Critically important pieces of Mitchell County History are the stories of our churches. Some works of note such as Lloyd Bailey, A History of the Methodist Church in the Toe River Valley, from which the current story draws significantly and James Oliver Young, A Baptist Looks Back are major contributions. However, each denomination and each church, should make an effort to capture in detail as much specific and related history of their congregation and church as possible. The Mitchell County Historical Society will assist anyone taking on such a demanding yet rewarding task. The results will be carefully cataloged and saved for future generations.
The Bakersville United Methodist Church had its organizational beginnings almost 140 years ago, but Wesleyan Methodism arrived about 100 years earlier with the first settlers who brought their faith from Maryland to the Johns River Valley to the Toe River Valley.
With more space we could link the Bakersville United Methodist Church to Abraham, Martin Luther, Henry VIII, or John Wesley and “the holy club” at Oxford, but we will begin in America with the arrival of Robert Strawbridge around 1760. He was a fiery Irishman from County Leitrim and firmly committed to Methodist missionary work. He and his wife Elizabeth Piper, also a devoted Wesleyan, came to Frederick County, Maryland and settled near the home of Seth and Priscilla Hyatt whose daughter, Naomi, married Thomas Young. Apparently the Youngs became well acquainted with the man who first brought the Methodist religion to Maryland and America.
After the Youngs moved to the North Cove in North Carolina, they had their first son and named him Strawbridge. There is no evidence that Robert visited them; however, another significant Methodist was a friend and was welcomed to their home to preach–Bishop Francis Asbury.
Strawbridge Young became a Methodist missionary, moved up the mountain, and settled in what is now Yancey County. In addition to bringing the Young family name to the area, he brought his religion and eventually built a church, “Young’s Meeting House,” near present day Newdale which became the home of the earliest Methodist Society in the Valley. The Youngs on the Bakersville side of the Toe River are decedents of Moses Young; however, they too were stalwart Methodists. The Moses/Thomas Young connection is another mystery story waiting to be told—brothers, cousins, something else?
By the 1790’s, circuit riders were bringing Methodist teaching and preaching to WNC. Names of the ministers are yet to be associated specifically with the Toe River Valley; however, records do indicate that as early as 1814, the Morganton Circuit of the Methodist Church ran from Morganton to Nebo to Old Fort over Gillespie Gap to Strawbridge Young’s at Newdale, to Guthridge Garland’s at Garland Town (Red Hill), to David Baker’s at Bakersville, and finally to William Wiseman’s at Ingalls then back over Linville Mountain to Johns River. Records indicate that Baker’s house in what is now Bakersville served the circuit rider in 1823. Drawing from the history of road and trail use by explorers, merchants, and settlers, it is likely that some missionaries traveled our hills and valleys previously.
David Baker, most likely a friend, lived in the vicinity of Thomas Young and his family before coming up the mountain to present day Mitchell County. Both show records that they received land grants along the Johns River. The same likely is true with another settler from that area, William Wiseman, who married Mary Davenport in Culpeper, Virginia which is within Robert Strawberry’s mission area. The Bakers, Youngs, and Wisemans shared a firm belief in the Methodist doctrine. David Baker’s log cabin home was located at or near the former Dr. A.E. Gouge property on North Main Street in Bakersville. This was the beginning of Methodism in Bakersville. According to traditional stories the first meetings were held in that log cabin by those who eventually organized the first Methodist Missionary Society.
David’s son, Josiah, apparently continued to welcome Methodist circuit riders into his home. One of note was Thomas M. Dula, one of the first circuit rider ministers specifically associated with Bakersville.
The first available records indicate that Bakersville became a named circuit and had regular church services beginning in 1867. The church shared a Minister, Walter. H. Stephens, with 5 other local congregations (Hunter’s Creek, Pisgah, Snow Creek, and Shiloh (Red Hill/Garland Town)). In 1865-1866 he served the Burnsville Circuit before he became the first minister in the Bakersville Circuit.
The growing congregation set the stage for the 1871 organization of the “Bakersville Missionary Society,” obviously under the aegis of the Methodist denomination with their first formal meeting recorded by B.R. Wilburn. Early in the history of Methodism, John Wesley encouraged itinerant preachers that he commissioned to establish Methodist societies as he had done within the Anglican Church in England.
The first Methodist Church building was constructed in 1880.
In addition to Bailey, information from Mary Lee Barron, and Perry Dean Young added greatly to the current article.