An old country church gets a little TLC
By Linda Beck, for the Salisbury Post
Who would have ever thought that the day would come when I would be parked in the yard of that old church that I wrote about back in March? But there I was Sept. 12 watching partial restoration of the historic church from the 1800s. The original name of the church was Second Creek AME Zion and in later years it was changed to Second Creek New Birth of Christ Church. Once completed, the work will solve the leakage problem caused by some storm damage.
It continues to amaze me that God brought my attention to this old church in 2011. As many times as I had passed there in earlier years, I had never even noticed the building.
But just as scripture touches our hearts in God's timing, so be it when he has a story for me to share, and the results continue to amaze me. I met descendents by phone and learned a lot of facts I did not know. I discovered that my favorite saleslady at Belk's is one of the descendents and loved going there as a child.
I discovered that there were eight Blackwell siblings, including the man who lived in the house by the church. He is Norman Blackwell and had hoped that someone would repair the roof and possibly restore the building. The house he lives in used to be a one- or two-room school until the older students were provided the opportunity to attend J. C. Price High School. In later times, the younger children went to R. A. Clement Elementary School.
Will Blackwell, the great-grandfather of the living Blackwell descendants donated the land for the church in 1867. The church was used until older members passed away from age and families began to move to other locations (possibly as late as 1996). The church was originally built by several of the men: Will Blackwell, Henry Blackwell, Monroe Blackwell, George Blackwell, Dave Wilson, John Wilson, Sampson Carson, Mitchell Carson, Jim Carson (father of Jackie Torrence), Sandy Johnson, Thomas Kent, James Jackson, and Thomas Jackson.
Some of the older folks remember being told that the church, which had first been on the property of Thomas Kent, was moved plank by plank on wagons to the current Blackwell property.
One of my telephone buddies (whom I still have never met in person) told me that my story was shared over the Internet with relatives in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago and other major cities. What an honor!
After seeing the storm damage on the outside, my friend Benita, a photographer, went inside and found the water leakage that is damaging one area there. I knew some carpenters and restoration people so I called a few folks to see if they would do some free repairs. That did not work out because they were already so busy.
Sometime after the first story came out, I got a call from Terry Wilber, a historic restoration general contractor whom I did not know, saying that he would be glad to make the necessary repairs at his own expense. Then I got another call from the Salisbury Historic Foundation expressing their interest in the needed repairs.
It is interesting to watch someone who knows what to take out, what and where to put in something new and how to allow time and weather to condition it to the "aged" appearance.
Of course this is just replacement of weather-damaged parts. The ideal project would be to restore the complete building, clean out the inside, and share it with history classes today, or turn it into an old country church museum. When I asked Mr. Wilber about the possible costs of that, he said it would not cost as much as many folks think. He suggested that if every member of each of the black churches in Rowan County would give one dollar that would possibly suffice. (It would be OK if members of white churches would each contribute a dollar to the restoration. Color of our skin shouldn't matter. If it did, these stories would never have been written.)
Saving historic places is more important to some people than it is to others, but Salisbury is a wonderful example of historic restoration and a lot of tourists' dollars are spent here and folks from far away have purchased some of the restored homes.
Perhaps a mission group could spend some time helping clean out the inside, the cemetery, and the yard. All of the descendants are now elderly, and some handicapped, so they are unable to do it themselves. I sometimes wonder why churches spend a lot of money traveling away when there are so many old folks that need help right here in Rowan County. But if that is where God calls them to go, I understand, and I don't mean to sound critical. I've sponsored some trips when I could not travel.
Since I am a lover of United States history, I enjoy seeing the fruits of local labor and I know God has had his hand in all this. If it is His will, this may not be the last story about the old church.
To get to the church from downtown Salisbury, go northwest on West Innes Street, which will become US-601. After you see Shoaf's Wagon Wheel on your right, take a left on Gheen Road. Look for the church on your right after you pass the turn for Hope Hill Road.
Linda Beck lives in Woodleaf.