A New Steeple to Celebrate 125 Years

by Reginald Carter

When the sanctuary was completed in 1870, the north bell tower had a steeple as depicted in a vintage postcard printed in the early 1900s.  The steeple deteriorated and was removed from atop the bell tower in 1923.  Some say that the steeple actually caught on fire and burnt down when the preacher tried to “smoke out” a nest of hornets.  But there is no evidence that this occurred in the church’s minutes. 

As the church approached its 125th anniversary, John Clayton requested that consideration be given to restoring the steeple.   Mr. John, as he was affectionately known, was a loyal, dedicated and highly respected member of the church.   He was born in Person County on March 12, 1891.  He met and married Alma Neighbors of Hillsboro on June 15, 1915 and for a while worked for one of the local mills.  He was a charter member of the Hillsboro Savings and Loan Association that was founded in 1913.  He eventually became president of the Association and spent 75 years with the organization, making routine visits to “his office” even after he retired.  He was a Sunday School teacher, deacon and community leader. Later in life, he made it a point to read through the entire Bible each year.  Alma died on September 7, 1984.  They had been married 69 years.  He died on May 4, 1988 at the age of 91.  The Clayton Sunday School class is named in his honor.

Dr. Thomas Denton noted during the May 17, 1978 church conference that $5,664 had been pledged to restore the steeple.  The following month a steeple committee was appointed.  The committee was chaired by H.L. (Bob) Hardee and included Ethel Snipes, Cyrus Green and Tom Ward.  On August 16th the committee gave the church three options: (1) a wooden framed steeple covered with 40 year asphalt shingles – cost $3,500, (2) same frame, covered with cooper – additional cost $3,000, or (3) a fiberglass steeple – cost $6,500.  The fiberglass steeple could not be ready in time for the church’s 125th anniversary.  Three members of the church were approached and agreed to build the steeple.  They were Ron Colville, Jerry and Terry Baity.  The church voted to have them build the copper-covered  steeple and to have a structural engineer, George Coffe, of Durham to draw up plans to insure its durability and sturdiness.  At the September 13th church conference, Ron Colville estimated the cost of construction to be $5,500. 

A photograph of the steeple under construction and resting in the church’s yard appeared in the October 19, 1978 issue of the News of Orange with the caption “UFO”? According to the November 16th church conference minutes, the steeple was built and placed atop the bell tower on November 4, 1978 with between 75 to 100 people in attendance. 

Another photograph appeared in the newspaper on November 9, 1978 showing Jerry Baity installing the cross on the new steeple.  He is shown dangling from a crane that a few minutes earlier had hoisted the new steeple to its resting place.

The new spire was dedicated on Sunday, November 19, 1978 at 12 noon following a special service to celebrate the church’s 125th anniversary.  Dr. Thomas Denton recognized the Steeple Committee’s chairman, Bob Hardee, who presented the steeple to the church.  Jimmy Rippy expressed the church’s appreciation to all the donors and to Mr. Clayton for his vision and support of efforts for the church to replace the steeple after waiting 55 years to do so.  Befittingly, Mr. Clayton gave the prayer of dedication.

On May 18, 1988, Joe Pickard told the church in conference that the men’s prayer group and the Clayton Sunday School Class wanted to install a plaque honoring the memory of John Clayton.  The plaque was placed on the base of the north bell tower.  It is a lasting tribute and reminder of his dedicated service over many years to his church, family and community.  Psalm 148:1 was read at the dedication service in 1978.  It says, “Praise the Lord! Praise Him from the heavens.  Praise Him in the heights.”  As we gaze upward at the steeple, may our hearts be lifted up and our faith renewed in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

(Christy Clayton Bailey, Mr. Clayton’s granddaughter, provided biographical information for this article.) 
Posted March 20, 2012