City Directories and History: Some years before the turn of the 20th century, there were only two families living in Sharon who professed Methodism — the Heltons and the Shufords. When these families (all of 11 people) wished to attend a Methodist service, they had to travel eight or nine miles in a buggy to Old Prospect on Beaver Dam Road near Hopewell. (Prospect was forerunner of Hickory Grove’s Mount Vernon Methodist Church.) Occasionally, when a preacher was available, they were saved the travel and worshiped in an old store where the Hill Building now stands.
Around 1894 M. A. Helton and R. S. Helton were joined by Ireland-born Edward Thomas (uncle of Carrie Love Cobb) in envisioning a Methodist church in Sharon. Uniting their faith with works, they purchased a lot from John L. Rainey for $25, naming themselves as trustees.
At some kind of meeting with the leaders of Prospect, Mr. Edgar Latham recommended that the lot be deeded over to their congregation since “there would never be a Methodist Church in Sharon.” The three trustees fairly snorted at the suggestion, convinced of their vision and firm in their faith. One of the Heltons said that he would continue to believe a church and parsonage would be built in Sharon. He also said, “It wasn’t costing anyone a cent to keep it.”
Over the next couple of years, the tiny band of believers worked and prayed to increase their numbers while they worshiped in the old Sharon Grammar School. For a time, Marie Graves Farries was the pianist, followed by Helen Penninger Thompson, with her father as choir director.
The three trustees held the deed and their hopes for 13 years before the first green blades of a Methodist church began to show in Sharon. In 1917 the congregation was organized into the Sharon Methodist Church with 17 charter members — Mr. and Mrs. M. A. Helton, W. O Sherer, W. A. Thomas, Mrs. Lillian M. Ratchford, Mrs. Carrie Cobb, Mrs. Mary Good, M. M. Jones, Mrs. L. C. Street, Mrs. W. G. Hays, Miss Bessie Helton, Mr. and Mrs. O. M. Spurlin, Ruth Spurlin, Leroy Moore, and Mr. and Mrs. K. L. Bankhead.
Though the congregation consisted mostly of blue-collar workers, several men went were merchants, and many served the town as mayor and councilmen. Otis Spurlin was the town clerk and treasurer from 1925-1927 and gained some notoriety in 1924 when he purchased the first radio in Sharon. Though not a charter member, W. G. Hayes, was a successful furniture dealer and supplier of ice for the town, soon joined the church. When Hayes was elected as Sharon’s mayor in 1926, he was prepared to restore the strength of the Sabbath by closing down Sharon on Sundays “so tight there would be nothing to do but go to church.” W. S. Gibson worked for Hill & Company but later became the town’s postmaster. W. O. Sherer was a school teacher and another early member, and John R. Cobb was a successful and popular grocer and dry goods dealer. Charter member K. L. Bankhead was elected as a town councilman.
Rev. H. C. Mouzon served the Sharon Methodist Church as its first pastor. Mouzon died while serving the congregation and was succeeded by Rev. Elzia Myers. The first board of stewards included M. A. Helton, J. R. Cobb, K. L. Bankhead, and O. M. Spurlin. In 1919, two years after its organization, the congregation began building a house of worship with many volunteers from neighborhood churches and the community.
Nearly every man in town contributed either materials or labor, and some contributed both. In spite of road conditions being worse than they had been in years, 57 members of the Mount Vernon and Shady Grove churches came to Sharon to assist with putting a roof on the half-completed building. Women throughout the community assisted the women of the church to prepare hot, on-site meals for the workers. The church was truly built by Christian fellowship and cooperation. The original building committee consisted of M. M. Jones, W. O. Sherer, T. R. Penninger, and O. M. Spurlin, (treasurer).
The same year that the Methodist Church was organized (1917) and two years before they began building the church, Rev. W. T. Sims, the black pastor at St. John’s Baptist Church, was brutally murdered by a bloodthirsty band of black and white men. It was rumored that several white men were involved, two of which were identified as blacksmith T. R. Penninger and his son, Fred. Fred Penninger was arrested but later cleared of the charge. While the senior Penninger continued to be a suspect, a warrant was never issued for his arrest. When the case came to court, only two black men were found guilty of the murder. None of the suspected white men were brought to trial.
Also concerning T. R. Penninger, it’s interesting to note that a 1953 history of the church lists Penninger as a member of the 1919 building committee, but an important fact seems to have been forgotten. In the fall of 1918, while Penninger was serving the town as magistrate, he was shot in cold blood at his blacksmith shop in front of Mary Whitesides, while reading a warrant to a suspect. It seems likely that the building committee was formed a year or so before the actual construction began, with Penninger as a member. But when the history was written in 1953, his death was overlooked.
By the end of February 1921, the congregation, along with contractor R. W. Hope, was bringing construction to an end. Although Rev. Whortan had estimated the total cost of the building to be about $6,000, the actual cost was only $3,600. Obviously, the cost fell far below the estimate because of donated materials and volunteer labor. By the end of July, work was nearly completed, and the building committee scheduled painting for the week of August 2nd. To provide funds for the finishing touches, the women of the church organized a box supper for the public at the school auditorium.
Except for the pews that were being made locally, the new Methodist Church was complete, and many from the surrounding communities came to celebrate with the congregation on Sunday, September 4. Borrowed benches and chairs crowded the 250-seat-capacity sanctuary. These were filled by members and friends, still leaving nearly 50 to stand. In attendance were the stewards of the church — M. M. Jones, M. A. Helton, O. M. Spurlin, and Walter Edwards, along with trustee W. O. Sherer (M. A. Helton and Walter Edwards were also trustees).
Following a devotional by Rev. Wharton, Rev. George C. Leonard of Rock Hill delivered the day’s message. He congratulated the congregation on their “enterprise and zeal” and prophesied a great future for the newest church. Special music was provided by two local quartets. J. Mason Wilkerson, Sam H. Wilkerson, W. B. Wilkerson, and John Cobb (all from Hickory Grove) comprised the first. The second was the Sharon (A.R.P.) Church Quartet, consisting of W. A. Maloney, J. A. Maloney, Ed Maloney, and Miss Iva Sherer.
In God’s infinite wisdom, misfortune fell on the congregation during the early spring of 1923 in the form of a freak cyclone. Heavy winds blew the building off its pillars, damaging the structure beyond repair. In March the building committee placed a notice in the Yorkville Enquirer for sealed bids for “tearing down and rebuilding the church.” W. S. Gibson, the church treasurer, was employed by Hill & Company at the time, and any questions on specifications and bids (according to the ad) could be placed with him.
Fortunately, the stewards had the foresight to take out an insurance policy against windstorms, and the policy paid $1,500. Rev. Whortan secured another $1,000 from the Conference Board. Tom Kell of Hickory Grove submitted the lowest bid, and construction started on the Gothic Revival architectural design featuring Gothic-arched windows and an eye-catching jerkinhead gable on the front. A seasoned church builder was sent to pastor the congregation during the building program — Rev. J. W. Lewis. Not only did he lead the congregation spiritually, he also gave many hours of manual labor, hammered nails, dug foundations, and performed a multitude of other physical tasks.
By using materials from the destroyed church, the new, brick-veneered church was nearly finished by the middle of July. But the congregation was burdened with a debt of $1,200. A protracted meeting was held in March 1925 in which the pastor, Rev. Lewis, was assisted by Rev. R. L. Holroyd of Yorkville. The meeting must have inspired hearts, hence the debt was reduced by $600.
Over the next few years, the Ladies Missionary Society was responsible for fundraising through imaginative means. The dollar value of their efforts may seem trivial, but remember that these took place during the Great Depression, and, few women worked outside of the home.
During 1930 the ladies divided themselves into money-raising teams. Team #1 was led by Mrs. Spurlin, while Mrs. J. S. Hope had the leadership of Team #2. The Spurlin team was thrilled with the $57 they raised but were topped by the Hope team, who brought in $105.
The ladies had so much fun and pride in their work that they initiated a competition called “Sunshine Bags,” wherein the ladies were to place a penny in a bag for every day the sun shined. The total amount raised was $26. Mrs. Gibson was awarded a prize of canned fruit for having the most in her bag, totaling $10.08. Near Thanksgiving, the women held a bazaar and raised $33 and $45 respectively by selling various pieces of needlework.
The debt was not fully retired until the spring of 1933, and though it took years to become debt-free, it did not dampen the rejoicing of the now 60-member congregation. A jubilant celebration was held on Sunday, April 2, led by Presiding Elder, Rev. Wharton, who preached from Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Rev. Wharton was assisted by Rev. Glenn Smith and church pastor, Rev. J. A. Chandler. Once again, the Sharon (A.R.P.) Church Quartet sang for the members and their quests. Following a collection, Sam Wilkerson of Hickory Grove sang “The Holy City.”
Until 1952 the Sharon Methodist Church was part of the Hickory Grove charge, but in the spring of 1953, the Sharon charge came into being. By then the congregation had grown to 137 members, and the vibrant church built a handsome parsonage for approximately $6,500. Today, like so many other rural churches, the Sharon congregation has dwindled to its former size and works to make its yearly budget. But these tenacious Methodists have seen hard times before.
J.L. West – Author
This article and many others found on the pages of Roots and Recall, were written by author J.L. West, for the YC Magazine and have been reprinted on R&R, with full permission – not for distribution or reprint!
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