Restoration underway on historic African-American church in Navassa

Reaves Chapel Restoration
Restoration project underway at Reaves Chapel (Photo: WWAY)

NAVASSA, NC (WWAY) — A  church with significant cultural ties to the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor is being restored and brought back to life. Construction for Reaves Chapel’s restoration project in Navassa began 3 weeks ago, and so far the structure has been stabilized.

The church’s origins date back to the late 1800’s, and fell out of use in the early 2000’s and began to deteriorate, as years and weathering countless hurricanes began taking its toll.

“People drive by and slow down and just comment on they never thought they would see it done, but we were persistent and we are hopefully this will continue to be a phenomenal aspect of the community,” said Al Beatty, Cedar Hill/West Bank Heritage Foundation.

It was built by people who were enslaved and farmed the land where the Cedar Hill Plantation and other neighboring rice plantations once stood.

The chapel was relocated in the early 1900’s from its original riverfront location to its current location in Navassa on Cedar Hill Road.

“It’s really important that we make sure we’re protecting stories, that could easily have been lost forever. Looking at the condition here, I’m sure a lot of people have wondered if it was even something that we could do, and all I can say is that we had to try,” said Jesica Blake, Coastal Land Trust.

This restoration plan has been in the works since 2018. Cedar Hill/West Bank Heritage Foundation, Coastal Land Trust, the Historic Wilmington Foundation, members and relatives of the Reaves Chapel congregation, the Orton Foundation, and the Town of Navassa all came together to make it possible.

“This story deserves to be loud and clear, proclaimed all across the lower Cape Fear region as a testament to the resiliency of the community, and how this community still loves and cherishes this building,” said Travis Gilbert, Historic Wilmington Foundation.

The entire structure has been lifted and is ready for a foundation and masonry work.

“We’ve probably got another 3 months on the project, and at that point the main building will be structurally sound, waterproof, new roof, and the bell tower will be back on top of it,” said Nick Balding, Balding Brothers owner.

“People see the significance of restoring this church. Once the church is restored, we will talk with the North Carolina department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and we’re planning on having it designated a North Carolina historical site,” said Beatty.

The restoration project needs at least $100,000 dollars more to continue funding the Reaves Chapel restoration project, with hopes of also adding additional parking and restroom facilities.

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