NAVASSA, N.C. (WECT) – In 2019 the Coastal Land Trust partnered with the Cedar Hill West Bank Heritage Foundation to revive the historic Reaves Chapel in Navassa.
Reaves Chapel was built over 150 years ago by the former enslaved Gullah Geechee people. Over the past few years, conservation groups have been working to keep the church doors open.
“Projects like this do take a long time, figuring out the right person to do the deal with for the right purchase. Getting the funding, funding is always an issue when it comes to any sort of nonprofit work,” said Jesica Blake the Associate Director of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.
Blake is working closely with Al Beatty, the President of the Cedar Hill West Bank Heritage Foundation. Through the years the two groups have had to deal with a chapel that was in less than perfect condition. More information about the state of the chapel before renovations can be found here.
Over the past five years. Money has been raised to help bring the chapel back to life. The goal is to turn the space into a museum where people can learn about what the chapel was once used for and more history about the Gullah Geechee people.
“When I’m talking about Reeves Chapel this building this piece of history this actual tangible thing that we can touch tells us a story of a community. It tells a story of people. it tells the story of a region here in southeastern, North Carolina. of North Carolina history and at the end of the day this is what American history is, so that’s what keeps me going,” said Blake.
Blake says the project is so expensive because they want to save as much history as possible. Builders are working on and around existing structures which is more expensive than starting from scratch.
“This is a $1 million project from start to finish just over $1 million and when I am talking about this our founder and recently retired executive Director I said Camila you know at the end of the day. We’re going to spend over $1 million on Reeves Chapel and she looked at me and said. I can’t think of a better way to spend $1 million this is worth every penny that we’re working for,” said Blake.
Along with a high price tag, Blake says finding out information about the historic chapel is not simple. She says most of the information that is known comes from word of mouth and storytelling. People like Blake want to ensure those stories will be shared with future generations.
“The sheer lack of access to record keeping has been an obstacle and sort of a blessing if you ask me like instead of looking something up in a book you have to take time to listen to the stories and to know the community and to know why it was important and to have the elders pass down stories of people that were buried in the original cemetery,” said Blake.
The conservation groups are looking for another $200,000 to complete the restorations. The money will be used to finish the inside of the chapel, electricity, add a parking lot, ADA accessibility, and restrooms. The additions are required so the building can become a historic site owned by the State of North Carolina.
“You know, African-Americans did not have a lot of spaces where they could gather and meet and talk and this is a structure that was witness to those parts of the community stories,” said Blake.
People involved with the restorations, hope to have the project completed by the end of the year.
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