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Maiden church roots go deep

Nancy Anthony (left) and Jeri Crow check out photographs for the Historical Association’s next book, a collection a pictures by Clyde Cornwell, Saturday. Some people in the pictures have yet to be identified.
Jenny Walling / Lincoln Times-News

MAIDEN — St. Matthew’s United Church of Christ in Maiden began as a one-floor, 40-foot-by-30 foot building in 1837.
It cost $265 to build the entire structure.
About 25 people gathered near the church, which has since been expanded and improved, for the Lincoln County Historical Association’s quarterly meeting Saturday afternoon.
They huddled together under the church’s looming arbor on the sunny but chilly day to hear the Rev. Linn Finger tell the history and stories of the church.
Church organizers, meeting to make plans for the first time in 1826, gathered around the fireplace at the home of Michael Finger, Linn Finger’s great-grandfather.
The fireplace’s mantle now has a permanent home inside the church.
Finger said the church was probably built at the Maiden Highway location for several reasons, including the proximity to the old schoolhouse and a strong spring that runs nearby. The exact location of the school is unknown, but records say it was about 200 yards from the church.
The church’s current sanctuary was built in 1908, Finger said. Bricks were made individually in a mud pit and hauled in a cart to the site.
Finger’s family helped construct the building.
“My father was so upset, because, being 13, they didn’t let him build,” Finger said.
His uncle, however, helped, and literally left his mark — he scratched his initials into a brick on the side of the church. The brick is still visible today.
The new sanctuary was formally dedicated in 1908. Since then, two choir rooms, a Sunday school wing and the fellowship hall have been added, Finger said.
In 1972 the church’s sanctuary underwent a major renovation to replace the long pews and creaky floor.
While at the site assessing the cost, a builder pulled out a hand-held calculator and punched in some numbers, coming up with a total of approximately $22,700.
Church members were shocked. Not because of the cost, but because of the calculator.
“We had never seen a pocket calculator before,” Finger said.
The man told them the calculator cost $245 — about 20 bucks less than what it cost to build the original St. Matthew’s.
The church’s arbor has a history of its own. First built in 1839 as a brush arbor — a temporary structure — the arbor was used for camp meetings. A new arbor was erected in 1845 and looked almost exactly like the one currently standing on the property.
Used for homecoming revivals, the arbor would attract church-goers from all over. It was tradition that other churches in the area had to close so everyone could attend homecoming at St. Matthew’s, Finger said.
“I can recall if you didn’t get here early, you had to spread a blanket out here,” he said, pointing to the grassy areas on each side.
The event was held every year since the arbor was built, except one when the area experienced a typhoid epidemic.
Around 1855 a group of men gathered in a back corner of the arbor and decided that the area needed a college. And Catawba College was born.
The arbor burned down in 1989, the week of Hurricane Hugo. Church members assumed the structure would never be rebuilt, Finger said.
“That was a devastating thing to this community when the arbor burned down,” he said.
But a new one was created — in the exact same size and fashion as before, except “more tied together in the middle,” Finger said.
Finger also shared some of his family’s personal stories of the church’s history, including the day the first car pulled up at camp meeting.
His father told him most other people had arrived on wagons and parked by the spring. They all watered their horses at a long trough.
“He remembers when the first car was driven to camp meeting, and it belched and backfired and scared the horses,” Finger said. Not happy with their horses’ reactions, some threw mud at the man’s car.
Saturday’s event also featured a display by the Lincoln Quilters. And participants inspected old photos in attempt to identify them for a coming book.
The Historical Association is currently making plans for this year’s Historic Preservation Week which runs May 15 to 22.
“It’s far beyond anything we’ve done in the past,” said Jason Harpe, director of the Lincoln County Museum of History.
The week will include a 5K run, bike ride, a number of speakers and a presentation on preserving church history.
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The Rev. Linn Finger served St. Matthew’s from 1971 to 1976, 1989 to 1993 and currently serves part-time.by Alice Smith

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