Sand Hill Christian Church (1884-2009)
In 1873, as part of a settlement of debt, the tract of land on which the Sand Hill Christian Church is now situated was deeded to Ansil D. Powell, Sr. The land is described in the deed as being a nearly triangular lot lying between the Irvine-Richmond and Callaways Creek roads. In the prior deed, it was also described as being due south of the Sand Hill meeting house. (Whether or not another meeting house was ever located at this sight was not mentioned on any deed dating back to 1853.) Mr. Powell allowed the erection of the present building in 1884. Twenty-five years later, on February 14, 1909, the heirs of A.D. Powell, Sr. deeded the property to the Sand Hill Christian Church for the sum of five dollars.
The sanctuary was constructed of both hand-hewn timbers and sawmill cut lumber. According to one record, some of those who helped in the construction of the building were Asa Witt, John White, Dillard Lackey, Zack Dennis, and Robert Stacy.
The sanctuary was built with two front entrances. It is said by some of the older members that women entered by one door and sat on that side of the building while the men entered through the other door and sat on that side. The congregation sat in handmade pews. The lower four-foot portion of the walls was covered with tongue-and groove. The ceiling was tin, and the wood floor had knotholes that had to be covered with tin can lids. The sanctuary was warmed by potbellied stoves in the winter and cooled by any breeze that happened to come through the open windows in the summer. The congregation sang songs played on an upright piano that was often the nesting place for mice. The first notes struck would send them scurrying.
Few early records have been found to allow the compilation of a comprehensive history of Sand Hill Christian Church. However, Dovie Durbin Witt, a life-long member of Sand Hill who passed away in 1984, contributed a small composition book that dated back to 1897-98 and contained much information. Included in this book is an early listing of the Bible classes at Sand Hill. Four classes were all that was feasible at this time since the building had no Sunday School rooms–just the four corners of the sanctuary. The adult classes also appeared to be split by gender.
Bible Class One
- John Will
- W.L. Witt
- Robert Stacy
- Henry Hardy
- Cliff Crouch
- Ed Gumm
- James Hardy
Bible Class Two
- Mrs. Ed Gumm
- Mrs. Cliff Crouch
- Mrs. W.D. Masters
- Mrs. James Hardy
- Mrs. Henry Hardy
Bible Class Three
- Viola Gould
- Lena Witt
- Carrie Durbin
- Anna Richardson
- Willie Pert Witt
- Beulah Durbin
- Dovie Durbin
- Ethel Jones
- Robert Hardy
- Burford Richardson
- Leonard Richardson
Bible Class Four
- Minnie Sue Hardy
- Mayme Hardy
- Stella Mae Hardy
- Willie Gumm
- Ethel Gumm
- Belle Gumm
- Homer Hardy
- Garrett Hardy
The earliest recorded elders at Sand Hill included Robert Stacy, Elza Adams, James M. Elliot, and Eli Worrell. A later listing shows W.J. Masters and W.M. Gould as elders and W.D. Witt as a deacon. Sam Webb is listed as the housekeeper and Eugene Witt as the clerk. The names of nearly two hundred of the earliest members were also recorded. (These are available to anyone interested in researching family history or genealogy, just contact the church office.)
Also included in the composition book were a few financial records. For example, on January 4, 1897, the church had a balance of $3.63. However, by December 3, 1898, the balance had dropped to seventeen cents. Some of the expenses were ten cents for coal oil, thirty-five cents for a water bucket, and twenty-five cents for communion wine. With communion wine so expensive, it is no wonder the ladies began to make juice for use in the communion. The church also made a payment of seventy cents in late 1897 to W. H. Gould for a stove. The Sunday offering recorded for December 4, 1898 was twenty-two cents.
Much has changed in the past 130 years. Little is left of the thick forest that once surrounded the church. The old fence where men and boys once sat and worshippers hitched their horses is long gone. The dirt of the parking lot has given way to gravel and now asphalt. Dwellings now surround the church grounds. Where once most everyone walked to church, now most drive or ride the church bus, the first of which was purchased in 1974.
The church building has certainly changed in appearance, to the point that the earliest members would no longer recognize it. The two doors were eventually replaced by one central door. In the late 1960’s, a vestibule was added to the front of the building. The Willing Workers Class donated new coat and hat racks to be installed in the vestibule, replacing the ones that had lined the walls of the sanctuary. In August of 1970, the bathrooms were added to the vestibule, and the front doors were replaced with the first set of glass doors. Another set replaced them in 2003. (And, at some point, it became acceptable for the men and women to sit together.)
The tongue-and-groove on the walls was covered with celotex and was replaced by wood paneling in the summer of 1984. The old tin ceiling was replaced by ceiling tile. The wood floor was covered with floor tile and was later carpeted in 1974. The entire interior, floor to ceiling, was renovated in the summer of 1995.
Two Sunday school rooms were first added to the rear of the original structure. In the summer of 1961, the basement was built and provided three Sunday school rooms downstairs. At that time, two more rooms were added upstairs, on each side of the original two, for a total of seven. These were dedicated on July 29, 1962.
The potbellied stoves were replaced with gas furnaces, and central air was installed to make the service more comfortable in the warm summer months. The entire air system is now electric. The old hand-made seats were retired and new padded pews were purchased, also adding comfort. The furnishings have also changed throughout the years. In October 1965, a new piano replaced the old upright one. An organ was donated by Buddy Crouch in the mid-1990s. These were replaced in April of 2003 with a baby grand piano and a new electric organ.
The baptistry was installed in 1967, eliminating the trips to the area ponds when someone wished to be baptized. It was around this time that the clear plate glass windows were replaced with the amber stained glass that is still in place today and give the sanctuary a beautiful glow.
The current bell was donated by Millard Lutes and was hung in the steeple in 1968. This bell has signaled the beginning of both morning and evening worship services for nearly forty years. In addition, it has joyfully announced marriages, and its toils joined with others around the nation and the world to commemorate those lost in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
In 1973, due to the deteriorating condition of the original weatherboard siding, the decision was made to brick Sand Hill Christian Church. The vestibule and sanctuary were bricked that summer, and the Sunday school room additions were bricked two years later. The register was built near the road a few years later and dedicated to the memory of Brothers Bill Witt and Albert Hall. The parking lot was first surfaced around this time, and a wheelchair ramp was built.
Also during this time, the shelter behind the church was built with picnic tables for fellowship gatherings. In 1994, the shelter was converted into a fellowship hall with full kitchen facilities and eventually electric heat and air conditioning. The fellowship hall has hosted many monthly potlucks, Christmas chili suppers, wedding receptions, Mother and Father’s day banquets, and other gatherings. The fellowship hall has been expanded in recent years, with the addition of bathroom facilities and storage areas.
Although many alterations have been made to the Sand Hill Christian Church, the original structure still stands, showing the quality of work those men did way back in 1884. The hand-hewed timbers were exposed in 1995 for new generations to see during the huge remodeling effort that summer. During this time, no church services were disrupted as the congregation met in the fellowship hall. And the Lord’s work was still being done: A young man wished to be baptized that summer, and several members met in the torn apart sanctuary to witness the baptism.
In 2005, a major building program was undertaken to connect the back of the church house to the fellowship hall. The result was an expanded auditorium, three additional Sunday School rooms, a church office and the fellowship hall nearly doubled in size.
Like the building itself, Sand Hill Christian Church, the body of believers, has changed over the years. Some have been life-long members at Sand Hill. Some have moved away from the area and placed their membership with other congregations while others have moved their membership to Sand Hill from other congregations. And there are those who, having served the Lord here on Earth, have gone on to their reward. We miss them dearly, but know we will all be together again as one congregation in Heaven some day.
Despite these changes, the Sand Hill Christian Church has remained true to the Word of God and maintained as its purpose the winning of souls to Jesus Christ. These fundamental beliefs and teachings have withstood the past 130 years with the same strength as the timbers that hold up the building itself.