this spring where the horses were tied and also were watered from the spring. The spring apparently still has water in it, because there is moisture on the leaf collection that stood on top of the water, but it has filled in. I imagine if we could get someone down there to clean that spring out, we could still get a fresh drink of water.
Phena: This has been a most delightful visit about Carolina and we appreciate you sharing with us.
The original hand-typed copy of this interview on the Carolina Church can be found at the Prescott-Nevada County Depot Museum. Probably one of the earliest organized churches in Nevada County, located east of Rosston.