We are blessed at Calvary with a beautiful setting and facilities. They are worth note. However, the real history of a parish is people. This brief history tries to say some about both.
Travel into the rugged mountains of North Carolina was not easy until 1828, when a turnpike was competed from Charleston to Knoxville. Many from the Low Country of South Carolina came to the mountains to escape the oppressive summer heat. Some came not only to “summer” here, but also to settle. Such was the case for founders of Calvary Episcopal Church.
Among those settlers was the Blake family. In 1857 Daniel & Helen Craig Blake, gathered neighbors in their home, spear-heading the founding of Calvary Church.
They donated the land and led the campaign to erect the first building. Using plans based on drawings of Sir Christopher Wren, a 16th century-style building was planned; clay was dug, kilns built, and bricks fashioned by hand. The building was completed, beautifully sited on a hill and complete with bell tower. The Rt. Rev. Thomas Atkinson, bishop of North Carolina, made the long journey from Raleigh, NC for the consecration on the 21st of August, 1859.
The founders of Calvary did more than build a building, they set out to found a community. With no public education available, Miss Fanny Blake saw the need for schooling for area children. Donating additional land to Calvary Church, she erected a one-room school house where she taught both weekdays and Sundays until her death in 1920.
Finding a priest to serve the parish sometimes proved difficult, but strong lay leadership continued worship and community. The grove around Calvary Church became a meeting ground for folk of the area.
The Civil War brought hardship to everyone, but the church continued. The grove was often used as a rallying place for volunteers, and the church building and carriage shed were used from time to time as barracks and hospital as well as for worship. The Old Well was a watering place for soldiers from North and South alike.
Following the war, the women of the parish raised monies for a rectory by holding a weekly market in the carriage shed. With the coming of the Rev. E. A. Osborne in 1877, the parish grew and mission stations were established. The Word was preached and “Sunday School” classes were held all over the area, all from the zeal of members of Calvary Church.
The original church building burned in 1935, with only the brick shell left standing. One stained glass window, the baptismal font, the Bishop’s Chair, and a few smaller items were saved. The congregation moved quickly to rebuild; Architect S. Grant Alexander, a Scotsman recently emigrated to Asheville, was engaged for the design.
The nave was lengthened and widened, but the west front of the old building, with its beautiful bell tower, were saved and incorporated in the new building.
The parish grew and flourished with the area. The Rev. G. Mark Jenkins came as rector in 1940, beginning a tenure of 32 years. “Parson” Jenkins was well known and loved in the area, ministering to the needs of the whole community. He led the way in building a new Parish House in 1953. The Parish House saw some renovations in the early 1980’s.
Under the leadership of the Rev. David Sailer, (rector, 1984-1998), improvements were made in the church building with new lighting and a freestanding altar. In January 1992, a 2 manual, 23 rank pipe organ by the Holtkamp Company was dedicated after extensive renovations in the chancel and nave. Fr. Sailer helped the parish plan for expansion in 1995 when an ambitious $2,000,000 capital campaign, “the Gateway to Calvary’s Future,” was begun to expand and renovate the Parish House. Construction was completed in 2000, just as the vestry called the Reverend Victor C. Mansfield (2000-2015).
For over 150 years, Calvary Church has been the spiritual home to many. Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, we invite you to join us.