As pastor of Loray Presbyterian Church (now West Avenue Presbyterian Church), William Roach was one of the most well-respected members of the Loray Mill village. His wife Annie would also have been looked upon for guidance and leadership. The mill churches were the most important social and cultural institutions in the community. They were a place where residents could experience evangelical Christianity, a powerful force in early twentieth-century southern life, and churches also connected and affected members of the mill community in a different way than the mill itself. The churches were not all the same, however. William Roach in some ways presents a sharp contrast to George Abernethy, the pastor of Loray Baptist Church. While Abernethy became a Baptist minister will little formal education, Roach earned both undergraduate and seminary degrees, a difference due to denominational affiliation.
In 1920, William Roach, pastor of Loray Presbyterian Church lived with his wife Annie and their two young sons Olaf and Burchell in the church’s manse. It was located several blocks away from the church at 209 South Trenton Street in the heart of the Loray Mill village. The Loray Presbyterian Church was one of the most prominent churches in the area and had been in existence for a decade before the arrival of the Roach family. Established in 1907 with financial assistance from Gastonia’s First Presbyterian Church and on a lot donated by the Loray Mill, the Loray Presbyterian Church had an immediate impact on the mill village, as almost fifty residents immediately transferred their membership to the new church. By the time Roach took over in 1916, two other ministers had already laid the foundation for a successful ministry, and Roach would continue to guide the congregation for the next four years.
Not only was Roach a full-time pastor in 1920, but he also was the village’s census enumerator. In mid-January of 1920, he knocked on doors in the mill village and interviewed residents based on the United States Census Bureau’s required criteria. Roach recorded every household member’s age, sex, marital status, occupation, place of birth, citizenship, educational information, and language. He also asked whether villages rented or owned their home and where their parents were born. The information Roach recorded is invaluable for historians, as it provides a window into what life was like for residents of the Loray Mill village in 1920.
Like many residents of the Loray Mill village, the Roach family originally hailed from York County, South Carolina. William was born there on May 28, 1886, to his parents Thomas and Susan. He grew up on farms rented by his father, and often helped his father and brothers work the land. Because of his family’s poverty, it must have been a significant accomplishment for William to not only receive his undergraduate degree from Clemson College in 1908 but also his divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1911. Soon after graduating, William married Annie Hutchinson. Born in York County on September 7, 1889, Annie came from a similar background as William. The young couple soon moved to Glenn Springs, South Carolina, in Spartanburg County, where William became the pastor of a local church and the couple welcomed their first son, William, on March 30, 1913. In 1915, however, the current minister of Loray Presbyterian Church resigned, and Roach served as the church’s temporary supply pastor from September 1915 to February 1916 before taking over as the church permanent minister later that same year. The Roach family lived in Gastonia for the next four years, witnessing the birth of two new children Olaf and Burchell, while mourning the death of their son William Jr. in March 1916.
William Roach resigned from Loray Presbyterian Church on January 22, 1920, only a few days after completing his task as census enumerator. The family then moved to nearby, Lowell, North Carolina, on the eastern end of Gaston County, where William became the pastor of Lowell Presbyterian Church, where he worked for the rest of his life. Over the next decade, William and Annie had two more children, a daughter Wienonah and a son Thomas. After William’s sudden death from unknown causes in 1937, the family remained in Lowell, and it is significant that all three surviving sons followed in their father’s footsteps by attending college: Olaf at North Carolina State University and both Burchell and Thomas at Wake Forest. Thomas and Burchell would go on to become doctors and practice medicine in North Carolina. Olaf initially worked as a foreman in a textile mill in 1940 before moving with his wife to Mississippi. Little is known about Wienonah after her 1941 marriage to Billy Jackson Stogner of Gaston County.