Commissioners pitch in on historic Gillespie Chapel repairs

photo by Vickie Carpenter

Deena C. Bouknight

Contributing Writer 

The wood-frame building has served many purposes over the last 150 or so years. Yet, the unique, quaint structure perched on a hill overlooking Jones Creek Road is known currently throughout Macon County and especially to citizens of the Upper Cartoogechaye Community Development Club as a community building. However, Gillespie Chapel is in dire need of repairs. 

At the April 9th meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, a request was presented by Commissioner Ronnie Beale to provide funds to save the historic structure. 

“This board has had a history of helping preserve these buildings as part of our history,” said Beale. “And this is one of those buildings that needs preserving.” 

Immediate needs for Gillespie Chapel involve repairs on the roof and chimney, as well as painting and miscellaneous maintenance. Total cost will be $37,440. Beale told the board that the Upper Cartoogechaye Community Development Club had already raised 50 percent of that amount and was asking Macon County Board of Commissioners to provide the other half so that they could get started on repairs as soon as possible this year. 

“It’s not in that bad of shape except for the roof, the chimney, and general maintenance. To be such a small community, these people are very active,” said Beale. “Right now it has a shake roof on it. We’ve all tried to patch it up. It’s got to be replaced. It will either be a new shingle or metal roof.” 

The board wrapped up their April 9th meeting by voting to provide funds in the amount of $18,720 for the Gillespie Chapel repairs. “It’s just a wonderful old building that’s worth saving,” added Beale. “Probably one of the oldest buildings left out there. No heating. Has a wood stove.  But they use it mostly in the spring and summer.”

Built after the end of the Civil War, possibly in the late 1870s or early 1880s, by a Franklin architect, Zebulon Conley, Gillespie Chapel first served as a school. About five years later, a Methodist contingent purchased the building and named it after their pastor, Rev. John Gillespie. According to “North Carolina Churches: Portraits of Grace,” by Our State Books, “To transform the building from a schoolhouse to a house of worship, an octagonal bell tower was added to its facade. For all the church’s simplicity, the bell tower serves as an element of ornate distinction.” 

For many years, Gillespie Chapel served worshippers in the Upper Cartoogechaye community. Regular services ceased in 1975, but the church remained a hub for weddings, funerals, and other functions. Then, in 1986, it was deeded to the Club, which began using it primarily as their community center. 

The Bible, though, remains where it has been for generations – on the pulpit. In front of the rows of wooden pews is a pot-bellied, cast-iron wood stove. On the wall behind the pulpit is a simple adornment: A paint-by-number of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Plus, there is a history corner, with old framed photographs of late 19th and early 20th century Gillespie Chapel gatherings. 

According to Rick Porter, treasurer of the Upper Cartoogechaye Community Development Club, “We will first fix the front steps and the chimney, and then when we get the remaining funds we will finish with the rest. The intent is to put it back to its original condition … not change it.” 

Porter explained his involvement in the Club and with the Chapel. 

“As a kid, I used to come up here from Florida with my parents, and my grandmother lived here. When I retired, I decided to live here. The property I live on now [right off North Jones Creek] used to be my grandmother’s. My parents went to Gillespie Chapel when it was a church. [Family members] were very involved in the community. I just stepped into their shoes to carry on a tradition. I’d hate to see [Gillespie Chapel] fall down.” 

April through October, once a month, meetings of the Upper Cartoogechaye Community Development Club are held with a speaker discussing such topics as birds or nutrition, and then weddings, special events, and an annual community homecoming also take place at Gillespie Chapel. 

To assist with future restoration and maintenance, a donation box is located at Gillespie Chapel.