IN THE BEGINNING
The Mission Church of St. Mary’s was begun in the summer of 1890 when a lot was secured for a church and four hundred dollars collected for a church building fund. The church, then called Church of the Holy Spirit, opened for services in 1891. In 1903, the Rev. William Savage was appointed by Bishop Horner to be in charge of the Valle Crucis Associate Mission, with residence in Blowing Rock.
The original building for the Church of the Holy Spirit was located on Dogwood Lane. After the church moved to Chestnut Drive to a new building in 1921, the old building was sold and became a private residence. Also around 1903, a Mission House/Library was built on Main Street to house Father Savage and to serve as a lending library for the community. This building is now the Village Café and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1917, the congregation (led by Susie Parker Stringfellow) secured a lot at the south end of Main Street from C.E. Spencer for $2000. Construction began soon after, but Stringfellow, who was so instrumental in the beginning of this project, died before its completion. W.W. Stringfellow added greatly to the financial portion of this project as a memorial to his wife Susie and, it is said, in humble gratitude for cancelling his booking and thus not sailing on the first (and last) voyage of the Titanic.
The cornerstone was laid on September 26, 1918, and the church was consecrated as St. Mary of the Hills (Stringfellow Memorial) on August 7, 1921. The church remained a mission until 1972. At that time, St. Mary’s became a parish, signifying its capacity to be self-supporting and to maintain a full time priest.
As the congregation continued to grow, space became a great problem. In 1990, Architect Derald West was hired and a building committee formed. The primary instruction to both the architect and the builder was to maintain the integrity and uniqueness of the original structure. Also all three buildings on the church grounds - the church, the rectory, and the parish hall - were to be connected into one unit. Happily, it may be reported that both externally and internally it is hard to see where the original ends and the new begins.
In 2000, two members presented a challenge to the congregation to build needed Sunday School space above the Parish Hall. Using the same architect and builders, this project was completed in 2002.
In 2013, following a generous donation, the “Stones Will Sing” campaign completed a 1.3 million dollar fund drive. Funds were used to renovate the nave, choir, chancel, and sanctuary, correct the water problems under the church, and purchase a new organ.
Work began in November, 2013, and the project was completed by Easter Sunday, 2014.
SIGNIFICANT OR OUTSTANDING DETAILS
The painting of Madonna of the Hills by Elliott Daingerfield, located above the retable, was painted between 1917 and 1918. The painting represents the following High Country legend: On the summer solstice, the Lady Mary walks across the hills at dawn. If She walks in light, the fields will be blessed with a rich harvest; if She walks in the shadows, the year will be full of sadness.
The retable, located under the aforementioned painting, originated in the Church of the Holy Spirit.
The first organ was manufactured by the Reuter Company of Lawrence, Kansas. The organ had 730 pipes and nine standard stops operated electronically. The instrument was installed and dedicated August 5, 1973.
Following the 2013-2014 renovation project, a new organ, manufactured by Lively-Fulcher Pipe Organ Builders of Rocky Mount, Virginia, was installed in the summer of 2014.
The stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ were installed in 1972, 1990, and 1993.
The statue in the Mary Garden, “The Offering,” was completed by Marjorie Daingerfield Howlet, daughter of Elliott Daingerfield. It was dedicated in 1972 as a memorial to George Stenhouse, Jr.
“The Annunciation”, created and given by Alex Hallmark, is located on the St. Mary of the Hills gable facing Chestnut Drive. The artist used bonded copper with a verdigris finish in the work.
In Lent, 2002, Alex Hallmark began creating the 14 Stations of the Cross that line the nave walls. The work, composed of bonded bronze, was completed and dedicated during Advent, 2002.
The hand-stitched needlepoint kneelers are dedicated to the Glory of God and in loving memory of Dorothy Ella Smith, 1929-2002. Kerstin McDaniel of Asheville, North Carolina and Sweden was both the designer and finisher. The parishioners, both male and female, worked tirelessly on the kneelers. The project began in August, 2002, was completed in July, 2005, and was dedicated August 21, 2005.
The four bells in the tower were cast in Baltimore and installed in 1921, electrified in 1951, and still ring daily and on special occasions. The largest was dedicated to the men from Watauga County who fought in World War I. The ivy on the tower housing the bells is said to have originated from a sprig growing in the cloister at Westminster Abbey in London.
The votive light stand was a gift from Father Robert and Kay McCloskey in memory of Mrs. McCloskey’s father and in memory of the men, women, and children who suffered in the Holocaust.
The Della Robbia is the enameled terra cotta relief, finely crafted in Italy in the style of Luca della Robbia (1400-1485), situated over the front door of the narthex of St. Mary's.