Little White Church in the Wildwood

Catawba Methodist Church

“It didn’t make no never mind to me, no how, if that hound dog got saved during that sprinkling-baptism that occurred during the ceremony by Preacher Reynolds. I know I did!”

A large hound was licking water off my shoe as I stood at the front of the church with cousin Jimmy Garman as Preacher Reynolds sprinkled water on our heads, which is the Methodist version of baptism when folks accept the Lord and become saved. In the old Catawba Methodist Church which was built in 1884 and razed in 1962, we had, literally, an open door policy.

In the summer months, the two front doors would usually be open to give air circulation in the church. It was not unusual to have a dog, cat, or occasional bird come to the service. Along with plentiful moths and winged insects drawn to a light. That was life in any country church in the mountains.


Let me introduce s special lady, a friend and native of Catawba who has been removed from the Valley for several decades, however, Catawba was never removed from her. In November 1964, Eleanor Jean Brillhart Avery diligently researched and prepared this “heartfelt” memoir, dedicating it to her daughter Amy Brillhart Avery. Beautifully composed, a mother shares her heart, mind, and soul to a daughter of what this Little White Church in the Wildwood has meant to her life. This story will enlighten you, uplift you, bring a tear to your eyes and leave you inspired. How Blessed I am to have my friend Eleanor Jean to be a guest writer on Echoes From Catawba. You are about to receive that Blessing.

By Eleanor Jean Brillhart Avery
November 1964

A church is a building   It may be modest or fine   It may be red brick Or rough hand-hewn pine   If CHRIST is at the center   I know that’s a sign   This is a church I’d be proud to call mine.

CATAWBA——A strange sounding name for a place that I love, but it brings to me memories of a beautiful blue mountain with brown and green knolls, crossed by the Appalachian Trail. There is a lush green valley patchworked with alfalfa and corn fields and stamped with white farmhouses. A creek, called Catawba creek, gliding through sweet meadows that produced lush hay crops from the loamy soil in the “bottom” fields.

As Catawba Creek hurried along in its Eastward path it would pass by a Settlement of sorts that had a General store and a miniature post office. Very close by stood the little red schoolhouse, called Catawba School that I attended. Across the road from the school stood a newly built Catawba Methodist Church that replaced the original one-room structure that was built in 1884. Nearby was Catawba Sanatorium, which was once the site of Roanoke Red Hotel, an outstanding summer resort for many years.

In years past there was a railroad from Salem to the foot of the mountain on the Mason Cove side. It was built, originally, to haul crushed sandstone from the quarry located on the mountain. The train also hauled coal for the Sanatorium and had one passenger car that took Catawbians bound for Roanoke to the streetcar lane at Lakeside. In turn, it would bring to Catawba the ministers who conducted the services at our little white church, as well as to other churches in the Valley.

Even before there was a train track or a summer resort or sounds of hymns filling the air, there were people who roamed about this rich limestone valley. This area was the hunting territory for the warring Shawnee and Cherokee Indian tribes. One of the greatest Indian trails in the country passed over Catawba Mountain.

The memories of Catawba will always be a part of me for this is where I first opened my eyes to the world, first smiled, played my first games, kissed my first boyfriend and all the other “firsts” that go along with growing up. Outside of my home, I know now the most important influence in my young life was the little one-room white church. It was at the very center of life in the community. Here the people gathered on Sunday for worship and also for the fellowship that comes with mingling with neighbors and friends reviewing all the latest happenings in the neighborhood.

There is a saying that “Home is where the heart is.” Though many years have gone by since I have been away from the blue mountain and the green valley, the little red school, and the little white church, a part of my heart still belongs there. For the many years that lie ahead, when I hear that strange-sounding Indian name, Catawba, it will still mean, “my home” to me.

eleanore brillhart (2)
Eleanor Brillhart Avery

Author: Eleanor Jean Brillhart Avery

Dedicated to Amy Brillhart Avery
“To give her interesting highlights about my first church home and an understanding of the meaning this church has had for my life.”

Credits: (historical facts)  Jerry Morgan, Essie Morgan, my parents: Marvin & Amy Brillhart.

Photo credits: Betty Keffer Munsey, Barbara Carroll Shelor
Visit the Churches of Catawba photo album…

Be sure to leave a comment and read the comments below.

For more from Eleanor Brillhart Avery and about the Little White Church in the Wildwood, click here for the E-book.

Like articles like this? Then you would love Echoes From Catawba Volume 1, Growing Up In Catawba Valley, Appalachia. 

Click here to order Echoes From Catawba Volume 1  hardcover, collector’s edition: $27.99, includes shipping.  Also available on Amazon. Paperback: $18.99 and Kindle: $5.99

Also available at the Salem Museum Book Store in Salem, Virginia and The Emporium on Main Street in New Castle, Virginia.


2 thoughts on “Little White Church in the Wildwood

  1. My late husband and I always enjoyed stopping at the Homeplace restaurant, on our way back from NewCastle for the fall festivals. I enjoy reading all your stories about Catawba.

    1. Thank you for your nice comment, it’s so wonderful to hear from folks that are enjoying Echoes. The Homeplace Restaurant is a beautiful place to dine. I am sure you will enjoy the next story about the Morgan Farm, which is now the Homeplace Restaurant. I spent age 11 to 22 working on the Morgan Farm, it is a special place. -Ted

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