The History and Legacy of Transfiguration Saluda
Saluda, North Carolina has always been an oasis of sorts. Known for the "healing waters" in the edges of the Blue Ridge, for over 100 years, people have come from the surrounding big cities to enjoy the cooler weather and scenic vistas this tiny mountain town has to offer. At the center of this town, among the vacationers enjoying bikes along the trails and locals selling fresh peaches and honey at the farmer's market, is a small white parish with a red front door.
One could argue that Transfiguration began long before the construction of its four walls. In the year 1880, the Rev. John DeWitt McCollough, local to Summerville, South Carolina, came to Saluda. During his summer there, he lead the first Episcopal worship service in a room over Tanner's Store. Later that summer, McCollough began construction on what would become the permanent location of Transfiguration.
"We're almost in South Carolina here, so a lot of South Carolinians would come up on the train," said the Rev. Chip Broadfoot, Rector of Transfiguration. "They had a train that ran up from Greenville/Spartanburg area all the way to Charleston and it ran through Saluda as well. It was called the Saluda Grade."
The Saluda Grade was the steepest mainline railway grade in the United States at the time. Gaining 606 feet of elevation in just under three miles outside of Saluda, the train ride itself brought many visitors to the small town from large cities in South Carolina. While many visited Saluda for holidays or time away, many settled in the mountain town, later becoming members of Transfiguration.
"The town and the parish were married in a big way," said Broadfoot. "One of the early families here was a doctor, Dr. D. Lesesne Smith Sr, and he was one of the first doctors in the country to focus on pediatrics. Pediatrics was not a discipline within the medical world at the time, but he had a vision of taking care of children so a lot of families from the big cities would bring their children here in the summer. They had houses set up for them to live in and children could be rehabilitated and made well. They were members of this parish, so there was certainly an energy around this parish and this town."
Image via Bigskybill, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Because of the work of Dr. Smith, Saluda soon gained a reputation as the "unofficial baby capital of the South" due to Dr. Smith's groundbreaking work in lessening high child mortality rates. To this day, many members of Dr. Smith's family still reside in Saluda, and are active members of Transfiguration.
"The neighborhood where children where rehabilitated still exists to this day, it's now called Smith Hill," Broadfoot said. "Descendants of Dr. Smith still own the houses and are still members of this parish. So this parish is really steeped in Saluda history."
To this day, the members of Transfiguration continue to stay close to their roots steeped in rehabilitation and community. In recent years, the parish has shifted from raising money for donation to truly working to be hands on and active in outreach ministry. In the past year, the parish has developed a number of outreach programs with the aim to become more connected with the wider community.
"I got here in February, and one of the first things I did was reach out to the outreach committee," Broadfoot said. "This parish is action-oriented, it seems like its in their DNA to be active! They're rotarian type people, they know their duty to society if to contribute to it's well being"
One ministry at Transfiguration that has recently grown is the Pop-Up Pantry. With their parish located in-between Hendersonville and Columbus, Broadfoot quickly found that there was a need for a food pantry in the Saluda area, as those in other cities were too far for many people to access. Transfiguration began it's own pop-up pantry in July of 2019 at a fruit stand near the Interstate, but quickly began to grow, causing the ministry to seek a more permanent location.
"We were looking for a Main Street location," said Broadfoot, "So we talked to the Presbyterian Church! It's very small, they have only about 18 members, but they have this great fellowship hall. So they allowed us to use this space, and now they have a space being used by the community as well!"
The ministry has grown significantly since the beginning, and now has about 100 volunteers, only about 40% of which are members of Transfiguration. The other 60% are made of members of the Presbyterian church, other churches in the area, and local community members. For Broadfoot, this represents the mission and vision of Transfiguration.
"The point all along has been that we don't own it," Broadfoot said. "We birthed it but we wanted to hand it off eventually, we wanted to see it stand alone. Most of our ministries begin this way, we know that there's a need for this in this town, so let's take it under our winds and do it and then make sure it thrives."
The ministry has continued to thrive, now averaging around 55-60 families a week coming for groceries. Those 55 families represent around 175-200 people who, thanks to the generous volunteers and donations, are able to save money otherwise spent on food for other necessities.
For Broadfoot, this dedication to service was apparent in his first visit to Transfiguration. Though Tranfiguration has only 150 part-time or full-time members, average service attendance is 92, meaning that over 61% of their members are actively involved in attending church and participating in parish ministries. Broadfoot noted the welcoming, accepting feeling he got the first time he stepped foot in the parish, and shared that he has continued to feel an incredible sense of joy from the members of Transfiguration. In fact, Broadfoot will soon be moving adjacent to the parish in order to become further connected with the community.
"It's hard to buy a house in Saluda because these are all very expensive homes, so for a priest to come in and buy a house would be very difficult," Broadfoot said. "So we tried, we looked, but we found nothing. Then the idea came that we could actually fix up the small house adjacent to the parish and move into it. We renovated it, put in a dehumidifier, and we're looking at probably the end of September to be able to move in!"
While Broadfoot is eager for this opportunity to be further connected with his parish community, he is also excited about how it will positively impact Transfiguration for years to come.
"What it does for the parish is that it gives them a bigger pool of potential priests to call down the road,"Broadfoot said. "So a family could move in, or a 60-year old priest could move in, it gives you a much bigger pool of potential priests who could move to this little town. The church family is really excited about having this, and really trying to make it nice. The members of Transfiguration are truly hospitable, and I feel it comes through in all they do. They're a joy to be around.