The Wake County Historical Society is coming to the aid of an African-American church in downtown Raleigh that is struggling to save and restore its century-old stained-glass windows.
Many of the windows at St. Paul A.M.E. Church on Edenton Street are weathered and sagging, as the strips of lead that hold the thousands of pieces of colored glass together break down after decades of heat and cold. The church has been able to raise only a fraction of the $144,000 it estimates it will cost to repair the most damaged windows and stabilize the rest.
So the historical society is holding an adopt-a-window event this Sunday, inviting the public to come see the windows and pledge to put up the money to restore them.
“We’re trying to build up some recognition of what they are trying to do and see if we can get people interested in donating,” said Karl Larson, a member of the society’s board who is heading up the project and the founder of the blog Goodnight Raleigh.
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Each year, the historical society picks a project in the county and offers its expertise, manpower and financial support. Among its efforts in recent years, the society has restored the tombstone of Jacob Johnson, father of U.S. President Andrew Johnson, in City Cemetery; helped stabilize the Ailey-Young House, a Reconstruction-era home to freed slaves in Wake Forest; and donated money to help restore the tenant house at Historic Oak View County Park.
Society members learned of St. Paul A.M.E.’s windows from an article in The News & Observer last May. The article noted that a gofundme page set up to raise money for the project had generated just $60, and that the congregation of 1,500 had recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars restoring woodwork in the sanctuary and shoring up the exterior wood around the windows.
“They’re tapped out,” Rev. Gregory Edmond, the church’s pastor, said at the time.
The article prompted dozens of people to donate to the project, but the total came to less than $25,000.
The historical society has pledged to donate $4,000 to restore one of the windows – a narrow panel more than eight feet tall near the pulpit that features an open Bible, the globe, a lamp and a carpenter’s square. Larson says smaller windows and panels, or parts, of windows would cost less to adopt.
There are 115 stained-glass panels that make up the windows in St. Paul A.M.E., including 15 panels in the largest window, on the front of the church.
Historical society board member Frederick Walton has created a slide show of the windows, which will be shown Sunday and used in future fundraising efforts by the society and the church.
“We’re approaching the adopt-a-window campaign on individual panels, because that would be more affordable,” Larson said.
Historical society board member Frederick Walton has created a slide show of the windows, which will be shown Sunday and used in future fundraising efforts by the society and the church. The society is also reaching out to other venerable downtown Raleigh churches, in hopes of getting their members involved.
“We hope they will come and see the need for a community effort,” Larson said.
St Paul A.M.E. church is one of only three in downtown Raleigh on the National Register of Historic Places, as much a recognition of the congregation’s place in history as for its brick Gothic building.
St. Paul A.M.E. was formally established in 1848 as a church for slaves who were members of Edenton Street United Methodist Church. In 1853, white members of Edenton Street bought a wooden church near the State Capitol where the St. Paul congregation had been meeting, and the following year teams of horses pulled it down Edenton Street to the corner of Harrington, where the church stands today.
The church became Wake County’s first independent black church at the end of the Civil War. In 1865 it hosted the first legal assembly of blacks in North Carolina who came from around the state to call for the repeal of discriminatory laws and for better conditions for black citizens – an event commemorated by a state historic marker a block away on Hillsborough Street.
The cornerstone for the church’s new brick building was laid in 1884, and it rose under the hands of black masons and craftsmen until it was largely completed in 1901. A devastating fire in 1909 left only blackened walls, but a combination of donations, insurance money and bank loans allowed St. Paul A.M.E. to rebuild in a year. And when the church held its first services in June 1910, the sun shown through new stained-glass windows that remain there today.
Ed Wills, a trustee with the church, called the involvement of the historical society in the windows project a blessing.
“For one thing, it gets people to realize the importance of these windows,” Wills said. “But more importantly, it highlights how much history that church has in Raleigh. I don’t think the community knows the history of that church.”