Church roots go back to the Civil War era

aramos@newsobserver.comJune 10, 2013 

— Susie McGee Oliver fights back tears as she talks about the restoration of the church that has been so important to her family for more than a century.

Oliver’s great-grandfather, William Gaston “W.G.” Clements, founded the Christian Church in Morrisville in 1872.

Decades after falling into disrepair, the restored building on Church Street is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Wake County landmark.

Oliver, along with her aunt, Emma “Tet” Walton” and cousin Annie Walton, attended a ceremony on Thursday to help unveil plaques to mark the significance of the property.

“I was raised in this church. I was baptized here. I was married here,” said Oliver, who now lives in Raleigh. “It looks just like it did back then. It’s just amazing. It’s beautiful. It brings tears to my eyes because it’s just where I grew up. It’s family.”

Clements started the church after he returned home from the Civil War, where he had lost his left arm. He became a prominent figure in Morrisville and Wake County, serving as a schools superintendent and one of the original petitioners for the Morrisville town charter, according to local historian Ernest Dollar.

Clements’ family has played a role in keeping the building intact and in use. When Tet Walton served on what was then the Morrisville Board of Commissioners in the mid-1970s, she helped broker a deal for the town to buy the church after it disbanded due to lack of membership.

At the time, Morrisville’s governing board gathered at private homes for meetings. The church building became Morrisville’s first town hall, and later housed the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce before sitting empty for years.

When Annie Walton moved back to Morrisville from New York in 1996, she was shocked to see the condition of the church, one of only a few intact Reconstruction-era churches in Wake County. A fire had ruined part of the building, and paint was peeling.

“It broke my heart because it had such meaning for my family,” she said.

Annie Walton started talking to any public official who would listen about returning the old church to its former glory.

“I really didn’t think it would happen,” she said. “I was really surprised.”

Morrisville finished restoring the building in 2011.

Dollar called the church a “glorious crown” for Morrisville, with its three-stage bell tower.

“It’s a wonderful building,” Dollar said. “It’s so iconic and represents so much of Morrisville.”

 

Ramos: 919-460-2609

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