Historic black church in Brunskwick County, NC undergoing restoration

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As Brunswick County quickly changes from a rural enclave to a sprawling suburban destination, Alfonso Beatty strives to preserve its African-American history.

Beatty is the Chairman of the Cedar Hill / West Bank Heritage Foundation, which since 2013 has sought to preserve and enhance the cultural heritage of the historically black area of ​​Navassa and North Leland.

One of the nonprofit’s earliest goals was to restore the Reaves Chapel Church, which was built shortly after the Civil War by people once enslaved who worked on the rice plantations. near. Today, after years of work and several partnerships, the restoration work has started.

According to Beatty, with the developments built all around them, the work couldn’t start soon enough.

“It was one of the main determining factors,” he said of the decision to restore the church. “We didn’t want to see it demolished and destroyed. History would be erased from this area.”

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The chapel was originally built along the banks of the Cape Fear River, Beatty said, but to better serve the community, it was moved to its current location at 2024 Cedar Hill Road NE in Leland in 1911 to l help of logs and oxen. It served the community, including the descendants of former slaves, as a church, a place for popular speakers, and as a community gathering until 2005, when it fell into disuse.

“The region is changing rapidly as we speak,” said Beatty. “It won’t look like anything anymore. The dynamics, the demographics will change over the next 10 years.”

The heritage foundation partnered with Coastal Land Trust, a conservation and stewardship organization, which purchased the property in 2019. Although COVID-19 has slowed work, the groups have since raised enough money to start the restoration work, starting with a revolutionary November. . ten.

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Partners from Cedar Hill / West Bank Foundation, NC Coastal Land Trust, Historic Wilmington Foundation and Balding Brothers stand outside Reaves Chapel, just after the dedication ceremony on November 10 marking the start of the long-awaited restoration of the chapel.

The structure of the church will be stabilized, its walls and floors will be repaired and its original stained glass windows will be reinstalled. However, the groups are still raising funds for infrastructure that will be needed in the future, such as parking and toilets.

Beatty estimates that they will need about an additional $ 200,000 to fully complete the restoration project. When complete, the goal is for the historic site to anchor the northern end of the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor as well as the future Navassa Greenway.

Beatty’s hope is that when the project is completed, no matter how the area changes, Brunswick County’s black history will never be forgotten.

“From slavery to Jim Crow to today, we’re trying to tell the whole story that we’ve made a lot with what little we had,” he said. “We have made significant contributions in this area with our free labor and it was not just obvious.”

People can donate to the restoration project on the Coastal Land Trust website, coastlandtrust.org/reaves, or by mailing the Heritage Foundation at PO Box 1732 Leland NC, 28451.

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Journalist John Orona can be reached at 910-343-2327 or [email protected]

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