St. John’s in the Wilderness Episcopal Church
In Flat Rock, North Carolina, a small town south of Asheville, resides the oldest Episcopal Church in Western North Carolina. St. John’s in the Wilderness Episcopal Church has had a fascinating history since its inception in 1833. Fires threatened and ravaged two of the three versions of the church that once stood here. An empty grave in the adjacent graveyard was once used as a place of exchange for bootleggers during the prohibition era.
The history behind this 200-year-old church lives within its foundation, literally. Founders of the church, Charles and Susan Baring, were interred below the south wall of the building. A slew of curious and influential characters also rest outside in the graveyard, still making their presence known to late-night visitors.
This church, Asheville, and the surrounding area are known hot spots of spiritual activity, ranking third in the world in active vortexes behind only the country of Bermuda and Sedona, Arizona. The limestone that lays beneath acts as a natural conductor of energy, producing the apparitions and paranormal activity the city is known for.
To learn more about these odd happenings, keep reading Asheville Terrors.
The Oldest Episcopal Church in Northwestern North Carolina
St. John’s in the Wilderness is the oldest Episcopal Church in northwestern North Carolina. The Church has serviced the Flat Rock area lovingly and tenderly since its foundation in 1832. Many locals advise visiting at night, however, despite its lovely history.
The spirits are specifically those of rice planters and founders Charles and Susan Baring. There is also talk of a phantom soldier haunting the graveyard. He dutifully plays a lament for another fallen soldier late into the evening.
History of St. John’s in the Wilderness
The church was established as the Barings made their way out of the sweltering low country of Southern Carolina. Many wealthy plantation owners made their way toward the mountainous interior of the Carolinas during the sweltering summer months. The air was fresher, the mosquitos were tamer, and, most importantly, the climate was cooler. The Barings built a 400-acre estate near modern-day Flat Rock called Mountain Lodge.
A private chapel was constructed on-site in 1827, as was the custom of the wealthy land-owning English gentry at the time. This original church was named “St. John in the Wilderness” after their childhood church back in Essex. The cause of the fire and any deaths associated could easily be the cause of some of the spiritual activity here.
A new church, constructed with handmade brick, was completed in 1834. This new church was handed over to the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina and served the small summer community of Flat Rock. Most residents, all of whom held high social standings in early America, returned to their plantations in the cooler months of the year.
The Spirits of Charles and Susan Baring
Susan Baring died in 1846, and her husband Charles followed soon after. They were buried atop a hill overlooking the little brick church. As the town of Flat Rock grew each summer, and transportation to the area became easier to access, the congregation grew. The little church became increasingly overcrowded each year, and soon plans were drawn up for a new church.
This new building was finished in 1852 and still stands today. It was constructed right on top of its founders not to disturb the graves of the Barings. Many say they can feel their presence in the church. Guided ghost tours are held annually around Halloween time for this curious and brave enough to follow along.
But the Barings are not the only spirits haunting the nearly 200-year-old church. The graveyard also holds plenty of secrets.
John’s in the Wilderness’s Graveyard
For over 120 years, St. John’s in the Wilderness Episcopal Church operated on a seasonal basis. The wealthy and influential population of Flat Rock would return to their plantations in the low country to rack up this year’s profit, and the church would remain empty. It wasn’t until 1958 that the church became operational year-round.
But during these part-time years, some powerful and influential American and Southern society members congregated at this church in the woods, so much so that they would call it their final resting place when judgment day came.
Famous Figures in St. John’s in the Wilderness’s Graveyard
- Members of three families that signed the Declaration of Independence
- John Brown, a bugler at the Battle of Waterloo
- Major General Edward P. King, Jr., American military leader in the Battle of Bataan of WW2
- Christopher Memminger, the first Secretary of the Confederacy
- Reverand John Drayton, developer of the Magnolia Gardens in Charleston
John Brown has become the graveyard’s most infamous soul, and many say his spirit still haunts it today. He was hired by the Barings shortly after serving in the Royal Scots Greys in the Battle of Waterloo. He died in 1840, but his remains were soon returned to Scotland. During prohibition in the 1920s, his empty grave was used as an exchange spot for bootleggers. Many folks claim they can hear a bugle being played late at night, emanating from his empty grave. Like many others, he loved Flat Rock, and his soul never left.
St. John’s in the Wilderness continues to serve the Episcopal community today. It was almost lost due to a rouge arsonist in the early 1970s, but due to community efforts, it survived through the peril. Many come to experience its holy reverence and soak up its history, others to feel the presence of the spirits that still linger within its walls.
Asheville, North Carolina, is full of spiritual hotspots and secretive locations. It is considered a magical city, and thousands flock to it every year for a paranormal experience. Take a ghost tour with Asheville Terrors to get the best out of your next trip to Asheville! Check our website for times, locations, and details!