Fundraising efforts underway to help historic church

Hadnot Creek Primitive Baptist Church trustee Mary Lou Watson Smith of Cape Carteret looks at the balcony area inside the historic church Wednesday. Trustees are holding fundraisers to pay off the mortgage on a piece of property that separates the church from its graveyard. (Cheryl Burke photo)

HADNOT CREEK — Trustees of a 201-year-old church in this community are raising funds to pay off the mortgage on a piece of property between the church and its cemetery.

The small tract is between Hadnot Creek Primitive Baptist Church and its cemetery, which is on Old Church Road off Highway 58. The property, which is just under an acre in size, also contains an access road.

As one of their fundraisers, trustees will hold a yard sale beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, rain or shine. It will be at a trailer on the property just east of the church. The bulk of the items will be inside, but some will be outside in the yard, according to church trustee Mary Lou Watson Smith of Cape Carteret.

“There is appliances, furniture, tools from two sheds, a large above-ground swimming pool, plumbing, electrical supplies, windows, shutters, siding and more,” she said. “In addition, the church will be open for tours.”

Ms. Smith said the church is also planning a candlelight open house 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 22-23.

“Since this structure is 201 years old, and electricity was never installed in the church, this will truly be a candlelight event,” Ms. Smith said. 

This is the third time trustees have attempted to raise funds for the property. Trustees could not raise enough money in the two previous attempts, with the last one in 2005.

This time, however, the former owners, Sandra and George Chaney of Cape Carteret, have already deeded the land to the church, according to Ms. Smith.

She said Ms. Chaney contacted trustees earlier this year offering the property for $65,000, with no interest, no down payment, and 10 years to pay off the mortgage. They accepted the deed in August of this year, and are now busy raising funds to pay it off.

Ms. Smith said trustees sent letters to people in late August explaining how they proposed making the purchase. They also included a map of the site.

Funds have already started coming in from family of former members and friends of the church. So far they’ve raised about $29,000.

“The response has been very positive,” she said. “We are so thankful for all who have been so supportive of the church.”

While the last official church member, Mary Watson Taylor, died in 1996, descendants of original members travel from across the United States each year to attend reunions and services at the church. Members of other Primitive Baptist churches also attend. The church holds services twice a year ­– the first Sunday in June and second Sunday in October.

“When we hold services people come from all over the place and the church is filled,” she said. “We have a spread of food on the grounds following the services.”

The church also hosts other special events, such as reunions and weddings, in the rustic wooden building.

Prior to her death, Ms. Watson appointed trustees to take care of the church, graveyard and grounds. She made Newport Primitive Baptist Church responsible for appointing replacement trustees.

The Carteret County Historical Society dates construction of the two-story church as 1815. An even earlier church, built around 1790, was on the site prior to the current building. The original building burnt down.

The church has been featured in Our State magazine. The unique building, which is on a 1.9-acre tract, has kept the simplicity that Primitive Baptist churches are known for. There is no electricity in the building, which is built from pine. Everything in the church is handmade from pine except for the tin roof, which covers the original wooden shingles.

Even the pews are rustic wooden benches. The pews contain ridges made by hand tools.

A balcony overlooks the downstairs meeting room. The balcony was added as a place for slaves and children to gather. The original stairway to the balcony was on the outside of the building. That has since been moved to the interior.

The handprints of slaves and free men who helped with its construction are still visible on the downstairs ceiling, according to Ms. Smith.

The downstairs meeting room contains a simple, handmade pulpit. A section of an old pine tree with a very unique history is next to the pulpit.

Ms. Smith said the pine log was donated to the church several years ago by a descendent of Jabez Weeks, an elder in the church in the 1800s. The story, which is written on a plaque above the log, states that Mr. Weeks and his wife were on their way home from services in a horse and buggy. The horse got spooked and threw Mr. Weeks from the carriage.

His wife propped him against a large pine tree and went back to the church for help. By the time the men got back to the scene, Mr. Weeks had died from a broken neck. Friends placed a sign on the tree, designating it “Jay Bees’ Pine.” Years later a storm damaged the tree, and relatives took pieces of the pine to their homes, including the one donated to the church.

The church’s property even contains men’s and women’s outhouses. Trustees did compromise a bit several years ago and built an outdoor toilet facility with running water.

The graveyard, on a 0.38-acre tract, has its own stories. Many of the gravestones contain names familiar to the county, like Taylor, Weeks, Bell, Parker and Pringle. Many of the original wooden markers have disappeared, but the earliest readable stone contains the date 1820.

With the historical significance to the county, trustees are searching for more people interested in supporting the effort to pay off the mortgage.

“We are hopeful new friends and families will join us in maintaining and supporting this historic property,” said Ms. Smith.

If anyone is unable to come to the yard sale, they can make a donation to Hadnot Creek Primitive Baptist Church, in care of Mary Lou Watson Smith, 509 Deer Creek Drive, Cape Carteret, N.C. 28584-9702.

For more information, contact Ms. Smith at 252-241-0709, her cellphone, or at 252-393-8657, her home phone.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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