PITTSBORO — Trades Hill near Pittsboro was once “a place for meetings, drunkenness and fights.”
Around the time the Civil War ended, the land which made up Trades Hill consisted of a store, horse stables and a saloon; it had also been home to a post office and served as training ground for Confederate soldiers.
“Many who visited the store called for a ‘bounce’ of whiskey,” according to a written historical account of the area, “a swallow that cost a dime.”
But a century and a half ago, that all changed: the land was born again.
It was around 1870 that the Rev. G.P. Moore bought Trades Hill and not long after founded Trades Hill Church. In time, the land became known as Pleasant Hill — certainly more befitting for the home of a house of worship — and the church took on the name: Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.
On Sunday, Pleasant Hill celebrated its 150th anniversary.
Long-time member Bobbie Dwiggins has been attending Pleasant Hill since she was a toddler. She remembers hearing stories as a child about her family’s involvement in its founding.
“There’s a picture of my family member who started the church hanging in the church,” she said. “It was a one-room church at the time with two doors.”
Pleasant Hill parishioners celebrated the milestone anniversary by sharing memories during fellowship after regular worship services.
Dwiggins was among them.
“I’ve gotten married and moved off before, but I always found my way back to that church,” she said.
When the church started, Dwiggins said she was told it used to be segregated by gender, with men sitting on one side of the church and women sitting on the other.
“There were two doors at the front of the church,” Dwiggins said. “The men would go in one door, and the women would go in the other.”
Over the years, Dwiggins said, the church built in two Sunday School rooms, a fellowship hall and an office. The original church and its basement are still intact and in use, too. But as the years have passed, the congregation has seemed to dwindle down to a handful of regulars — a couple of dozen or so members, mostly older local residents, according to Dwiggins.
“We used to have a bunch of people coming and a church that was almost full, and now, all of a sudden, we’ve dropped to almost nothing,” she said.
Rev. Robert Elmore has served as the pastor of Pleasant Hill for almost three years. He came after pastoring a United Methodist church. He filled in after one of the preachers died suddenly, and then was offered — and accepted — the pastoral position after another pastor left.
“I didn’t know how I felt about taking the responsibilities of a church at 79 years old,” Elmore said. “I told them I would think about it, and I wrestled about it with God — and you see where I’m at.”
Elmore said in the last month or two that he’s presided over four memorial services for deceased church members.
“We keep losing people, and for some reason, I don’t know why, but young people just are not interested in going to church,” he said. “My generation is about gone — when you get up in the 80s or 90s, you’re getting close to walking with Jesus.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to Pleasant Hill’s shrinking congregation; more members have chosen to stay home because of COVID-related restrictions, or out of caution. As Elmore reflects on 150 years, it causes him concern.
“We’ve only had to shut our doors twice during the pandemic due to a COVID case in our church,” Elmore said. “We’ve put masks out in the front, we’ve got sanitizer and disinfectant, wipes, and we ask everyone to please wear a mask, but they still haven’t come.”
Dwiggins, who’s 71, is also concerned about the church’s future.
“I know the church will be here for the rest of my life,” she said, “but I don’t know how much longer it will last.”
For now, though, Pleasant Hill is a special place for both Elmore and Dwiggins and the remaining members. Dwiggins says she feels she’s truly in the presence of something holy when she walks into the sanctuary.
“When I walk in that door, I can feel the Holy Spirit in this building,” she said. “I’ve been to other churches, and it’s just not the same.”
It’s not just the divine energy that makes this church special; it’s the sense of family and a feeling of community spirit that surrounds it that makes Pleasant Hill so unique.
“When I first came here, the people made me feel like I had been here my whole life,” Elmore said. “They were welcoming, and the feeling here was just different.”
Once visitors step inside the doors of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Dwiggins said they become a part of their church family.
“If somebody comes to us and says they need help, they need food or they need their light bill paid and we know that’s true, we’ll do without if it will help somebody in need,” she said. “Once you walk in that door, you are one of us.”
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