“The county wants to figure out ways that we could help them,” said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto last month. “It would be a great tourism site and something to help preserve history.
“On behalf of the Wilson County Black History Committee [and] Roy Bailey Museum, we’re here tonight to let you know how much we appreciate your support. Giving the committee the opportunity to pay off the chapel mortgage is a blessing,” said Mary Harris, Wilson County Black History Committee president.
Harris said the group bought the building 10 years ago for $65,000.
“It has been a struggle, but it has been a reward, also. We felt this building was too important to the history of our community not to try to purchase it. So, three little black women went to Pinnacle Bank and got this note. But, on June 23, 2017, the balance of $22,758.59 was paid to Pinnacle Bank. What a relief, and we are now the owners of historic Pickett Chapel thanks to you,” Harris said.
State historian Carroll Van West visited the property in 2007 to assess the historical value and whether the building could be preserved, and he put his full support behind the project.
Wilson County Commissioner Annette Stafford said Van West recently visited the property again, and he plans try to get the building on the Civil War Trail, a historical project run by the state.
Built in 1827, Pickett Chapel was one of the first brick buildings in the county. It was built by enslaved African-Americans for a white Methodist congregation. After the Civil War, freed African Americans bought the building and held services there until 1973 when the congregation moved to Pickett-Rucker United Methodist Church. Later on, the building was used as a community theater until it was left vacant in the ’90s.
“I don’t know if it was about to fall down in 2007, but it was in pretty bad shape,” said Phillip Hodge, local archaeologist and member of the Black History Committee. “The first tasks that the Wilson County Black History Committee took on were to stabilize the structure so that it would be safe to enter.”
So far, the restoration work has focused on repairing the structural integrity of the building. In 2010, a portion of the east wall was rebuilt, and repairs to the cupola and cornice took place in 2013. Both of these were funded by grants from the Tennessee Historic Commission.
Democrat news editor Sinclaire Sparkman contributed to this report.