As the pastor of Loray Baptist Church, George Abernethy was one of the most prominent members of the Loray Mill village. The mill churches were the most important social and cultural institutions in the community. The Loray Baptist Church claimed to have the largest Sunday school in the South around the time of Abernethy’s leadership, so he would have had a significant influence on many residents of the mill village and Gaston County as a whole. Even George’s family, especially his wife Bertha, would have been well-known community members. Similar to other local ministers’ homes, the Abernethy’s house would have been one of the few not owned by the mill, and the household one of the few with no mill employees.
The Abernethy family moved to Gastonia in the late summer of 1915 when George answered the call to preach at Loray Mill Baptist Church. They were not strangers to Gaston County, though. George and Bertha’s families had lived in the area for several generations. For the next five years, the family resided in the Loray Mill village. They were the first family to live in the Loray Baptist Church’s parsonage at 1112 West Franklin Avenue, built in 1916. The Abernethys had five children: Mertie, Benjamin, George, Jack, and Carroll. The three oldest were in school in 1920.
The Loray Baptist Church was organized in 1906 to meet the needs of the growing population surrounding the Loray Mill. As was the case with many mill village churches, mill owners helped to fund construction of the church. It quickly grew in membership to become one of the largest churches in town. Reverend Abernethy was the church’s fifth pastor. During his five years as minister, church membership doubled, a new wing was added, and the parsonage built. Abernethy left in the fall of 1920 to become pastor of East Baptist Church in Morganton, North Carolina.
George P. Abernethy was born on April 24, 1886, to James and Alice Abernethy in Gaston County, North Carolina. He grew up on a farm in the South Point area of the county. On November 11, 1906, he married Bertha Cloninger of McAdenville. She was born September 24, 1884, in Catawba County, North Carolina. Her family moved to Gaston County, and by 1900 she was working in a cotton mill. Shortly after their marriage, George was ordained and took his first church appointment in Newton, North Carolina. George and Bertha returned to Gaston County in 1912, where George would serve as pastor in several churches before becoming minister at Loray Baptist Church in 1915.
After leaving Loray in the fall of 1920, George served as the minister to churches in Burke and Cleveland County, North Carolina. In the early 1930s, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where George worked in religious publishing. The 1940 census finds Mertie working as a salesclerk at a local drugstore and George Jr. as a typist for the Department of Defense. Jack and Carroll returned to Gaston County, where they both worked in a Belmont cotton mill.
The Abernethy family’s surname was spelled incorrectly in the 1920 US Census as ‘Abernathey.’