DURHAM — Question: How do you move a 234-ton church?
After months of planning, movers hoisted the small Holy Cross Catholic Church from its foundation on the edge of N.C. Central University this week. It rolled across campus at a glacial pace Friday, and this morning will take the final leg of its journey, a short crawl down Fayetteville Street to its new spot on the western edge of the NCCU campus.
There, this 68-year-old house of worship will begin its new life as a community meeting space. It hasn't been used as a church since 2007, when the congregation grew too large and moved to a newer facility nearby.
The small, stone church was long the preferred house of worship for black Catholics in the Durham area. But when NCCU planners targeted the property for a new nursing school, its fate appeared sealed.
But NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms said he couldn't bear to tear the old place down. In moving it - at a cost of $2 million - the university is both preserving history and strengthening a link between campus and community, he said.
"The church and the university grew up together," Nelms said. "By saving it, ... it symbolizes us keeping in touch with our past."
The first part of the church was built in 1942; the sanctuary was completed in 1953. Holy Cross Catholic, now operating from its new facility at 2438 S. Alston Ave., is the last traditionally black Catholic parish in the Raleigh diocese, which covers the eastern half of the state.
Though the move is complicated, planners said the church's relatively small size - it is 7,900 square feet - works to its advantage. It was hoisted using a hydraulic lift, and the wood floor was placed on beams above 96 wheels on 24 axles. The steeple was removed for the move.
It then rolled, at the pace of a slow stroll, over some dirt and through a parking lot. The process was balky, hamstrung at first by a back tire stuck in the mud and then later by a problem with a brake.
That repair took some time. When you're moving 234 tons, you want the brakes to work.
But by late afternoon, the church was on the move, and barring bad weather, it will finish its journey today.
Total ground covered: less than one mile.
Mike Blake, owner of the Greensboro-based Blake Moving Co., steered the church with a two-toggle remote control unit not much different from a video game controller.
The church's small annex building, stone with a bright red door, looked lonely Friday, no longer sitting in the church's shadows. It will be demolished next month with construction on the $25 million nursing facility scheduled to begin soon.
The all-day move attracted onlookers from time to time, many of whom snapped pictures.
Clyde Bittle, who lives nearby and has driven past the church for years, stood along Alston Avenue for at least an hour Friday, watching silently as work crews prepared the church for its move.
"I like the idea of the move," he said. "It's a piece of history."
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