Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the Hinton Rural Life Center Collection

Accession Number: 50
Hinton Rural Life Center Collection
Selected Records, 1958-1978
Selected Photographs, 1958-1985
1.2 linear ft.
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Series Description
Part A - Selected Records

Series A.I - Operational and Vital Records, 1958-77
Series A.II - Correspondence, 1964-1978
Series A.III - Publications, 1965-78

Part B - Selected Photographs

Access and Use

Provenance: This collection was compiled by the Settlement Institutions of Appalachia / Berea College Research Resources Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project was developed in 1979 for the purpose of organizing and preserving the original records and photographs of the Settlement Institutions of Appalachia (SIA) and the copying of those of historical value to form a central research collection at Berea College. Hinton Rural Life Center records were collected and organized in 1983. Those possessing administrative, legal or historical value were microfilmed at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. The originals were then returned to the Hinton Rural Life Center.

Preferred Citation: Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Ky.

Restrictions: The master negative of the microfilm is owned by Berea College and a copy for use is available in Hutchins Library’s Department of Archives and Special Collections. Berea College does not own the copyright for the manuscripts or printed documents included in this microfilm edition. It is therefore the responsibility of the researcher to secure permission to publish from the Hinton Rural Life Center or its successors and assigns.

Related Archives


Records documenting the activities of the Hinton Rural Life Center from the late 1950s through the late 1970s are on the microfilm reels of this collection. Filmed documents include financial records, correspondence, and publications from the Center. In addition prints have been made of 68 photos from the same period, supplemented by a videotape of the Center.


Hinton Rural Life Center is named in memory of Harold Hopkins Hinton, a businessman from Georgia. Mr. Hinton and his wife Alice had started building a hunting lodge on the hill above their summer home in the North Carolina mountains in 1956 when his unexpected death brought the project to a standstill. The land was sold to Walter and Velma Moore, who donated the partially finished lodge and four acres of land to the Clay County Methodist Church in 1957. With the help of Alice Hinton and others, the building was completed, furnished, and began its life as a “rural life center under the auspices of the Methodist Church to serve the people of the southeast.” By the early 1960s, the Center had become incorporated as a non-profit corporation and eventually became the property of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.

In 1964, the Hinton Rural Life Center was able to hire its first full-time director, the Reverend Harold W. McSwain. He came to the Center from his graduate work at Emory University, where he had been exploring a then relatively new concept of ministry, the parish-staff model, which addressed itself to the revitalization of the small-membership church. The parish-staff approach sought to build a more effective ministry by introducing cooperative processes to existing administrative / service / religious structures. Proponents of this concept believed that small churches, particularly those in rural areas, would in this way gain access to information, resources, and personnel otherwise unavailable to them. Harold McSwain continued to be active in this movement, both at the Hinton Center and throughout the Southeastern Jurisdiction. He and Center staff developed leadership training materials, authored numerous publications, conducted conferences and seminars at the Center, and established volunteer and youth programs. From its inception, Hinton Rural Life Center was also a religious retreat center, offering facilities for families and other groups.

At the same time the Center was working to develop viable structures for cooperative ministry, it also began to examine the role of the Methodist Church and other churches in the lives of the Appalachian peoples. Hinton Center staff became involved in such groups as the Appalachian Development Committee of the United Methodist Church and the Commission on Religion on Appalachia (CORA). Particularly during the McSwain years, the Center sought to mesh its ideas about cooperative ministries with ideas concerning the need for Appalachian community and special interest groups to combine forces in order to meet common needs. In addition, the Center attempted to communicate to churches that the social and economical needs of Appalachia could also be considered a part of their ministry. Much of the Center’s work was continued by the Reverend Doyce Gunter, who succeeded Harold McSwian in 1973. However by 1974, its statement of purpose reflected less specific service to Appalachia, defining its mission in more general terms:

"The purpose of Hinton Rural Life Center is to create a conscience and conviction concerning our responsibility to man and to God for the conservation, development, and right use of the total resources of life.

The primary objective shall be brought about by the promotion of religious, educational, economic, and cultural projects in the field of urban and rural church work and in community activities which have to do with their religious, educational, economic, and cultural development. In implementing this purpose, Hinton Rural Life Center is to provide facilities, staff, and other tools through which leadership may be discovered, developed, and deployed; and through which programming can be more effectively and efficiently planned, carried out, and evaluated within and for the local churches, particularly in the rural areas." (By-Laws, 1965 / Hinton Center Newsletter, December 17,1974.)

Throughout the remainder of the1970s and into the 1980s, the Center continued to define itself as a center for spiritual renewal, and a place where research / resource materials could be found or developed. The Center has continued to provide consulting services, to coordinate its internal programs with the needs of local churches, to sponsor youth renewal and volunteer work groups, and to define cooperative ministry as a major concern of the Center.

Series Description
2 microfilm boxes, 1 photo box

Series A. I Operational and Vital Records, 1958-77 Box 1

The records pertaining to the meetings of the Hinton Rural Life Center Board of Directors and the committees associated with the Board comprise the greater part of the extant operation and vital records. The remainder of the file consists of some financial statements from the earliest years of the Center (1958-1959); a copy of the certificate of incorporation establishing HRLC as a non-profit corporation (1961); copies of the revised by-laws (1961-1981); and a file on the 20th anniversary celebration in 1977.

The files of the Board of Directors meetings extend from 1968 through 1977. During those years, the Board of Directors was a large group composed of members from many Methodist Conferences in the Southeast. The meetings were somewhat formal and the minutes are lengthy, touching upon nearly every aspect of the HRLC program. Therefore this record is a detailed source of information regarding the activities and the development of Hinton Rural Life Center during those years. The business brought to the Board included reports from committees (executive, program, finance, management, and nomination committees) as well as reports from the director and other staff members on their work with youth and volunteer groups, program development, development of education materials, and their involvement in religious, ecumenical, and socioeconomic ministries. Since the center was an official mission project of the Methodist Church, a portion of the Board meetings were also devoted to description and approval of budgetary and program needs.

For a number of years, it was the practice of Center staff to forward reports to the Board for review prior to their meetings. Several volumes of the minutes include this type of material as well as copies of reports made during the course of the meeting.

Series A. II Correspondence, 1964-1978 Box 1 cont.

The correspondence files of the Hinton Rural Life Center consists of the daily correspondence of Harold McSwain and Doyce Gunter, and cover all years of each administration. Reverend McSwain’s correspondence begins after his appointment to the directorship but before he was headquartered at Hinton, and ends in June, 1973. It includes both general correspondence and correspondence with specific individuals. Rev. McSwain corresponded with a number of other administrators, theologians, and academicians regarding his research, publications, professional activities, and the overall work of the HRLC; therefore this file is a good source of information regarding his philosophy and work during those years.

The general correspondence of Rev. Gunter addresses primarily administrative matters such as arranging meetings, making Center publications available to interested parties, and fundraising / public relations work. In addition, Rev. Gunter maintained files on his correspondence with the Board of Directors (1974-1977), and on correspondence pertaining to consultation and evaluation (1973-1977), conferences and workshops (1974-1977), parish staff training (1974-1977), and “Lord’s Acre” material (1974-1977). (The “Lord’s Acre” was a national fundraising program of the Methodist Church.)

Series A. III Publications, 1965-78 Box 1-2

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Hinton Rural Life Center was active in the movement to analyze and improve the effectiveness of ministry of and to the small-membership church; and the Center endeavored to define the social and economical needs of the congregation as a part of that ministry. The Hinton directors and staff authorized a number of articles and compiled several larger publications pertaining to this subject. The extant editions of these publications compose the greater part of the series III.

Newsletters for the years 1974-1978 are also a part of this series, as is a small file containing promotional literature produced during the 1960s,1970s, and early 1980s. In addition, the series contains some articles and other research materials that were part of the files of Harold McSwain: papers on rural sociology and rural life issues (1950s-1960s); bound editions of papers and articles on Appalachia (1960s); and papers by McSwain’s colleagues concerning multiple staff ministries and small membership churches (1960s-1970s); and a field worker’s notebook of observations of rural church services in the Hinton vicinity (c. 1961).

Part B Selected Photographs Box 3

Like the manuscript records, the photographic collection of the Hinton Rural Life Center is quite small. The original formats for the collection consists of loose prints and 35mm slides containing both black and white and color images.

Subject areas covered by the photographs include: activity, artifact, campus buildings, ceremony, event, landscape, people, and portrait. Included under the section “People,” are photographs of Hinton Rural Life Center staff and participants. HRLC photographs are not housed in one area, but are instead stored and displayed at various locations throughout the campus.

The copy print collection is arranged into one group and covers the periods from the Center’s beginning in 1958 to 1985. For purposes of organization and selection, the original order is maintained under the heading “General File.” But they have also been indexed by primary subject, secondary subject, date. The in-house index can be used to locate photographs by any one of these categories.

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