Tuesday History: Bringing religion to the “rude mountaineers,” 1869

SECOND IN LINE: Over the last 170 years, Asheville's Trinity Episcopal Church has built three structures. Featured above is its second church, built in the 1880s. It stood where the current Trinity Episcopal Church stands today, on the corner of Church and Aston streets. The second Trinity burned to the ground on Nov. 15, 1910. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

We continue with round three of Dr. J.P. Purcell’s 1869 article “Wayside queries and Information.” Last week, we looked at Purcell’s descriptions of the vineyards and cheese available in Asheville. This week, we offer you his commentary on the area’s churches and schools.

While Purcell’s writing was featured in the Asheville News on May 20, 1869, it was originally printed by the Wilmington Journal.

Purcell reports:

Favored with such heaven and earth, and health, Asheville is flourishing. It will, and it must, flourish. It has a seminary for young ladies. It contains at present between ninety and a hundred pupils. There is a school which numbers about sixteen boys, two miles from town; and another one mile, which has about twenty scholars. One is about to be opened for boys in the town. This speaks for itself. There are four churches — a Presbyterian; a Methodist, which prevails in number; a Baptist and an Episcopal. The name of the latter is TRINITY. Its pastor is Rev. Jarvis Buxton. It is gothic in its structure, and has a nice grave-yard neatly fenced in … The congregation has increased and is still increasing. The dew of Heaven is falling, and is fertilizing the land. The golden harvest is seen in the distance. The reapers and the gleaners are preparing.

FIRST OF ITS KIND: Parishioners leave the first of Trinity's three churches in Asheville. It was built in 1849. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina
FIRST OF ITS KIND: Parishioners leave the first Trinity Episcopal Church  in Asheville. It was built in 1849. The undated image would have been taken between 1850-1880. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

A diocesan Theological Seminary will be opened by the first of May. Rev. G.T. Wilmer, D.D., is now here awaiting the necessary preparation and instruction before entering on his duties as President of the same. An associated mission will be connected with this establishment. The field of operation is fertile and wide. There are many missionary schools to be formed. The mountain people must be brought in and instructed. This cannot be done unless assistance is given. Traveling on foot ten and twenty miles a day is too slow. It is decidedly too fatigueing [sic]. If the “pillars of the Church” at Wilmington would but look at this particular time beyond the physical boundaries of their own respective congregations, and take a humane glance at this section of their State, and witness what labor individuals must undergo to spiritually feed those rude mountaineers, sitting in the darkness of spiritual death, they would be doing a great deal for God, and a great deal for their countrymen. I do not imply that they have not some as equally needy among them! But then — DISTRIBUTE. That is the Gospel maxim.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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