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Important Dates

Come to Black History Month event at Town Hall Feb. 24

By Ron Potts. The Black History Month program at Town Hall each year looks at the history of families in and around the Smithville community. We’ve heard stories from the following families: Connor, Stinson, Grier, Nelson, Rivens, and Potts. We have also featured authors such as Lucy Withers McLean (No More Chicken Feet), Marshall Lowery (If You Want to Help the Poor, Don’t Be One), and the local artist and poet James (Jimmy) Donaldson. We have also had music from long time citizens Rissie Derr Work and the late Lula Bell Houston.

This year the story will revolve around three historically black churches in Cornelius and will include history, music, spoken word, liturgical dance, pictures, and memorabilia. The churches are Torrence Chapel AME Zion Church, built 1869; Hunters Chapel United Methodist Church, established 1909 and Union Bethel AME Zion Church, established 1917.

The theme for the Black History Celebration is Sharing Out Heritage. The main event will be at Cornelius Town Hall, Feb. 24, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Smithville CommUNITY Coalition is partnering with the Town of Cornelius, Cornelius Historical Preservation Committee and Bella Love to provide rich opportunities that week.

Torrence Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Torrence Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Torrence Chapel’s beginnings were like that of most rural churches. It was organized by Rev. Ephraim Torrence before 1869, with a few former slaves. A brush arbor was built near the Township of Cornelius in a small “Negro settlement” Smithville. A few years later, the Church moved to the present location and built a frame structure in 1869 on a site given by white friends, the Glaspies. The first deed was registered in 1902.

The Church has been remodeled several times with a major renovation in 1960. Since then, a Fellowship Hall and classrooms have been added, along with upgrades to the bathrooms and an entryway as recent as 2015. Many of the original family members are still attending the church. The pastor is Rev. Ellison Bowman. 

 

On the Feb. 25, the guest speaker will Dr. Jesse Lee Douglas who was an early leader in the Civil Rights movement. He marched with Martin Luther King in Selma in 1965.

Hunters Chapel United Methodist Church

Hunters Chapel United Methodist Church

Hunters Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church was built on land given to the founders by the Gillespie family who owned land which stretched all the to the Catawba River. The first building was constructed in November 1909, approximately .3 miles from the current site on John Connor Road (renamed in 1994 from Beatties Ford Road). The first building was plank board and sat on a leaning rock foundation. Lanterns were used to light the structure and a pot belly stove provided heat. The original bell that still hangs in the steeple was originally supported by a pole which stood in the front of the Church.

In 1960, Duke Power purchased the Church to create Lake Norman. Graves were moved from the old cemetery and the Church was rebuilt at its present location. It became Hunters Chapel United Methodist Church in 1968. It holds the distinction of being the only predominately Black United Methodist Church in Northern Mecklenburg County. As with Torrence Chapel, many of the original families are still attending the church. The pastor is Rev. Emmanuel Yiadom.

Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

In July 1917, families in the Smithville area made plans to launch a new church in the community. Until that time, most Smithville residents had to travel the 1 I/2 miles to Torrence Chapel AME Zion Church on Gamble Road (now named T In 1917, some families in the Smithville area made plans to launch a new church in the community. Until that time, most Smithville residents had to travel the 1 I/2 miles to Torrence Chapel AME Zion Church on Gamble Road (now named Torrence Chapel Road). They traveled by foot, wagon, and buggy.

Some of the founding families were from the Stinson, Grier, Nelson and Withers families. The new church was named, Union Bethel, by Mrs. Mary Withers, wife of Isaac A. Withers. The first pastor of the church was Rev. William Stinson.   The first church services were held in the Masonic Lodge on South Hill Street until the church building was completed in 1922 at its current site on Catawba Avenue in the Smithville Community. Over the years changes were made to the original structure which included renovating the front of the church to add two bathrooms and to convert the two-front door entrances to a double-door central entrance as well as closing the church’s basement, used as a fellowship hall, renovating the back of the church to add a new bathroom and fellowship hall, which was named after one of the founding members, Rev.  Byfinue S. Stinson, brother to the first pastor, Rev. William Stinson.

The oldest living church member is Ms. Sylvia S. Tucker. At the age of 93 she is still active and vital part of the church. Mrs. Tucker is the daughter of founding members of the church, Elmer and Beulah Stinson. In July 2017 the church celebrated its 100th year and in attendance was Mrs. Kitty Withers Winston, 100 years old, and the daughter of one of the church’s founders, Mr. & Mrs. Isaac A. Withers. The pastor is Rev. Wayne Harris.

— Ron Potts is co-chair of Smithville Community Coalition

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