The Evening Star Shines Brightly—Evening Star Baptist Church First published in The St. Clair Times, Pell City, Alabama, February 27, 2018
By Joe Whitten
Evening Star Baptist Church has an interesting beginning, an interruption, and a new beginning, all of which evidences God’s providence in one of His church. I find it a beautiful story of God’s faithfulness in restoration.
Daniel S. Varderman is credited with the 1914 beginning of this church, for in the spring of that year he brought Rev. E. H. Grizzell to preach a revival in a brush arbor erected on Willis Merrill’s property. After the revival ended, Willis and wife Rebecca donated 2 ¼ acres on which to erect a church house.
They had the building completed and in use by Summer 1914, but in the winter of the same year, a storm destroyed it. Determined to have a church, they rebuilt in the spring of 1915. The 1915 building was 60x40 feet in dimensions, with 12 inch wide boards for flooring and 14 foot ceiling. The windows had shutters only, no glass, and seats were constructed of planks nailed to wooden blocks. Lighting came from kerosene oil lanterns and lamps. Family names making up the first members include, Mathis, Varderman, Perry, Macon, and Merrill. Daniel Varderman named the church Evening Star. No reason is recorded for why he named it that, but perhaps he thought of the brightness of Venus lighting the darkening sky as evening draws down to night, and he saw a comparison of the church as a light in a dark world needing the light of the Gospel A major interruption came in 1917 when, in the late summer of that year, the church had a “foot washing” ceremony—a ceremony many rural churches observed in those days. Something occurred which some members didn’t like. Whatever this was, major or minor, it caused the church to break up, and members started attending other churches. The building remained vacant until 1920 when the community cleaned it up and used it as a school. The school continued until 1928. Again, the building stood stark and empty, though sometimes over the years it became a hay barn. Vines crept the landscape which flourished with weeds and briars. Even the well water at one point was contaminated. One would think it impossible for a church ever to rise from such as this, or that the Water of God’s Word would flow again from its pulpit. But in God’s time, it did! In 1938, Rev. W. J. Bryan saw the need for a church to flourish again in that building, and he began to encourage the people to organize. The community responded by clearing the grounds around the church, restoring the lights and shutters, and cleaning the inside of the old church until it gleamed with welcome for worship services to begin. Rev. Bryan preached one Sunday each month that summer, and one can imagine the old church building itself rejoicing in that it was a place of singing and worship once more. In late summer 1938, Rev. John Goodman came and preached a revival that resulted the reorganizing of Evening Star Baptist Church. During this revival, twenty-two responded for baptism, two came on statement of faith and previous baptism, and two transferred membership from another church. Records state that on August 7, 1938, the “…presbytery this day met duly and truly and scripturally reorganized Evening Star Church.” The reorganization was successful, and the church has thrived for eighty years now. The present pastor is Shon Phillips and in 2017 the church reported a membership of 128. The light of Evening Star Baptist Church did not go out, and it still casts a light of hope into a world that often seems to grow darker by the year. Light, however, shines most brilliantly in darkness. May Evening Star continue to glow. [The information for this article came primarily from Pauline Macon who collected and wrote the history of Evening Star in 1982. This history is on file at the St. Clair Baptist Association office in Ashville. This fine little history of the church lists pastors, along with their accomplishments and photographs, from 1938 to 1982. Thank you, Pauline Mason, for researching and writing this history.]
First place: Robinson house
First place: stagecoach
Second place: deermans chapel
Third place: Fort Strothers
The 1905 picture is of a one room school we believe in the Ashville area. In the picture are John Yarbrough (born 1897), Fitz Yarbrough, Thurman Cox and Gussie Cox. If anyone can identify any of the other students, please send the names to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The 1908 picture is of a school in the Odenville area. A chart with all the names was found with the picture. It is attached also.
The Manoah Yarbrough House and Farm By Joe Whitten Story originally published in Discover The essence of St. Clair June & July 2018 Issue Reprinted here by permission of Discover
Drive through Beaver Valley some blue-sky autumn morning and drink in its beauty. Put your window down, breathe in the perfume of new-mown hay and stop to marvel at Beaver Mountain splashed with colors from God’s personal paint pots.
As you enjoy these lovely vistas, try to imagine how things looked in 1822 when Manoah Yarbrough migrated from North Carolina and settled his family here. Beaver Creek ran clear and full and the forests stood thick with old-growth trees.
The roots of the Yarbrough family lie in Yorkshire, England. According to written accounts in the Ashville Museum and Archives, “The Yarbroughs of America are lineal descendants of William Yarbrough, who was one of the sixty thousand Normans who embarked as vassals to the Duke of Normandy in the year 1046 to conquer England.” William the Conqueror awarded William Yarbrough an earldom in reward of his loyalty.
Some of the English Yarbroughs settled early-on in Amelia County, Virginia. Sometime between 1729 and 1775, seven Yarbrough brothers settled in Louisburg, Franklin County, North Carolina. One of the brothers, Zachariah Yarbrough, moved to Davidson County some time before the Revolutionary War. There he married Elizabeth Dowd.
One of this couple’s seven children was Manoah (1770-1836). On August 16, 1799, Manoah married Mary Cunningham (1778-1840). Mary’s parents, Joseph and Ann Buntin Cunningham, had come to North Carolina from Maryland. Yarbrough researcher Beal Teague records that “Joseph Cunningham had been a Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War, fighting in Virginia and North Carolina.”
Teague also recorded that Mary’s brother, John Cunningham, had settled in St. Clair County in 1818. Official documents show that on January 16, 1821, the Alabama House and Senate approved John as one of the “commissioners to select and superintend the building of a courthouse and jail” in St. Clair County.
The exact date the Yarbrough family left North Carolina seems uncertain, but they arrived in St. Clair County, Alabama, in 1822. Manoah had intended to settle near Ohatchee, but the Indian unrest still flourished in that area; therefore, he settled on the west side of the Coosa River. Coming to Alabama with Manoah and Mary were five children: Littleton, Wiley, Manoah, Nancy, and Obediah.
Manoah chose a location suitable for a mill so that he could cut the needed material for building a home. This he found on Beaver Creek some miles east of Ashville as the creek wends its way to the Coosa River. The area had one other home at this time—that of the John Looney family.
For a living place while they built the mill, felled trees, cut boards and beams to build the house, Manoah and the boys built a lean-to room in front of a cave. There the family lived until they completed the house in 1825. Eventually the Yarbroughs constructed several mills on the farm: grist mill, sawmill, wool carding mill, shingles mill, and a cotton gin much later. Family lore relates how Indians would bring lead to trade for Yarbrough goods, always coming at the same time of the day.
The farm had a black smith shop. Littleton learned of a seam of coal in Gulf Hollow and he would go there to dig coal for the smithery. Today no one knows the location of that coal seam.
As on any pioneer homestead, there flourished here both apple and peach orchards which provided fresh fruit in season, dried fruit and preserves for winter, and apple and peach brandy—licensed and legally made.
After Manoah’s death, Littleton lived in the house his father built. At Littleton’s death, his son, John, raised his family in the home. When John died in 1933, three of his children, Elizabeth, Burk, and John continued living in Manoah’s house. Another son, Fitz, had married Bernice Ramsey in 1923. Bernice died in 1925, leaving her eighth-month-old son, Fitzgerald, who grew up in the home hearing stories about ancestors.
John, Jr., married Rebecca Lee, and they reared their two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, in the house Manoah built. Today John and Rebecca’s daughter Elizabeth Yarbrough Sorrell owns and lives in the ancestral home where she grew up.John, Jr., married Rebecca Lee, and they reared their two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, in the house Manoah built. Today John and Rebecca’s daughter Elizabeth Yarbrough Sorrell owns and lives in the ancestral home where she grew up.
Fitzgerald Yarbrough married Emma Jean Barber. Three children were born to them: Fitz, Nancy, and Burk. The children learned farm life and loved it. Fitz recounted a conversation: “Dad once asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Farm.’ He said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Farm.’ He asked me again and I answered the same way. Then he said, ‘But how do you want to make a living?’ So, I taught school and farmed.”
Fitzgerald loved the farm and respected the fact that the Yarbrough family had kept possession of it since 1822. In 1979, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industry named the “Yarbrough Homestead” both a Century Farm and a Heritage Farm.
Fitzgerald taught his children two important virtues: thrift and preparation for the future. The fact that they don’t sell hay saw them through a sever drought some years back. That drought depleted hay and caused water sources to fail across the country, but Beaver Creek kept flowing and the Yarbrough cattle had water as well as hay.
When asked if she helped with the farm, Nancy replied: “We all learned to drive the truck and tractor in the hay field. At times, I drove the tractor to fluff and rake the hay before it was baled. My main job was to drive either the tractor with wagon or the truck when we had square bales. In recent years I’ve driven the truck pulling the trailer loaded with round bales.” When her mother, Jean Yarbrough, started working at the County Board of Education, then it was Nancy’s job to “cook lunch for everybody working in the fields.”
Today, Fitz, Burk and their sister Nancy Yarbrough Sansing own the farm and have their homes there. The brothers work approximately 225 acres of ancestral land they started helping their dad with in elementary school. Nancy pitches in when she’s needed. The fields and pastures spread alone Beaver Creek which flows wide and clear and its natural beauty is equal to creeks flowing through the Smokey Mountains.
The farm day starts with a count of the 235 head of cattle, checking to see if it increased or decreased during the night. Then there is the upkeep of buildings and equipment, the cutting and baling of hay, moving cattle from one pasture to another—an unending work they continue because of their love for the land and its long history.
Standing well off the road, Manoah’s house gleams white in the sunshine with pastures on either side and Beaver Mountain behind it. The three-story home looks colonial in is simplicity. A small porch graces the double front doors with a hand-blown glass transom above and narrow mullioned panes on either side. Two square columns sitting on short sandstone pillars originally supported the porch roof overhang; however, John, Jr., replaced them with iron poles when the wood columns deteriorated beyond repair. The upstairs front door opens onto a small balcony overhanging the porch.
The small entrance hall is in keeping with colonial style, as is the plain, sturdy staircase. A large room stands on either side of the hall. Both the hall and the rooms are walled with wide boards, all hand-planed. The ceilings are of the same. The floors remain the original heart pine boards.
Fireplaces with chimneys of hand-pressed brick heated the 1825 home both upstairs and down. Lighting of course came from candles and oil lamps. As the years progressed, modern heating and electricity came to the home.
Lovely as this home is that Manoah Yarbrough built, the master builder of the family was Manoah’s son, Littleton Yarbrough. He built the St. Clair County Courthouse (as well as courthouses in Texas), Ashville First Baptist’s second sanctuary, and the James Phillips home in Beaver Valley.
At the completion of the courthouse, Littleton records in his ledger: “March 25th, 1845. I built a courthouse at Ashville which has 155,640 brick which I am to pay Campbell Jefferson two dollars ad fifty cents per thousand. Settled in full, June 4. 1845.” Several of the wooden brick molds used to form the bricks still exist today. One is on display in the Ashville Museum and Archives.
Of the building of the Ashville Baptist Church (now Ashville First Baptist), Mattie Lou Teague Crow records this in her 1963 history Ashville Baptist Church. “Ashville’s second Baptist church building, erected in 1859 was a prefabricated structure.” After the church drew the plans, they took them to Littleton and commissioned him to construct the building. Mattie Lou continues: “Yarbrough had the timber cut from the land which lies between the Yarbrough homestead and the public road. The lumber was hand planed and the boards cut to specification. It was then hauled in sections by ox wagon to the building site and there assembled without a metal nail or screw in the entire structure. Wooden pegs were used throughout. Yarbrough had marked each peg and corresponding peg hole with Roman numerals and when the building was razed in 1931 these numerals were easily read.”
Littleton’s daughter, Elizabeth, married James Madison Philips. The 1847 home that James had built for his wife still stands in Beaver Valley. Littleton built the house with lumber from the Yarbrough mill. Elizabeth and James’s daughter, Sallie, married James Hodges, an Ashville merchant. Sallie and James’ daughter, Elizabeth Hodges, married Howard Hill, the world’s greatest archer of his day. Hill’s archery is featured in the 1938 movie, Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn.
Fitzgerald wrote down this Littleton story his grandfather, John, Sr., told: “Littleton asked to borrow money from his father to buy land, but instead of loaning it to him, Manoah told him he would loan him his still [for which he had the Government license.] It is said that he made enough money the first year to pay for the land.” Littleton sold some of his whiskey to Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, TN. Such stories keep family history spirited.
Manoah Yarbrough’s home is one of St. Clair County’s treasures. Among the original furnishings still in the home are items that Manoah brought with him from North Carolina. Over the years, pieces of the home’s furniture have gone to the homes of other Yarbrough descendants.
A great part of the fascination of the home and farm lies in the 196 years-worth of documents, newspaper clippings, Bible records, photographs, whiskey license, deeds (one signed by President James Monroe), family ledgers, and a scrumptious sounding eggnog recipe.
Over the years, this writer has watched the present owners of the Yarbrough lands grow up and become the caretakers of history. Elizabeth “Liz” and husband Rick Sorrell welcomed me into the dining room of Manoah’s 1825 home. On the table lay treasured photographs and ephemera for me to examine. As we talked, Liz recalled growing up in the house and how her dad told of his friendship with Howard Hill, of picnics under the trees by the mill, of swimming in the mill pond, and of chilling watermelons in Beaver Creek on hot summer days. Her love for her dad, his stories, and her heritage are evident as she talks him.
At the farm Nancy, Fitz and Burk showed me the “brandy stone” Fitz had found and dragged to the house using a International 444 tractor. John, Jr., directed Fitz to the general area where he knew the stone lay buried. Fitz probed there until he located it. They drove me over the farm showing hayfields and pastures, stopping to see the cattle and ending up where Manoah’s mill had been on Beaver Creek. There they told of helping their dad build the bridge spanning the creek where the dam washed away in a 1920s flood. Sycamore trees, silver in the sun, arched over the water singing its way to the Coosa River.
Back at Nancy’s home, they showed more treasured items of their history—including the deed signed by President Monroe and the eggnog recipe.
Perhaps the most treasured of all was Fitzgerald’s handwritten memories of the house and farm. In it he recounted stories told him by his aunts and uncles and his grandfather, John, Sr. His closing sentence records his love of this land, for he writes: “No one but Yarbroughs has ever owned the land where Manoah’s house still stands. It is my hope that it will always remain in the Yarbrough family.”
Manoah, Littleton, John, Sr., John, Jr., and Fitzgerald would be well-pleased with the present-day stewardship of this farm.
May it still be owned by Yarbroughs 200 years from now.
Copyright © 2018 ST. Clair Historical Society - All Rights Reserved.