Everyone interested in local arts, crafts, jellies, jams, produce, lotions and a beautiful handmade quilt should plan a trip to Dunmore this Saturday afternoon. The congregation of Baxter Church will celebrate its 79th Annual Harvest Day, starting with a church service at 11 a.m. A dinner is served at noon, followed by an auction for all of the above-listed items at 1 p.m. at the Dunmore Community Center. The public is invited to attend any and all of these events.
The main attraction at the auction is the Community Quilt, a splendid crazy quilt, stitched together by Baxter Church members and friends. The first Community Quilt was sewn in 1935 by Ada “Granny” Grimes, who, according to local legend, said, ‘I made this one – the community can do it from now on.’ Community members – even those not members of Baxter Church – responded. A quilt has been sewn every year since Granny Grimes issued her edict.
The proceeds of the auction benefit the upkeep of historic Baxter Church, a picturesque Virginia Colonial church built in 1858 for local Presbyterians. During the Civil War, the church served as a hospital for Union soldiers.
George Pritchard grew up across the street from Baxter Church and now lives in the same house. Pritchard remembers growing up in the shadow of the little church.
“It was big, I thought, because I was just a kid then,” he said. “We had at least 40 every Sunday. On a good Sunday, the church would be packed. It was a place for everybody.”
Pritchard said the loss of local jobs has caused a decline in church membership.
“It was a gradual thing,” he said. “The children had to go away to get jobs and most of them didn’t come back.”
George’s wife Kestra said the congregation has grown older.
“George’s mom and dad lived here, and they were active in the church, as the Pritchards have always been,” she said. “There are several families in the community that have been active in the church and generations on generations have come down. Now, we’re down to where we’re almost all the same age and there’s no young people. We can’t get young people to come. We don’t have anything to offer, like big churches have hayrides and all the stuff. We don’t have that. So we don’t have Sunday school anymore.”
And right now, the church doesn’t have a pastor. Baxter Church is part of the Upper Pocahontas County Presbyterian Parish, along with Liberty Church in Green Bank and Alexander Church in Stony Bottom. The parish has been without a pastor for more than a year, since the retirement of Pastor Bill Cox. Lay ministers are filling in until the parish finds a new pastor. The search is made more difficult because the parish is seeking a part-time pastor.
“The problem is to have someone on a part-time basis,” said Kestra. “We can’t have a full-time minister anymore, we can’t afford one. And we have to put him up somewhere, which is difficult, because of money.”
Kestra said the position would be perfect for a pastor seeking to retire in the country – possibly an author – who could work part-time for the parish and spend the rest of his time on other interests.
Despite the challenges, as it has done for the past 156 years, somehow, Baxter Church endures. And the beautiful little church continues to be an important cornerstone in the tiny community of Dunmore.
So, even if you’re planning to visit the Autumn Harvest Festival and the Roadkill Cookoff in Marlinton on Saturday, plan a side trip to Dunmore to meet some wonderful people and support a great cause. The good people of Baxter Church will treat you like family and you’ll remember your visit to Harvest Day for many years. For more information, call Kestra Pritchard at 304-456-4317.