Built from 1900-1911, the Gaston Chapel is the oldest extant, and first substantial, African-American church in Burke County, Morganton, NC.
Backstory and Context
The Gaston Chapel's turn-of-the-century ecclesiastical Gothic architecture with some Romanesque influences, was molded after similar white Methodist structures built in the area in the 1890s.
The church and congregation came together following the Civil War, after they and other African-American congregations and bodies were expelled from already organized churches. African-American Methodists gathered in Morganton for the purpose of organizing themselves and constructing their own place of worship.
After expulsion, the congregations were overseen by white evangelicals from 1867 to 1872 to maintain the Methodist roots of the area. In 1872 the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Colored Church was followed by the appointment of the first black preacher in the area.
In 1874, the name changed to African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Church in the area and in the South fought what they considered embarrassing illiteracy and poverty among African-Americans in the South following the Civil War.
The formation of the Gaston Chapel congregation took form in 1872 but became an independent unit in 1881 after splitting with a larger Methodist congregation in Morganton. The congregation worshipped in a small frame home. In 1900 the construction of a larger brick church that took 11 years to complete. Throughout that time, the congregation moved into a temporary churches. Morganton native and Governor of North Carolina at the time, Tod R. Caldwell, sold to the congregation a lot for the larger church as part of his concern for the needs of the local African-American community. Other local Methodist congregations helped in the construction of the church by helping furnish it with pews and construction advice. The named 'Gaston' came from an early black minister in Burke County. Rev. Moses Gaston, that served in the area from 1863-66).
The church would also become known for having the largest Sunday School, with over 100 pupils and hiring 9 teachers to educate all by 1927.
Gaston Chapel was also home to many community organizations, womens and mens clubs, many which are still active today. A fire damaged most of the structure in 1960s and the groups and clubs gathered to fund and take part in repairing the damaged portions.
The Gaston Chapel now houses the largest African Methodist congregation in Burke County, NC. In 1984, it was listed in the NRHP.