This post honors of a group of descendants and local historians whose efforts in the 1950’s shed new light on a place of worship known as Flat Rock. I’d like to convey my appreciation to the folks in Stanly County for their sincere preservation efforts both on the ground and by virtue of securing documents and records from yesteryear.
It’s such a common route which locals pass by routinely as if a church were never there. Many unknowingly drive by the historic church site situated on the right side of the road as you enter the little town of Stanfield. But to those of us with certain Lutheran heritage, the spot remains hallowed ground and is to be protected and treasured. We know well of Flat Rock and of the graveyard silently telling its story in remembrance of the once vibrant Lutheran congregation.
At this spot on today’s highway 200, an 1835 deed and survey from Mathias Furror [Furr] calls out the road as both the Big Road and “the Great Road.” Old maps show this ancient route splitting off of the Great Dutch Wagon Road north of the location where present day Highway 601 crosses Rocky River. Traversing east along the northern bank of the Rocky River, the Great Road branched off again at Hagler’s ford [Mount Pleasant Road] on what early land grants refer to as the old Charleston Road. Bending south around Rocky River at the mouth of Dutch Buffalo Creek before crossing into now Stanly County, the Great Road passed by the east bank of Rocky River as it headed towards the present day town of Stanfield. Note that this was referred to as the Great Road but there were surely other such roads of this name.
Looking back at the church deed, Mathias conveyed seven acres to Peter Pless, Ransom Shinn, and David Harkey, “Elders of the Flat Rock Church for the Lutheran Body, Tennessee Synod.” Situated on the waters of Rockhole Creek, the church lot was located within Mathias Furr’s land “including the church house as is now built.” As is now built? Use of such language indicates the church was intact prior to the 1835 deed. It also makes me wonder if the statement is indicative of a plan to build the church anew. When was Flat Rock church originally built and what do we know about its early history?
I recently visited the Stanly County Historical Center in search of the answer to those two questions. Years prior I made the same trip and remember having seen copies of old church minutes from Flat Rock. I now intended to look deeper in hopes of organizing the information for better online consumption.
Among the church files at the Historic Center is an official copy of the original Flat Rock church deed that was recorded many years after the transaction took place. You can find the deed online in Book 53, Page 276 online at the Stanly County Register of Deeds. Occurring in 1835, this transaction was not recorded until 1919. The deed was recorded by Rev. W. J. Boger, who was chairman of a committee appointed by the N. C. Conference of the Tennessee Synod to investigate the said property. Related to the eventual deeding, and providing a thorough record of the title history, the following survey and title history was copied in 1980 by George Franklin Hahn from the archives at the North Carolina Lutheran Church House at Salisbury.
In late summer of 1955, a group of descendant families and historians gathered at the site of Flat Rock Lutheran Church. Per a newspaper article dated 10 Sep 1955, Mrs. G. D. B. Reynolds, who was then president of the Stanly County Historical Society, spoke at the event about historical data that had been collected to date. Judge O. O. Efird from Winston-Salem spoke about the Efird family who were among the church’s founders. Others also presented and a committee was formed in hopes of obtaining a historical marker. At some point I plan to visit North Carolina State Archives to pull the original marker request. Within the church file housed in Stanly County is the following copy of the article as well as what I believe to be Mrs. Reynold’s personal handwritten speaking notes. It’s from that source where I learned that Flat Rock Lutheran may have a history reaching further back than most may realize.
It’s not often that you get to browse the thoughts intended for a presentation that took place over sixty years ago. But housed in the Stanly County Historical Center is a copy of Mrs. Reynolds rough notes for the speech she gave. Most is legible while bits of the information have been lost in the original process of photocopying. Here’s my best effort at transcribing Mrs. Reynold’s speech from 1955:
FLAT ROCK LUTHERAN CHURCH
Just when the first worshiping service was held at Flat Rock is not known at the present time. Descendants of some of the early members have said that Flat Rock was the first church in what is now Stanly County, but this statement must be proven to show what it was older than Saint Martin’s.
Another “hunch” in the manner of researching should be followed thorough – as to whether the church was functioning under the name of St. Peter’s before division of the North Carolina Synod, and it became a part of the Tennessee Synod. At this period of adjustment caused there to have come a lack of regular service by a pastor and when reorganized, took the name Flat Rock.
The following is taken from the diary of Rev. Nehemiah Bonham, an itinerant Lutheran minister:
Saturday 27 (1828) – I rested at Jacob Iferts (Efirds)
Sunday 28 – I preached in St. Peter’s church to a very attentive & respectful congregation.
Monday 29 – Left and got to George Hartsell’s for the night.
Tuesday 30 – went on my way to Concord
Where was this St. Peter’s church? The horse and buggy distance from Jacob Efird’s to this church must have been about ten miles. George Hartsell’s in Cabarrus, a day’s drive.
The above is from the printed minutes now in possession of Mrs. Eli Hopkins.
In 1835 Mathias Furr makes a deed to Peter Pless, Ransom Shinn and David Harkey, elders of the Flat Rock church for the Lutheran Body, Tennessee Synod, – and their successors in office for the use of the Flat Rock congregation and their elders or trustees forever –all that tract or parcel of of land —in the bounds of Mathias Furr’s land including the church house as is now built. The amount of land was seven acres.
At present time 1955 – the only known minutes of Flat Rock Church belong to Mrs Bill Tucker of Oakboro. These handwritten records say: Montgomery County 28th of March 1834 Flat Rock Church organized on the 29th by Rev. Adam Miller Junior, Peter Pless, Ransom Shinn, and David Harkey, Elders.
Members confirmed on the 29th -20
Members confirmed on the 30th -confirmed 46.
Other elders mentioned in these minutes were Drewery Morgan, Daniel Reap, Thomas Shinn, Nelson Smith, J. A. Huneycutt and W. M. Smith. The ministers named were Adam Miller Jr., Rev. Adam Efird, Rev. J. R. Peterson, Rev. Daniel Efird, Rev. D. C. Henkel, and Rev. J. Moser. Among the family names were Pless, Shinn, Harkey, Tucker, Hartsell Hunneycutt, Sossamon, Furr, Morgan, Smith, Long, Yow, Reap, Rosencrantz, Craver, Dry, Murray, Effird, Hathcock, Coble, Barbee, Springer, Eudy, Klutts, Crayton, Carriker, Long and Lowder. The above were among the builders of Flat Rock Church and the little log school house beside the church. These are people we honor today, their descendants are today members of all the Stanly County churches and have helped make Stanly the progressive county of the present. A fitting epitaph for the old church could read: “Gone but not Forgotten.”
Accompanying the speech and other papers is a typed transcription of the relevant portion “from the report of the Evangelican Tennessee Synod their fourteenth Session held at St. John’s church, Lincoln Co. from Monday 9th to Thursday 18th, September 1833.” The document establishes congregational support for the early efforts of Rev. A. Miller. Also included in the file are photo copies of what is likely the original founding minutes from Flat Rock Lutheran church. First, below is the church session report from Lincoln County. The minutes of Flat Rock follow.