St. Mark’s Chapel, ca. 1798
[easy-media med=”437″ col=”1″ size=”200,200″ align=”left” mark=”gallery-aMAcOp” style=”transparent”]Please click on the thumbnail for a slideshow of historical images and the restoration. The area’s first settlers initially used barns and houses for church services. As a center of both religious and social life, usually the church was one of the first public structures built in a community. George M. Yoder, Catawba County’s first historian, noted that the area’s church services were held in “double-wide barns” until land for the Dutch Meeting House was deeded in 1771. A union church for Lutheran and Reformed congregations – “Dutch” an anglicization of “Deutsch” or German – the meeting house, “nothing more than a log cabin,” would become known as Old St. Paul’s, which still stands, though in a different guise, just northwest of Newton.
St. Mark’s Chapel, donated by Alex and Nancy Shuford in 1982, was originally a log barn on the Henry Weidner property. Weidner, who established a homestead around 1750 near the confluence of Henry’s Fork and Jacob’s Fork, about four miles north of Hart Square, is considered one of the first two white settlers of what would later become Catawba County. Adam Sherrill, of Scotch-Irish descent, though venturing south from Pennsylvania like Weidner, settled in the southeastern corner along the Catawba River.
The Harts thought they would never find an original log church, so they converted this historically significant outbuilding into a chapel. The Gothic Revival window of stained glass above the altar they rescued from St. Mark’s, an African-American church in Taylorsville. “St. Mark” appears along its base, and thereby the chapel received its name.
In the 1830s and 1840s, the Episcopal Church introduced Gothic Revival in North Carolina, a style fitting for the chapel, both Bob and Becky reared Episcopalian and now longtime members of Hickory’s Church of the Ascension, founded in 1872. When the Harts were determining where to settle down, they called up Ascension and spoke to the priest, Dick Turkleson, who liked Hickory and encouraged them to come. During the Hart Square festival’s first few years, Dick led services in St. Mark’s, and when he passed away, his wife, Lil, donated his vestments, which hang by the door.
The Right Reverend William G. Weinhauer, of the Diocese of Western North Carolina, consecrated the chapel on November 11, 1984. All seven of Bob and Becky’s grandchildren have been baptized here. “Dorothy had been baptized elsewhere,” Becky says, “so when her little brother, Carson, was being baptized in St. Mark’s, the priest said he would baptize Dorothy again, so she could say she was baptized in St. Mark’s too.”
St. Mark’s can seat almost fifty people. Christmas services for Ascension members were held annually with lessons and carols, followed by a celebration at Hart’s Tavern with wassail and sweets. Becky had reservations about siting the chapel so near the tavern – it’s just across the road – but Bob says, “It’s so sinners don’t have a long way to walk.” He notes with seriousness, however, that “after experiencing a Christmas service here, we can understand why the church was the most important part of the early community. In the quiet and serenity of this little church, decorated with holly and glowing with candlelight, the warmth of Christmas captures the true spirit of the early worshippers.”