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Our History

Our beginings – St. Andrew’s on-the-Hill is part of the universal church, and deeply tied to southern Appalachian natural and cultural history. We are in this place because a wealthy industrialist chose Canton, NC for the site of a pulp mill to support his coated paper company in Ohio. He selected Canton for its riverside land, rail access, and proximity to extensive forests. Our congregation grew out of a mission started around 1906 by the Episcopal Missionary District of Asheville (forerunner to our diocese) in Canton’s “Fibreville” area, a community built for pulp mill workers and their families.


Canton’s population grew rapidly along with the pulp mill and associated industries. The Fibreville Mission, which met in a large tent, was founded to share the Gospel and to teach children of mill workers. Soon a mission house was constructed on company land. A series of lay people taught in the mission while visiting clergy came to lead worship. Eventually sold to Champion Fibre Co., the building was used as a hospital during the typhoid epidemic of 1916. The Episcopal congregation then met in various temporary locations until our current worship space was built by William Frank Bell, a parish founder, in 1921-’22.


Our ties to Appalachian Mountains, forests, and rivers are reflected throughout our buildings. Depicting a mountain scene, our stained-glass Pisgah window was designed by Priest Clarence McClellan and installed in 1923. Our primary building is constructed of river rocks gathered from the West Fork of the Pigeon River and transported 16 miles to Canton by wagon and train (above image). Our hand-planed pews are made from local tulip poplar trees so large that seats and backs are all of one piece. Our nave’s exposed wooden trusses appear to be built by millwrights using industrial hardware.


Modern history – Over time, the church added more buildings and further developed our grounds. A rectory, constructed soon after our primary building, was repurposed for a Christian Education building. Thirty years ago, we acquired property across Academy Street that included a house which has been used for many purposes. After serving as the Good Samaritan Clinic, it now houses our Holy Smoke and Backpacks of Love ministries. Parishioners later built a memorial garden just outside our undercroft. Most recently we constructed a themed playground with a wooden boat on blue repurposed rubber mulch that reminds us of Jesus and Andrew on the Sea of Galilee.


Throughout our history, our core congregation experienced waves of rising and falling numbers. The parish experienced significant growth from 1951-‘63. However, numbers later fell, and in 1977 the rector position became part time. By the 1980s average Sunday attendance was less than 20, and the Bishop suggested closing St Andrew’s. Determined to stay together, parishioners called Joel Huffstetler to serve full-time as Deacon-in-Charge and later as Rector. The church continued to thrive with the calling of Tim McRee in 1995. Around the turn of this century, average Sunday attendance approached 100, and we undertook a large capital improvement and renovation project which brought our buildings up to code and made them more accessible. A large elevator was installed and a three-story atrium was constructed. Following the 2003 General Convention, many members left St. Andrew's, including some who left unfulfilled pledges for paying off the building project. Creative and determined parishioners began Holy Smoke barbeque to pay off our debt. We celebrated paying off the loan early and being debt free by burning the mortgage in the smoker on December 2, 2012.


Contemporary history –Like much of the world, we are being changed by the COVID pandemic. We are considering what matters most to us, and we are adapting. We realize that corporate worship, fellowship, spiritual enrichment, and the Episcopal liturgy are so important to us that we will do whatever it takes to continue. Early in the pandemic, we ventured into morning prayer with sermon via YouTube. When beloved Tim McRee announced his retirement after 25 years as our rector, we held a “Drive-Bye” to celebrate and reflect on his time with us. With interim priest Todd Donatelli we transitioned to worship via Zoom then eventually to in-person service outside in our parking lot.  We now worship in-person (and on YouTube) with our new Priest-in-Charge, Karen Barfield.  Zoom still allows distant members to participate in Bible study, Centering Prayer, and book club.  We are grateful that technology helps keep us connected with each other and the wider community!


The cornerstone of present-day St. Andrew's was set in 1922 (image below). Much has changed in the past century, but throughout our history we've found ways to be together and serve one another. We look forward to discovering what God will do with and through us in the future and we wonder who will accompany us on the way.