A historically African-American church west of Mooresville is a step closer to achieving landmark protection, thanks to a decision last week by Mooresville commissioners to recognize the site as a local historical landmark property.
While the Morrows Chapel United Methodist Church property along Brawley School Road is not located within town limits, it was suggested that the town recognize the property as a historical landmark after the Mooresville Architectural Survey, which looked at historically significant properties within the town and the immediate vicinity, was completed, said Rawls Howard, town planning director.
Mooresville Commissioner Thurman Houston said this was of particular interest to him because it was his family’s home church growing up.
He said his late father “wouldn’t go anywhere for reunions or other social gatherings if it wasn’t at the church,” and felt that his father would think this would be a “good thing to move forward on.”
The recommendation for the designation, which came from the town’s Historic Preservation Commission and those who have gone and go to the church, includes the entire church site of approximately six acres which consists of the church, the Rosenwald School site, arbor and cemetery which is located to the rear of the property.
Further designation of the property to be considered as a formal historic landmark would need to be done by the county.
“The idea (behind this) if you see fit is to push this to Iredell County to get it officially on their records,” said Howard during the board’s Monday night meeting.
A favorable completion and review by the county could lead to a formal designation of the entire site as an Iredell County Historic Landmark.
Commissioner Bobby Compton on Monday asked if there was a chance the county would “resurrect their historic preservation program,” since the site sits within county jurisdiction.
“This area especially and (other places) in southern Iredell County have a lot of areas just like this that need to be recognized and designate, so I hope the county will pick up the ball on this,” he said.
Two members of the church also spoke in favor of moving forward with the designation. Sharnetta Clark-Gordon thanked the HPC for contacting them to collect information about the church to have it presented as a historical site.
Gordon noted that the church celebrated its 144th anniversary in October, saying there’s “lots of rich history there.”
An older member of Morrows Chapel, Van Byrd, said he had been going there for the around 85 years, noting that he and his six brothers and five sisters all attended the school on the site.
“That was the only school in the area for us to go to,” he said.
Byrd said he was born about a mile away from Morrows Chapel, adding that (the church) was one of his mother’s “pride and joys.”
He also reminisced about going to the church when he was about four or five saying how their mother, “marched us up that road and we had to white wash the trees and the rocks around the church and the school, and we did that for years.”
“It’s our life-line really, and it would be very much appreciated if we could do something where it would be there for our future generations,” he said.
Founded in 1872
The church itself was founded on its current site, located at 1536 Brawley School Road next to Lake Norman Volunteer Fire Department, in 1872 when John Morrow and his wife Margaret donated land to build the church.
Town staff said the church has long served as a “strong religious cultural and educational institution for the rural black community of southern Iredell County and the Mooresville area.”
The church has occupied the site since its founding during the Reconstruction Days following the Civil War. Most likely, the original church members were freedmen who had previously been members of McKendree United Methodist Church, a predominantly which church pre-dating the Civil War and located less than three miles from the Morrows Chapel site.
Many graves in the cemetery have death dates as far back as the mid-1800s and birth dates that date to the early 1800s.
The original church started in the general location of the current arbor site, which site further back on the property, where members would gather under canvas tents.
Since then, three church sanctuaries have been constructed on the site since its founding. The first wood-frame church building was built shortly after the construction of the original arbor sometime in the 1880’s. The second wood-frame sanctuary was constructed in 1913, with the third and current brick sanctuary being constructed in 1955.
The current sanctuary is an A-frame or gabled style, red brick building with an A-framed or gabled front entry vestibule or foyer. Romanesque style, stain glass windows are located on each side of the building.
The second and current arbor standing today on the property was built in the early 1900’s.
The first one-room schoolhouse at Morrows Chapel was said to have likely been established in the 1890’s or earlier. The original school was expanded to a two-room facility around 1925, and subsequently expanded sometime between 1935-1936, to three rooms.
Morrows Chapel School became one of eleven Rosenwald Schools built in Iredell County from philanthropic funds from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation.
In 1949, the Mooresville Board of Education voted to consolidate Dunbar, Coddle Creek and Morrows Chapel schools.
The consolidation was completed in 1952 and according to local oral history, the church took over the school building for use as an education and fellowship building until 1952 which is was dismantled.
The site for the school is already on the State of North Carolina Historic Preservation Office’s 2013 list of Rosenwald Schools, and was one of 800 such school to be built in North Carolina.