Pickett Chapel restoration shows Lebanon’s history

Angie Mayes • Updated Aug 9, 2016 at 11:00 AM

The Peace, Love, Lebanon event took place Saturday evening at Pickett Chapel in Lebanon. 

The historic chapel on Market Street, was showcased in an open house.

Phillip Hodge, a state archeologist who volunteers his time to help restore the 1800s building, said the restoration is a project by the Wilson County Black History Committee. The work is done, in part, with funds from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Tennessee Historical Commission and the Wilson County and Lebanon governments, as well as other supporters.

“What’s neat about Pickett Chapel and makes it a crown jewel of Lebanon is that it’s the only business that still exists as Lebanon was laid out in the 1820s,” Hodge said. “The square has been built a number of times, so this is it. Not the asphalt, but the building itself, is original.

“There is as much architecture as there is archelogy here. There’s as much buried beneath the ground as there is above it. We also have a rich archival record with the state archive and local archive. Plus, we have oral history of people who went to church here over the past 100 years. You can actually tell a complete picture of Lebanon’s history by studying this place.”

There is an annex to the chapel added in the 1940s that is not as structurally sound as the chapel itself, he said. 

“This was where Sunday school and different church events took place,” he said. “This is also where African Americans organized and practiced non-violent demonstrations took place in the 1960s, when they were protesting school segregation. They would organize their non-violent techniques there and then march over to the square and protest.”

That part of the building will be torn down, he said, so those involved with the renovation can focus on the chapel itself.

He said renovation workers “came out and measured it and took photographs, so if we needed to rebuild it, we could.”

Hodge said the workers went to the site a couple of years ago and “did some test excavations and found archelogy items all over this area. There’s also another building buried there (in the back) that’s as old as the chapel itself, based on what we know today.”

He said the chapel is a “really great historical resource. It’s the only place in Lebanon you can tell of its story about all the Lebanon people from the ground up, all the history from the founding of the city in the 1800s to present day.

“You can study the history of Methodism here, the state history, history of Lebanon, history of slavery and the history of race relations, all of which can be done here, which is the only place in Lebanon that this can be done. That’s what we’re trying to do with the Wilson County Black History Committee, to show the history of Lebanon from the 1820s to the present.”

He said it was going to take “time, money and volunteers” to restore the chapel. “The archeology is very labor-intensive and expensive, so we’ve been working with MTSU students and other members of the community to help do the actual archeology work.”

Hodge said state grants are available to help fund the restoration. They didn’t get one this year, he said, but they did in the past. He added there are also other grants available for archeological studies but they haven’t applied for them yet because they’ve focused on the restoration of the chapel.

He said the archeological study would take “a summer of field work,” because they would want to investigate the buried building, as well as other structures such as bathrooms which would have been located on the property.”

“Most people don’t want to go into the privy, but archeologists love them, because that’s where things are,” he said. “That wouldn’t get everything archeological, but that would be phenomenal.”

Hodge said the future of the building would be to use it as a multi-use event space, but would also hold exhibits for the Roy Bailey African-American Museum and History Center. 

He said the building was stabilized and is now structurally sound, so they’re now working on the aesthetics of the building, such as adding windows and doors. The windows are $700 each, and there are eight of them. The doors they want to install in the front are in the $7,000-$8,000 range.

“We want to invest in those parts of the building, because they are the most appealing,” he said. 

Anyone interested in donating to the project can contact the renovators through the Roy Bailey African-American Museum and History Center on Facebook, he said. It is also on Twitter at Wilson County Black History or talk to Mary Harris with the Black History Committee at 615-449-2911 or wilsoncountyblackhistory.org.

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