May 15, 2013

Hurricane-Battered Church Still in Need of Repairs

  • By: Lauren Walser
Kadesh A. M. E. Zion Church, Edenton, Chowan County. Credit: B. Garrett, "Kadesh A. M. E. Zion Church, Edenton, Chowan County," State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Built Heritage of North Carolina: Historic Architecture in the Old North State, North Carolina State University, Libraries, Special Collections Research Center
Kadesh A. M. E. Zion Church, Edenton, Chowan County. Credit: B. Garrett, State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Built Heritage of North Carolina: Historic Architecture in the Old North State, North Carolina State University, Libraries, Special Collections Research Center

Hurricane Isabel ravaged the East Coast nearly a decade ago, and in Edenton, N.C., its effects are still seen at the Kadesh African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Spanning an entire block on East Gale Street, the church complex sustained such significant damage from the 2003 storm that it was deemed unsafe for parishioners to continue worshiping there.

“Now it’s just kind of sitting there, an empty shell,” says Sam Dixon, a local attorney and an adviser to the National Trust who has long been rallying for the restoration of the church.

Congregants moved to another venue across town, but as Dixon says, “They’re ready to go home.”

The Gothic Revival church has a long history in Edenton (pop. 5,000). It was built in 1897 by Hannibal Badham Sr., who himself was a member of the church.

For generations, the Gothic Revival church complex was the center of religious and social life in Edenton’s African-American community.

It was also an important educational site: Two large frame buildings were built behind the church around 1908 for the Edenton Normal and Industrial College (founded in 1895), which educated the town’s African American children until it closed c. 1928. (Both buildings were demolished sometime in the 1940s.)

Kadesh A.M.E. Church under repair. Credit: Gregg Nathan
Kadesh A.M.E. Church under repair

Today, most of the interior furnishings and the historic arched windows are tucked safely in storage. Some repairs were made back in 2007, when the foundation and roof were stabilized. But the sanctuary, which sustained heavy water damage during the hurricane, still requires extensive repairs, as do the church’s exterior and parsonage (a separate building on the grounds).

“Every time we have a bad storm, we say a little prayer and hope that the building does not suffer any more damage,” says Edenton Town Manager Anne-Marie Knighton.

Knighton knows the price tag for a full restoration of the church and grounds is hefty, with estimates “in the area of $600,000,” she says. The church has received several small grants, but so far the project hasn’t received enough funding to undergo a full restoration.

Restoring the church, Dixon says, would ensure an important component of the town’s African-American history would be saved.

Further, he believes that restoring the church would lead to the restoration of several other houses in the neighborhood built by prominent African American architects, like Hannibal Badham Sr.’s own 1890s Victorian cottage or his son’s c. 1900 Queen Anne residence.

“Some of them were damaged in the hurricane, and some by neglect,” Dixon says. “But the whole block of amazing African-American architecture is in danger. […] We just have not been able to get any traction on [saving these buildings].”

And if the church complex isn’t restored?

“We don’t even think about that,” Knighton says. “We’re not going to let that happen. It’s too important. It just has to be saved.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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