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History of Beaver Dam Lutheran Church
(Presently St. Mark's Lutheran)

 

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Beaver Dam Lutheran Church, founded around 1786, is among the older Lutheran congregations in the Piedmont area-and, indeed, in the Lutheran Synod of North Carolina. It is the forerunner of St. Mark's Lutheran Church which is located in Gaston County about one mile west of the Beaver Dam Church site.

The ancestry of the founding congregation of Beaver Dam Lutheran Church can be traced back to South Germany. Many peace-loving Germans wishing to escape intolerable conditions in their fatherland, left their homes, braved the Atlantic and settled in the Colony of Pennsylvania. Conditions in the colony were not what they had expected to find. Quit rents (taxes) were high and the best farming land had already been taken by earlier settlers. Before long many of these Pennsylvania Germans began to think of finding new homes elsewhere.

Beginning around 1740 and continuing until the outbreak of the American Revolution, these settlers of Lutheran faith migrated south across the Blue Ridge into the Piedmont section of North Carolina. Some came into the Beaver Dam section of Tryon County (now Gaston County) where they found the opportunity to live, to work and to worship as a free and God-fearing folk.

These German people brought with thern their heritage of the Lutheran faith; their Bibles, cathechisms and hymn books were among their most prized possessions. Beside the waters of Beaver Dwn Creek and Long Creek, they built their log cabin homes, and on a hillside nearby they established their graveyard and meeting house which later became known as Beaver Dam Lutheran Church.

Records of BeaverDarn/St. Mark's Lutheran Congregation show that Johann Gottfried Arends was the first pastor of the congregation, and that he served from 1786-1803. It is believed that the congregation was organized by Pastor Arends
following his pastorate at Organ Church in Rowan County. In 1785 he had moved his residence to Lincoln County, and it is likely that he conducted services at Beaver Dam from that residential location for a number of years. Actually, Beaver Dam
became a part of his parish in the course of time as he served St. Luke's Church near Lincolnton.

While it is difficult to establish the exact date of the organization of Beaver Dam Congregation, it is helpful to take note of a land grant that is quoted in Three Mauney Families by Bonnie Mauney Surnmers which says:

"Michael Eaker and Peter Rine, Trustees in Beaver Dam Congregation, or their successors, clairning 50 A of land for use of a meeting house and a graveyard for said congregation including where the Beaver Dam Meeting House now stands near the Littlc Mountain on the waters of Beaver Dam and Long Creek. Entered the 2nd March l 790.

In the above grant, it is notced that the Beaver Dam Meeting House was in existence prior to the time the grant was made. In the History of the Lutheran Church in North Carolina, published in 1953 by the Synod, it is stated that the German settlers who first came to North Carolina often did not even bother to secure legal title to the lands on which they settled until they had established thernselves, and were satisfied that they wished to remain in that particular location.

Listed among the early pastors, of Beaver Dam Congregation in addition to Pastor Arends are the Rev. Paul Henkel and the Rev. David Henkle. The latter served the congregation regularly from 1814-1830, along with other congregations in the area. The church's first constitution, written in German and in English, was drawn by the Rev. David Henkel, and in May 1823 it was duly adopted. The exact wording is as follows:

"Anno 1823, May

We the subscribers belonging to the Congregation of Beaver Dam as members of the Evangelic Lutheran Church, agree to be governed by the Augsburg Confession of Faith and the Holy Scriptures."

The original Church Record Book which is filed in the Archives of Lenoir Rhyne College, contains the above brief but pointed constitution. During this same period a church building was erected on the land, and was opened for a communion service on October 17, 1819. The site of that building, 28-1/2 feet square, is still detectable some 61 feet from the Old Church Cemetery.

An indenture made "this sixth day of March A.D., 1819, between Michael Rudisill of the Countyof Lincolnton and State of North Carolinaof the one part, and Fredric Carpenter, John Rudisill, Jacob Aderholdt and David Crouse, trustees for the Congregation of Beaver Dam, of the second part" states that for five shillings, a parcel of land containing one acre shall be granted to the church. The indenture also records that since the acre is part of the plantation of Michael Rudisill, that Mr. Rudisill, his heirs and assignees agree "there shall be a passage for man and horse, and for carriage to the described land including the meeting house and graveyard, also (there shall be) the privilege of getting water out of (Mr. Rudisill's) his spring on the day of Divine Worship or Burials."

On May 10, 1856, the Congregation decided to build a new church about a mile west from the old one, and land was secured at the new site. This structure was a frame building 35 x 45 feet in dimensions. The new building was completed and dedicated May 8, 1858, and the name was changed from Beaver Dam Lutheran Church to SL Mark's Lutheran Church. The Rev. J.R- Peterson was the pastor during that time. A chip of stone from one of the rocks used in the foundation of the original log church on Beaver Dam Creek was placed in the cornerstone of the new church.

St. Mark's - Mother Church of Others in ihe Area

For the 134 years of its life as St. Mark's Lutheran Church, the congregation has grown and has prospered in its ministry to people in this entire area. Indeed, St. Mark's is the "Mother Church" that has nurtured the development of other Lutheran Congregations in this and in neighboring counties.

The Rev. Jesse R. Peterson, who had led the congregation in its relocation and name change in 1858, later became the organizing pastor of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Kings Mountain in 1876. Most of the charter members came from St. Mark's Congregation.

THe 10th pastor of St. Mark's, the Rev. Marcus L. Little, was the organizing pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Cherryville in 1881, with many members coming from St. Mark's Congregation.

So, members of St. Mark's Church shared significant roles in the development of these two congregations-and of many other congregations in Gaston, Cleveland, and Lincoln Counties. Members of the Eaker, Carpenter, Aderholdt Mauney and other families have gone out from Beaver Dam/St. Mark's Congregation to share in the work of building the Kingdom of God in Lutheran and other Christian churches.

Furthermore, the influence of Beaver Dam/St. Mark's Lutheran Church has been broad and far-spread in the development of Christian Higher Education. It can be said that the present Lenoir Rhyne College has St. Mark's Church as its birthplace. During the pastorship of the Rev. M.L. little, the first idea of building a Lutheran College was proposed. At the January 9, 1876 congregational meeting, "brother M.L. Little requested the members of St. Mark's Church to subscribe to such sums, as they felt able, to build a Lutheran College at Hickory, N.C."

Fifteen years later in 1891, the dream of those early church members became a reality and Lenoir Rhyne College opened her doors for the business of Christian Higher Education. For more than a century St. Matthew's, Kings Mountain and St. John's, Cherryville have given to Lenoir Rhyne many of its most staunch supporters and contributors, a number of whom have served as members of the College's Board of Trustees.