O'Kelly's Chapel

August 01, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

On the west side of North Carolina 751 and across from the end of O'Kelly Chapel Road in Chatham County sits O'Kelly's Chapel.  Many is the time I have ridden past that little church, thinking each time no I don't need to shoot an old building; more talented people are already doing that work.  But something pulled at me every time I saw it.  At this point I have to bring in the name of another artist, Joe Lipka, a Cary, NC, resident, who was kind enough to share the toning method I used on these images and whose work was recently displayed at the Page Walker Art and History Center in Cary.  His images featured an old Victorian home during its renovation (http://www.joelipkaphoto.com/acrobat_portfolios/Victorian%20Lady%2010.pdf), and they caused me to think about this church. So I returned one more time!

O'Kelly's Chapel is a one-room building constructed around 1900 in a somewhat Gothic Revival style, but she has a much longer history.  It's in the National Register of Historic Places, but unfortunately it is now in poor condition.  James O'Kelly, for whom the church was named, was a Methodist minister who wrote an anti-slavery tract in 1789; he was one of the first ministers to do so. O'Kelly and several other preachers left Methodism in a disagreement over the authority of the bishop and formed an offshoot sect which went through several regroupings and name changes over the ensuing decades, ultimately becoming the Church of Christ in the mid-20th century.  The Chapel sits on property purchased by O'Kelly in 1803, but my cursory search found nothing about the original building.

So here she sits in a lovely oak grove, her paint peeling and her best days long passed.

O'Kelly's Chapel,Chatham County, NCO'Kelly's Chapel, Chatham County, NC

The foundation consists of rocks, yes, rocks, stacked rocks at that.  Imagine getting that past modern code-meisters.  The sills must have been cypress or some other type of termite-resistant wood because it's all exposed but still solid. Cold air and critters had easy access to the building's underbelly.  And vines somehow find nutrients in the chimney's bricks and the weatherboarding.

O'Kelly's Chapel, Chatham County, NCO'Kelly's Chapel,Chatham County, NC

The windows are fascinating, whether one is looking in from the outside or vice versa. One would think that the sign inside this window might have been part of a celebration sometime ago.

O'Kelly's Chapel, Chatham County, NCO'Kelly's Chapel, Chatham County, NC

The electrical supply must have been meager as suggested by the size of the conduit and the defunct meter box, but as you will see, the demand would not have been great.

 

O'Kelly's Chapel, Chatham County, NCO'Kelly's Chapel, Chatham County, NC

To my surprise the relatively new door knob wasn't locked.  Taking advantage of the opening, I entered to find the scene a bit disarrayed and accompanied by a moldy odor.  Note the two keyboard instruments.  The walls and ceilings were probably covered in the past, but I'm guessing.  There is no baptismal font.

 

O'Kelly's Chapel, Chatham County, NCO'Kelly's Chapel,C hatham County, NC

Here's the reason for a low electrical demand.  A wood or coal stove would have sent its smoke through the now-closed hole and out into the chimney shown above.  I didn't look for floor marks to determine how far from the wall a stove might have been positioned.

I mentioned the windows earlier.  The glass has a snow-flake type texture and the sashes were counter-balanced by window weights hidden inside the frames.  We had similar weights in the house where we grew up, and the rope running from the top of the sash over a pulley to the weight would sometimes break.  Clunk!  The frame had to be disassembled in order to fix the problem.  Two tufts of rope can be seen atop this sash.

O'Kelly's Chapel, Chatham County, NCO'Kelly's Chapel, Chatham County, NC

I'll finish with one last peep so you might see the detail in the window pane along with the rotting putty and peeling paint.  Given her run-down condition, I suspect she's terminal.  Her location provides only limited access for visitors and restoration would be costly.  That's sad, given the fact that someone thought enough of her to list her in the National Register of Historic Places.  But she probably had a lively history with lots of singing, rejoicing, greetings and maybe even celebratory dinners under the trees.  We don't do that any more!


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