Chapter 11: Historic Hillsdale Baptist Church

In addition to the Nanneys and the Blankenships, another segment of Wade’s family came to Nanneytown in 1790’s. Leaving Germany, Nicholas Kuhn (KHN is Hebrew name for priest) landed at the port in Charleston and made his way up to Rutherford County NC. Benedict was born on the boat coming over. (Now the name is spelled Koon or Koone. The most common spelling is Cohen.) They left their Hebrew roots and became Baptists. Wade’s g-grandfather is Peter Koone whose son Aaron Koone married Leah also from a German family. They are buried in a primitive church cemetery, Hillsdale Baptist, built in 1873. Just up the road from the log cabin where Wade’s mama was raised by Zilpah Koone and John Gilkey Blankenship.

John’s father, Archibald Blankenship, a farmer in Morgan Township, deeded two acres of his land to the community for the building of a church. The land was cleared and a building constructed of the pine trees they cut down. Archibald’s son Martin Lafayette built the “straight backed wooden pews and the pulpit furniture, plus wooden shutters for the windows.” An article in the Rutherfordton NC paper of July 7, 1976, noted this church as the oldest standing church in Rutherford County. It is now lost back in the woods, gated off by the family who owns the surrounding land on Horn Mill Road off Nanney Town Road between Gilkey and Union Mills, N.C. I can’t get in to take a picture, but I will keep trying.

According to the 1976 article which relied heavily on the memories of Gladys Justice Doggett of Gilkey, granddaughter of Archibald, “the interior walls were lined with kerosene lamps which illuminated the one room building.” “Through the years there were numerous singing schools conducted there,” but “the cemetery provides a true picture of the history and the people of the community. The oldest marked grave in the small plot is that of Mary Ella Blankenship, the five year old daughter of M.L. and Catherine Blankenship, who died in 1875. Her year-old-sister died the following year.”

“In 1923, the men of the community remodeled the church, putting a tin roof on the structure and putting glass windows in place of the wooden shutter. Electric lighting was also added.” “It was a community project with the women preparing food for the workers and everyone pitching in to clean up the church, cemetery, and grounds.”

Mrs. Doggett’s earliest recollection of the annual memorial services goes back to when she was a little girl. “I can remember when we had all day services with dinner on the table built beside the church. First we would put flowers on the graves then go inside and sing and have these long sermons. The benches weren’t built for comfort.”

Services like this are not uncommon in small southern churches even in 2014. They are called Homecoming Sundays. Our Trinity United Methodist Church had one on May 18. Good food and gospel tunes singing, and visiting with former members who may have moved away. Sometimes this coincides with Decoration Day (See my post of April 2013 Our Heritage is a Foundation) to honor our military warriors. Families return to place flowers on the graves of their relatives. But thus far, I am unaware of a “mystery burial” like what happened in Nanneytown.

The story is told that granny Zilpha passed the Hillsdale church every day in 1900 on the way to tend the fields. One morning she noticed fresh dirt in the cemetery in an area about the size that would accommodate a small body. Apparently there was a burial during the night. No word was ever shared with a neighbor, and the best they could come up with was a transient sawmiller had buried one of his children. No explanation was ever heard, and the grave is still unmarked. So sad.

“The last two burials in the Hillsdale cemetery were in 1969, those of Zilpha, Wade’s grandma, and Thomas Ed Arrowood.(A name we remember from Brackett Town Saga).


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