This article was published in May 2006 in the Hendersonville Times-News. The entire story with all photographs is not on the newspaper’s web site. Therefore, there is not a link to the newspaper’s web site.
This is the article in its entirety:
By Jennie Jones Giles
On a knoll overlooking the Mills River valley, Revolutionary War soldier James Brittain set aside land in 1797 for the early settlers in the county to hold church meetings and have a school.
“A small log church erected on 10 acres of land given by James Brittain was first used for school and religious purposes,” wrote the late Edna Mae Guice, church historian, in 2003.
Guice is buried in the Mills River Presbyterian Church cemetery, along with many descendants of those first early settlers.
“These old graveyards constitute in some sense a guide for acquiring a better understanding of the lives of those who came to our mountains long ago,” said Jim Brittain, a descendant, in his book “Gun Fights, Dam Sites and Water Rights.” (this book is no longer in print)
The building first erected as a school and meeting place stood across School House Road from where the cemetery is today. It was the first site in Henderson County where Presbyterians worshiped. Baptists were worshiping at a log church in the Mountain Page community and at a site on the French Broad where the Old French Broad Baptist Church cemetery is located.
In 1830, a two-story building known as the Mills River Academy replaced the log building.
It was not until 1859 that the church officially organized as the Mills River Presbyterian Church.
The first Presbyterian church in the region to organize was at Davidson River in today’s Transylvania County. At the time the Davidson River church was organized, it was still a part of Henderson County.
In 1908, church members began building a new sanctuary that stands today. Additions and improvements were made over the years. The building currently occupied by the church celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009.
The land set aside by Brittain is also the cradle of the county school system.
The first school in Henderson County at this site, the Mills River Academy, had one teacher, the Rev. David Haddon.
James Brittain was a private in the Revolutionary War. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed a memorial marker in the front yard of the church.
His actual grave in the old Brittain family cemetery is currently beneath a house. The old cemetery no longer exists. Only about three of the headstones in the old cemetery were moved to the church cemetery when houses were built on top of the graves, said descendant Jere Brittain.
Brittain said when he and his wife joined the church, it was partly to get in touch with his Brittain ancestors.
“They were part of this community and the church for a long time,” he said.
In later life, James Brittain held the ranks of captain, major and colonel in the local militia. He entered the Mills River area around 1791 and was one of seven original justices of Old Buncombe County. Along with Andrew Erwin, he owned part of the original public square in Asheville, now known as Pack Square. James Brittain was a N.C. state senator from Old Buncombe County in 1796-97, 1802, 1804-05 and 1807.
He and his wife, Delilah Stringfield Brittain, had several children.
Phillip Brittain was the eldest son. He married Sophia Melinda Lewis, daughter of Henry Grady Lewis and Mourning Mills, daughter of William Mills. Phillip and Sophia were buried in the old cemetery now covered by houses.
Phillip Brittain was a captain in the War of 1812. He served in the House of Commons and Senate from Old Buncombe County from 1810 to 1839. He was instrumental in the creation of Henderson County as a county.
He also made a deed to John Murray, John Clayton, John Woodfin and John Miller for a church on the land that his father had set aside.
Another son was William Brittain, 1798-1867, who married Rachel Clayton, daughter of Lambert Clayton and Sarah Davidson. They are buried in the Mills River Presbyterian Church cemetery. Of their 10 children, at least five are buried in the church cemetery: Leander, a Confederate veteran who married Nancy Elvira Carland; Rebecca, who married Hugh Johnson Greer; Francis, who married Rachel Bryson; Mary, who married Russell Jones; R. Attilla, who married William Moore.
In the 1840s, William Brittain was the superintendent for the Common Schools in Henderson County. In 1841, Mitchell King conveyed 50 acres of land to William Brittain, chairman of county court of Henderson County, for a location of a site for the town of Hendersonville and erection of a county courthouse. William Brittain was one of the 15 justices of the peace who became the governing body of the county at its birth.
“In the cemetery of the Mills River Presbyterian Church there stands a slim, marble shaft about 5 feet tall,” wrote Frank Fitzsimons in the “Banks of the Oklawaha.” On it is chiseled the inscription: “To the beloved memory of Elise Virginia Lee, born at Newchatel, Switzerland, May 22, 1821. Died at the Hermitage, Feb. 3, 1886.”
Nearby is another headstone: Joseph Lee, born Charleston, S.C., May 25, 1811. Died May 13, 1898.
Elise Virginia Eubeau Lee’s family was Swiss aristocracy, a grandfather was a member of the Swiss Royal Guard, killed defending King Louis XIV of France. She was a friend of the English poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. As friends of the French and Austrians, the family was forced to flee Rome in 1849, when Garibaldi, the Italian patriot, entered the city with his army, Fitzsimons writes. They sailed to Charleston, S.C., where she met her future husband. When Union troops entered the city during the Civil War, the couple sought refuge in the Mills River valley. They bought a farm and taught at the Mills River Academy. Then they opened a private school named the “Hermitage” in their home, which still stands.
Norman Guice, who has made certain the cemetery was maintained for 50 years, said the back section of the cemetery was thought to contain the graves of slaves owned by early settlers.
“The back section had a fence around it and was covered with poison ivy and honeysuckle,” he said.
Other notable graves or stones: Lt. Fred Gordon Fowler, pilot U.S. Air Force, WWII, lost in Corsica, 1920-1944; W.D. Christy, editor of the French Broad Hustler newspaper; Jane Philby Mills, wife of W.L. Love; William H. Graves, Capt. Co. E 25th Regiment N.C. Troops, who fell at his post near Petersburg, Va., age 31 years, died Oct. 12, 1864; two graves marked with fieldstones in Moore’s lot enclosed with coping with upright river rock lining coping; and X. Ray.
“He was born about the time the X-ray came out,” Guice said. “His Daddy named him X. That was his real name.”
In addition to serving in the Revolutionary War, James Brittain, who has a DAR memorial marker at the church, was the first Brittain to settle in the county in Mills River in 1791. He was a leader in the local militia and one of the seven original justices of Old Buncombe County. Along with Andrew Erwin, he owned part of the original public square in Asheville, now known as Pack Square. James Brittain was a N.C. state senator from Old Buncombe County from about 1796 to 1807.
His son, Phillip Brittain, married Sophia Melinda Lewis, daughter of Henry Grady Lewis and Mourning Mills, daughter of William Mills. Phillip and Sophia were buried in the old cemetery now covered by houses. Phillip Brittain was a captain of the local milita (Walton’s War). He served in the House of Commons and Senate from Old Buncombe County from 1810 to 1839. He was instrumental in the creation of Henderson County as a county.
William Brittain, 1798-1867, who married Rachel Clayton, was the superintendent for the Common Schools in Henderson County. In 1841, William Brittain was head of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions when Hendersonville was created and the first courthouse was built. He was one of the 15 justices of the peace who were the governing body of the county in 1837.
In the back section of the cemetery there was a section that had a fence around it and was covered with poison ivy and honeysuckle. This was where the slaves were buried.
The grave site of Fred Gordon Fowler, born Aug. 12, 1920, in Henderson County, is located in the cemetery. He was the son of E.V. Fowler and Mamie Galloway Fowler. The family lived in the Mills River community until after his father’s death in the 1930s. When he registered for the draft, he was living in Transylvania County and working at Ecusta. His military records list him as a resident of Transylvania County. He served with the 347th Fighter Squadron, 350th Fighter Group. He was killed when his bomber crashed over Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea. He is officially listed as missing in action. The monument at Mills River Presbyterian is a memorial monument. He is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial in Lazio, Italy.
There are 12 Confederate graves in the cemetery. They are Alexander Addison Anderson, Americus L. Barnett, James Lambert Brittain, Leander E. Brittain, James H. Bryson, Thomas L. Burgin (unmarked grave), Julius Alonzo Corpening, William Fleming Kimzey, John Mills Lytle, William Bradshaw Moore, James J. Osborne, and John Tyler Williams.
There are two memorial markers to men who died during the war itself: William H. Graves was killed in action in the trenches at the Siege of Petersburg and Hamilton A. Osborne died of disease at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Va.
One person who joined the Union is buried here: William Warren Anderson.
The grave site of John Clayton (1788-1857) is within this cemetery. There were two men named John Clayton living in Henderson County during the same period in history. The John Clayton with a grave site within this cemetery was the son of George Clayton and Margaret Thompson Clayton and the husband of Elizabeth Neill. He was the nephew of Lambert Clayton whose grave site is within the Davidson River Cemetery in Transylvania County, and the first cousin of the other John Clayton (1785-1868). It is not definitively proven which John Clayton donated land for Mills River United Methodist Church or which John Clayton served as a trustee at the Mills River Academy. The John Clayton whose grave site is within this cemetery lived in the Mills River area of today’s Henderson County based on census reports. Based on his residence and his grave site, it is likely that the John Clayton with a grave site at this church is the John Clayton who served as a trustee for the Mills River Academy. His first cousin John Clayton lived in the Etowah section of today’s Henderson County. There was also a John Clayton who served as postmaster at the Mills River Post Office from 1828 to 1831. It is the opinion of this researcher that the John Clayton whose grave site is within this cemetery was the Mills River postmaster. His first cousin, John Clayton, was the postmaster at the Claytonville Post Office near today’s Etowah community from 1826 to 1836.
Thomas Bradshaw Allen also has a grave site in the cemetery. Allen was born Dec. 8, 1864, in the Mills River community, the son of Robert Irvin Allen and Mary Jane Carson Allen. He married Ella Sue Jones. He was a farmer and in the real estate business. In 1913, he was elected as a Democrat to the state senate. He died Dec. 20, 1941.