Beck column: The Old Church
Published 12:00 am Monday, March 5, 2012
By Linda Beck
For the Salisbury Post
Rowan County is full of untold history and surprises, so imagine my delight when I made a familiar turn off Highway 601 last year and caught a glimpse of a very old building that I didn’t recall ever seeing before. I remember thinking, “Was that what I thought it was?” I was puzzled the next time I was on Gheen Road because the structure seemed to have disappeared; I couldn’t spot it as I drove along.
Then on another day, a black gentleman stepped out on the edge of the road. I slowed down as I was very anxious that I might hit him on the narrow winding road. Paying close attention to my right, I was surprised to rediscover that old building sitting by his house back off the road. Curiosity got the best of me so I turned around and went back. I stopped and asked him, and sure enough, it is an old historic church building that is very much in need of restoration. 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.
Since I had nothing with which to take notes, I did not remember all he told me, but I thought it would make a great story for the Salisbury Post. With the help of the History Room at the Library, I discovered they have very few details about the little church. So with time, “the little church in the wildwood” (one of my favorite very old hymns) retreated to the recesses of my mind.
Then recently my friend, Benita VanWinkle, a professional photographer, came from Winston to take pictures of the Meroney Theater. We returned to my house via Highway 601 so I could show her the mysterious old building. It just so happened (or was that another one of those God things) that the same gentleman was out in the yard and even offered to take her inside.
Benita was excited to find that some of the original hand-made pews were still there, as was an old organ. There is also a little cemetery beside the church. (Later I was told the original cemetery from the first church is located on Kent Road which later became Hope Hill Road. Another fact that turned up is that Carson Town became Will Black Road.
I pulled the van up closer and discovered that the building has stained glass windows. A recent storm has wrecked havoc on the tin roof and even though Benita thought the inside was in great shape, I fear that another fierce storm could completely destroy this piece of black history. I have hopes that the Lord will help get the roof repaired if it is His will that it be done. I was disappointed that I could not see the inside but it was starting to rain and was very cold so I remained in the van.
I was telling a black friend of mine what I had discovered and she told me I should look in the phone book for the Blackwells on Gheen Road or Will Black Road; she was sure I could learn more from the descendants of the families who once attended that church.
I discovered that there were eight Blackwell siblings; one has died and three have moved out of state. As it turned out, one of the remaining was the man who lived in the house by the church. He is Norman Blackwell and has hoped that someone would repair the roof and possibly restore the building. Personally, I think it would make a great museum for school children to visit. I discovered that the house he lives in was either 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, 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.
I also discovered that it was the home church of Jackie Torrence, the famous black storyteller. Her grandfather, Jim Carson, was one of the builders mentioned above. Her daughter, Lori Seals, said there is a map in her book, “The Importance of Pot Liquor” that shows the area in which the church is located and where she spent some of her childhood.
I would like to thank those (Carolyn Blackwell, Dorothy Perkins, and others) who shared this interesting history and if anyone has more information regarding this house of faith and worship email email@example.com. As the oldest county in North Carolina, we must diligently preserve our history with as many first-hand accounts as are still available. This is a call to all preservationists to save a vital piece of faith and another historic structure.