Grace A. M. E. Zion Church
This report was written on May 7, 1980.
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the
Grace A.M.E. Zion Church is located at 219-223 S. Brevard St. in Charlotte,
2. Name, address and telephone number of the present owner and
occupant of the property:
The present owner and occupant of the property is:
Grace A.M.E. Zion Church
219-223 S. Brevard St.
Charlotte, N.C. 28202
3. Representative photographs of the property: This report
contains representative photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting the location of the property: This report
contains a map which depicts the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The original deed
to this property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 55, Page 444.
Tax Parcel Number: 12502404.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains
an historical essay on the property prepared by Dr. William H. Huffman.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
contains an architectural description of the property prepared by Jack O.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria set forth in N. C. G. S. 160A-399.4:
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture,
and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property
known as the Grace A.M.E. Zion Church does possess special significance in
terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the
following considerations: 1) the building, dedicated on July 13, 1902, is
one of the oldest black churches in Charlotte and the only religious
edifice which survives in what was once the largest black residential
section in Charlotte, known as Brooklyn, 2) the church has contributed
substantially to the evolution of the black community, especially through
such members as Dr. J. T. Williams and Thaddeus L. Tate, and 3) the
building is architecturally significant as one of the finer local examples
of the late Gothic Revival style.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship materials, feeling
and/or association: The Commission judges that the architectural
description included in this report demonstrates that the property known
as the Grace A.M.E. Zion Church meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal: The Commission is aware that
designation would allow the owner to apply annually for an automatic
deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the
property which becomes "historic property." The current Ad Valorem tax
appraisal of the .272 acres of land is $59,210. The current Ad Valorem tax
appraisal of the building is $28,560 The property is exempted from the
payment of Ad Valorem taxes. The building contains 4,254 square feet of
floor space. The land is zoned B3.
Date of Preparation of this Report: May 7, 1980.
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill, Director
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
3500 Shamrock Dr.
Charlotte, N.C. 28215
Telephone: (704) 332-2726
Looking westward toward the rear of Grace A.M.E.
Zion Church shows that the building is a rare reminder of the pedestrian scale
neighborhoods that once surrounded the intersection of Trade & Tryon
by Dr. William H. Huffman
In 1766, Philip Embury, one of the first Methodist lay preachers in the
American Colonies, held a meeting at his home in New York City with four
whites and one black slave present. 1 This small group developed
into the John Street Church (Wesley Chapel) with its own building in 1768,
and became a part of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America when it
formally organized as a separate body from the English Methodist Church in
1784. 2 By 1786, the church had 178 white and 25 black members in
the congregation. 3 As the popularity of the church grew, so did
the dissatisfaction of the black members, because of two problems: their
growing treatment as second-class members of the congregation; and the
prohibition of licensed black preachers against preaching to members of
their own race but occasionally, and never to whites. 4 By 1795,
this dissatisfaction reached its peak among the 155 black members, who
resolved to separate from the John Street Church. The following year, led by
James Varick (1750-1827), who was later to become the first bishop of the
A.M.E. Zion Church, a group of black members received permission from the
head of the Methodist Church to meet as a separate society.5 This
first black church in New York adopted the name Zion "as the name most
frequently used in the Bible to designate the Church of God. 6 In
1800, the church erected its own building in New York, and in 1801
incorporated under the name, "The African Methodist Episcopal Church (Called
Zion) in New York," with a separate charter from the state. 7
They continued to be a part of the Methodist Episcopal Church, however, and
were assigned white preachers.
Since they had experienced rapid growth in the succeeding twenty years,
the Zion church began construction of a new stone building in 1820, which
was completed the following year. Of greater importance, however, was the
fact that the church also determined in 1820 to become independent of the
white Methodist Church in order to achieve its goal of equality in religion.
8 By 1822, the original church in New York had combined with
other black churches in the region to establish "The African Methodist
Episcopal Church in America," with their own Discipline and officeholders,
and had elected James Varick as the first bishop. 9 From 1822 to
1865, the A.M.E. Zion Church expanded in the North, and counted in its ranks
a number of dedicated abolitionists and conductors of the Underground
Railroad, including Frederick Douglass (1821-1895), Harriet Tubman
(1821-1913), and Jermain Loguen (1813-1872).10
The A.M.E. Zion Church first reached the South in North Carolina during
the Civil War. In 1863, a black Methodist congregation known as Andrew
Chapel in New Bern, N.C., sent an appeal to former members in New Haven,
Connecticut for help in connecting with the Zion Church. After commissioning
one missionary that same year who was reluctant to embark, the Mission Board
commissioned a second, Rev. J. W. Hood. Rev. Hood, later a bishop, left for
New Bern in December, 1863, and arrived on the 20th of January, 1864. The
400 members of Andrew Chapel, previously connected with the Methodist
Episcopal Church, South, agreed to Hood's proposal, and joined the A.M.E.
Zion Church. Within a short period of time, churches were added in Beaufort,
Roanoke Island and Washington, N.C. The Union lines were only about 15 miles
inland from New Bern at the time of this missionary activity. New Bern
itself was subsequently attacked, but held by the Union forces, and
Washington was recaptured by the Confederates. Further organizing efforts
were planned during the remainder of 1864, but they had to wait until the
end of hostilities in 1865. 11
About May, 1865, an elder of the church named Edward H. Hill pushed west
to Charlotte and organized Clinton Chapel, the first black church in the
city. Reverend Hill licensed Bird Hampton Taylor, put him in charge of
Clinton Chapel, and continued his organizing activities in the area. Before
he died later that year, Hill had laid the groundwork for nearly twenty new
churches within a fifty mile radius of Charlotte. 12
Clinton Chapel, as did the A.M.E. Zion Church in general, grew rapidly in
the post-war years. From 1863 to 1896, the national church membership
increased from about five thousand to nearly half a million, primarily
because of its organizing activities in the South. 13 By 1880,
Clinton Chapel, located on Mint Street in downtown Charlotte, had a
membership of 1193 and church property valued at $3500.00. 14
Beginning in 1882, however, the Christian Temperance movement began to
divide some members of the congregation from the rest. The small group
labeled as prohibitionists came to the end of their patience over the issue
in 1886, after they had been criticized for their views for some time by the
majority, including the pastor. The temperance group decided to act on a
suggestion by Mrs. W. W. Smith to organize their own church as the only
solution to religious harmony over the problem. Thus in December, 1886,
twenty-eight like-minded members met at the home of Jethro Sumner, 509 S.
Davidson Street. There the eleven men and seventeen women selected a
committee of three to write a letter of withdrawal from Clinton Chapel. The
new society adopted the name Grace Chapel, and took as their motto "God,
Religion and Temperance," which appears in Latin on the cornerstone of the
present building. 15
|Look carefully for the word
The first meeting place for Grace was in an
Episcopal Church building built as a mission for whites on West Stonewall
Street. William W. Smith, one of the charter members, described the first
Brother John C. Davidson volunteered to preach. We had to work hard not
to lose any time. Brother M.F. Young, Librarian of the Sunday school of
the mother church, gave us Sunday school literature until we could arrange
to buy some. This was the 12th or 15th of December, 1886. More than once
did I roll wood on a wheelbarrow from my home on East Stonewall Street to
the place on West Stonewall Street. 16
Bishop J. W. Hood, who had led the pioneering efforts into North
Carolina, accepted Grace into the A. M. E. Zion Church early in 1887, and
appointed J. A. D. Bloice as interim pastor. A few months later, Reverend R.
Haywood Stitt, who was studying at the Theological department of Livingstone
College in Salisbury, was sent as station pastor. 17
The new church moved to a series of temporary quarters before finding a
permanent home. After a few months, they had to vacate the Episcopal
Mission, and met for a short time at the Mayor's office in the old Market
House on East Trade Street. Shortly afterward, they rented the former
Samaritan Lodge hall on East Second Street near Davidson, and then moved
again to the A.M.E. Zion Publishing House at 6 South College Street. 18
On August 16, 1887, the Board of Trustees of Grace Chapel bought a lot on S.
Brevard Street (then called "B" Street), the present site of the church, to
be used for their own building. The lot, purchased for $600.00, measured 99
front feet on "B" Street, and was 198 feet deep. 19
The first church built of the lot was a frame building of thirty by sixty
feet, where the congregation worshiped until the present structure was
built. 20 On September 2, 1889, the trustees sold half their lot
to Jethro Sumner, who built his house on it next to the church. 21
By the end of the nineteenth century, the congregation had outgrown the
original frame building, and the pastor, Dr. John Wesley Smith, began to
raise funds for a new brick structure. In 1898, the frame building was moved
to the back of the lot in preparation for construction of the new one. The
young ladies of the church helped raise money by selling ice cream and fried
fish on Saturdays. 22 By 1900, it was reported that Dr. J.W.
Smith (who was also editor of the church newspaper, The Star of Zion,
headquartered in Charlotte) had raised $2,000.00 for the new church. 23
The general contractor and designer of the present building was W.W. Smith,
a member of the church.
Site preparation in July 1900, and actual
construction began three months later, as reported by the pastor:
We commenced laying brick October 22 at 11 a.m. and we want to roof and
slate it if possible before Christmas. It will be a handsome brick church
55 x 90 and ornamented with three towers. Until Dr. A.J. Warner (of
Clinton Chapel) begins the erection of his great church, our church will
be the largest negro church in Charlotte. In our rally last Sabbath, with
160 members we raised $800, making over $1000 that we raised for building
purposes in the last six months. 24
Dr. Smith's optimism is reflected by the dates on the cornerstone,
1900-1901, but the building was actually dedicated on July 13, 1902. That
day was, as an article in the Observer noted, "a red letter day
religiously with the members of Grace A.M.E. Zion Church." 25 On
that day no less than three bishops of the church preached respectively at
11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 8 p.m., and the mid-day service included a number of
white guests. The dedicatory services continued for seven days, which
included preaching on successive nights by the pastors of the other black
churches in Charlotte, who brought their choirs and congregations. 26
Grace Church continued to enjoy steady membership and prosperity during the
first half of the twentieth century. Located in the then flourishing black
community of Brooklyn in Charlotte's Second Ward, it was a focal point for
religious and social activities for both young and old. 27 Its
membership and pastorate have included a number of leading citizens who have
contributed a great deal to the community, both black and white. Two of its
outstanding members were Dr. J.T. Williams (1859-1924) and Thad L. Tate
This is an early
1900's photograph of Edna Rattley (holding baby), daughter of John and
Sarah Rattley, with her cousins Estelle (front seat) and Cora (middle
seat) Tate. The woman in the backseat is unidentified. In the
background is Grace AME Zion Church.
Dr. John Taylor Williams was a highly respected educator, physician,
businessman and civil servant of the Charlotte community. Originally an
educator, Dr. Williams became the Assistant Principal of the Charlotte
"graded" schools at the age of twenty-three in 1882. Resigning to study
medicine, in 1886 he became one of the first three black physicians licensed
to practice medicine in North Carolina. In addition to building a prosperous
surgical practice in Charlotte and serving on the Board of Health of
Mecklenburg County, Dr. Williams was twice elected to the Board of Aldermen,
in 1888 and 1890. President McKinley nominated him for the post of consul to
Sierra Leone, West Africa in 1898, where he served until 1907. After his
service in Africa, Dr. Williams returned to Charlotte and resumed his
medical practice. J.T. Williams Junior High School is named in honor of his
service to the community. 28
The first house on the left was the home of Dr. J.
T. Williams. Grace Church was in the most prestigious section of
2nd Ward or Brooklyn
"Courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room – Public Library of
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County."
Two of the founding members of Grace Church.
Thaddeus Lincoln Tate came to Charlotte in 1877 at the age of twelve.
Eventually he owned and operated a thriving barbershop downtown which had as
regular customers such figures as J.B. Ivey, William Belk, Governor Cameron
Morrison and other prominent members of the community. During his very
active civic life, Thad Tate, often with the support of his eminent
customers, was instrumental in improving the quality of life for the black
community. He helped establish the Brevard Street branch of the public
library, was a founder of the branch of the YMCA for blacks, and was an
original director of the investment company which built the first office
building in Charlotte (at 3rd and Brevard) to be used by black businesses
and professions. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the
Morrison Training School in Hoffman, N.C. for black youths, where a building
is named in his honor. 29
W. C. Smith, editor of the Charlotte Messenger,
was among the founding members of Grace Church.
In addition to the contributions of its members, the pastors of Grace
Church have been continually active in the Charlotte community. Following
their service there, seven of Grace's thirty-six pastors have become bishops
in the A. M .E. Zion Church, and they have always had a reputation for their
high quality as insisted upon by the congregation. 30
In spite of the destruction of Brooklyn during urban renewal of the
1960's when most of Grace's parishioners moved to the West Charlotte area,
the church and its leadership continue to play a substantial role in the
life of the city, and many of the former residents of Second Ward continue
to identify with the church as part of their Brooklyn heritage. As well as
representing the rich history of its contributions to Charlotte, the Grace
A. M. E. Zion Church serves more than just the religious concerns of the
area from the unique structure on South Brevard Street, as described by Rev.
Smith Turner III, the present pastor:
The church is an instrument for expression of black concerns for
education and civic and cultural needs; a voice that will articulate the
need for jobs and to make people aware of their involvement in the life
and structure of the city. It can't just serve to minister to the
religious needs, but has to deal with those social needs and be an
interpreter of them.
We also provide a platform for the development of leadership. Many of
our young people go away to college where they develop their talents which
were first brought out in programs that we have in our church.
The church also serves as a gathering place for black leaders, as well
as a place for communicating to the wider community what has taken place
and what will take place in the black community. 31
1 Emory S. Bucke, General Editor, The History of American
Methodism, 3 vols. (New York: Abington Press, 1964), I, p. 77. William
J. Walls, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality of the
Black Church (Charlotte, N.C.: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House, 1974), p.
2 The History of American Methodism, I, pp. 185ff.
3 Walls, p. 40.
4 The History of American Methodism, I, p. 610.
5 Walls, pp. 45-47; Grant S. Shockley, "Negro Leaders in Early
American Methodism," Forever Beginning. 1766-1966: Historical Papers
Presented at American Methodism's Bicentennial Celebration (Lake
Junaluska, N.C.: Association of Methodist Historical Societies, 1967), pp.
6 Walls, p. 50.
7 Ibid., pp. 50-53.
8 The History of American Methodism, I, pp. 611-614;
Walls, pp. 71ff.
9 The History of American Methodism, I, pp. 613-614;
Walls, pp. 71-78. Since there was a rival African Methodist Episcopal Church
organized in 1816, the word "Zion" was added to the official title in 1848
to distinguish the two.
10 Walls, pp. 138-171.
11 J. W. Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist
Episcopal Zion Church (New York: A.M.E. Zion Book Concern, 1895), pp.
12 Ibid., p. 297.
13 Ibid., p. 56.
14 Minutes of the First Session of the Central North
Carolina Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in America
(Monroe, N.C: W.J. Boylin, 1881).
15 W. W. Smith and Mrs. J. T. Williams, "Grace A. M. E. Zion
Church History," The Charlotte Post, December 20, 1930, pp. 11-12.
17 "The History of Grace A.M.E. Zion Church," 70th
Anniversary Program of Grace A.M.E. Zion Church (Charlotte, N.C.: Grace
A.M.E. Zion Church, 1970).
19 Mecklenburg County, N.C. Deed, Book 55 Page 444.
20 Smith and Williams, p. 11.
21 Mecklenburg County, N.C. Deed, Book 134, Page 567.
22 "History," 70th Anniversary Program.
23 Official Journal of the Daily Proceedings of the
Twenty-First Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African
Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1900 (York Pa.: Dispatch Print, 1901),
24 The Star of Zion, November 1, 1900, p. 4. W.W. Smith
was the general contractor and the designer of the building.
25 The Charlotte Observer, July 13, 1902, p. 5.
26 Ibid.; The Charlotte News, July 12, 1902, p. 2;
The Star of Zion, July 31, 1902, p. 5.
27 Smith and Williams, p. 12.
28 Hood, 602-605; The Star of Zion, March 3, 1898, p.
1; The Charlotte Observer, June 9, 1924, p. 10; The Star of Zion,
June 19, 1924, p. 4.
29 The Charlotte Observer, March 30, 1951, p. 22A, and
March 31, 1951, p. 12; Interview with Mrs. Aurelia Tate Henderson,
Charlotte, NC March 27, 1980.
30 "History," 70th Anniversary Program.
31 Interview with Reverend Smith Turner III, Pastor of Grace
A.M.E. Zion Church since 1963, March 22, 1980.
Representative of the typical local and regional late nineteenth century
church design, the Gothic Revival home of the Grace AME Zion Church is a
highly significant building in Charlotte.
During the steady influx of settlers into Mecklenburg County in the
decades immediately after the War of Independence, local church design was
uniformly unadorned - in the mode of the simple rectangular meeting house
style. Midway through the last century, however, designers adopted the
increasingly popular Gothic Revival style. Most new congregations and many
older ones built elaborate versions of medieval Gothic architecture, whose
origins were strictly Christian and reflected little if any pagan influence.
For this obvious reason the style remained dominant until well into this
The Grace Church was started in 1886. In that year a small group departed
from their old Clinton Chapel home to escape the divisive turmoil of local
prohibition controversy. After meeting in various borrowed facilities for
more than a dozen years, the growing congregation built their present home
in 1900-1901. And the solid red brick structure is today one of the more
important buildings among historic architectural remnants in the inner city.
The building is basically rectangular in plan, with projections here and
there for gabled bays, corner narthex towers and the angular chancel
appendage which houses the choir.
Exterior walls of deep red brick are sectioned by two and three tier
shouldered pilasters suggestive of original Gothic buttresses. The masonry
tone is enhanced with subdued red tinted mortar joints. American bond
brickwork shows a header course for each seven courses of stretchers.
The western facade fronts on South Brevard Street, where turn of the
century granite curbs and oval topped concrete lawn retainers remind one of
earlier times. There are balanced corner towers at each side, one high and
one low, sheltering matching large square narthex reception areas. Short
walks lead to wide steps which rise to double eight foot high oak entrance
doors set in heavily molded wood frames. Both entrances have intricate
stained glass windows which follow the
pointed arch form of the entry ways. The masonry openings are defined
above by single brick headers courses crowned by rough cut granite
The brick foundation wall rises three feet to a three course corbeled
water table. This foundation brick surface is parged across the front and
around each side tower with natural cement stucco scored to simulate coursed
The left front tower exceeds forty feet and its four sides have corbel
supported battlemented brick parapets.At upper tower corners projecting
lanterns rise further to pyramidal metal pinnacles with crochets.
Each of the tower walls is ornamented with a soaring lances opening
rising more than fifteen feet to a pointed Gothic arch. Wood trim inserts
form trefoil patterns at the top. In these panels a high louvered vent
provides a bell chamber space, while lower windows with diamond lights
illuminate the tower interior. Four corners of this high tower have diagonal
brick buttresses which step back in three stages with parged shoulders of
Below these lances openings there are recessed panels of diagonal "herringbone"
brick courses which offer a contrasting texture in the brick wall
surfaces. Centered in the front facade between the corner towers is a lofty
three section stained glass window through which soft light floods the high
ceilinged interior nave. This wood framed window has tri-formed wood tracery
in its pointed arch. The opening is outlined above with projecting brick
headers terminating at a chisel faced keystone. Over this gable window
molded wood rakes rise steeply to a decorated crest. There are flanking
corbeled lanterns which, again, terminate in pointed metal
pyramidal roofs with pinnacles and crockets. Balancing the front facade
at eye level, the right tower rises just a short distance above entrance
doors and is less ornamented than the left. Simple corbeled parapet
battlements and thin projecting belt courses define the tower. A front oval
head window with diamond lights is the only tower opening.
In the left facade a triple nave window repeats the color and form of the
front window. This pointed arch opening, again, has delicately molded wood
tracery, and is defined above with a projecting header course and a chisel
cut keystone. Smaller stained glass side windows have similar decorative
brick and stone embellishment. A double corbeled band of brick headers runs
horizontally through the length of the facade at the arch springline. In the
wall of the gable a small pointed louvered vent rests on a granite sill
which is supported on a corbeled brick ledge. At the rakes molded cornices
rise to a crested ridge featuring a pinnacle spear. Further back in the left
facade is a low battlemented tower over a secondary entrance door. This
feature is a subdued version of the elaborately detailed front entrance and
includes Gothic arch openings, stained glass transom, projecting decorative
brick headers and corner buttressed pilasters.
The rear and right side facades continue the masonry, stone and wood
detailing of the front and left. Windows and doors are strategically placed
for light, ventilation, and access. The profuse period details continue to
embellish these wall elevations. In a series of multiple surfaces of
gables, the slate roof contributes a vital element in the design unity
of the church. Ridges are molded tin and cresting occurs at primary
intersections. Here and there the roof surface soars upward in an
extraordinary series of elaborate pinnacles. The roof slate patterns are
square edged courses with fish tail bands at third points.
The three separate entrances open to an expansive square form nave with a
sloping floor and a raised corner chancel. Original curved oak pews, with
delicately carved ornamentation, are placed in circle rows facing this
raised pulpit and choir area. Enclosed by a low rail on closely spaced
turned balusters, the chancel furnishings are also original.
Interior finishing details are consistently fine and represent the best
of elaborate millwork produced in local planning mills at the turn of the
century. In all areas there is a four foot
wainscot of vertical beaded strips with a wide molded chair rail above
and resting on a broad wood base. Walls above the wainscot are all smooth
painted plaster. At the ceiling line a wide molded cornice forms a spring
line for a vaulted, ribbed wood ceiling. This ceiling construction adds an
impressive texture and scale to the large room. Rounded and beaded eight
inch ribs bisect the ceiling in an angular and sloping pattern of rectangles
and triangles. Intermediate surfaces are narrow beaded strips. In its
original form this ceiling was likely natural stained wood, although it is
Adjoining the nave is a supplementary meeting room which was originally
separated from the nave by high folding wood doors. The original paneled
doors have been removed and are stored in an unfinished basement area,
perhaps to be used again one day. Original strip pine flooring, typical of
the time, occurs in all rooms.
There are many features of extraordinary charm and interest in the church
appointments remaining from its original construction. Here and there, for
instance, are gas jets, knob and tube wiring devices, and elaborate stamped
metal hot air supply grills. All of these features add a special quality of
architectural and historical significance to the building.
This structure is unique in the community. While Gothic Revival
architecture has survived in many local churches, the Grace AME Zion
building exhibits unusual embellishment. Details are executed with more than
average skill, and a number of the elements are not repeated in this area.
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