Passersby in downtown Germanton this week may have noticed some unusual activity at the historic St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Trucks from All American Home Improvements, Inc., were parked at the back of the church as workers from this company based in Julian, N.C., began dismantling the structure.
Gordon Hurley, owner of All American, says that the recent rain has delayed the process somewhat but that, barring more inclement weather, his crew should be done with their part of the dismantling process by Friday, Oct. 12. The building, which is being moved to the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area, should be ready to be transported by the end of the month, Hurley conjectures.
The moving of St. Philip’s has been the source of controversy in Germanton and surrounding areas since late October 2011. The church, which has not had an active congregation since about 1980, was chosen by the Episcopal Diocese which owns it to be transferred for use to the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, an Episcopalian congregation in Orange County.
However, residents in the local community whose families helped form the church’s congregation in 1888 and/or build the church shortly afterward, as well as those who simply appreciated the historical significance of the church to Stokes County, began a campaign to keep St. Philip’s in its original location. A nonprofit organization called “Friends of St. Philip’s Church in Germanton” was begun. Signs reading “Save St. Philip’s” began appearing in yards all over Stokes and even in Forsyth County.
Sarah Woodard David, who grew up near the church and was married there, has been in contact with the North Carolina Department of Transportation which has verified that the proper permits to move the church have not yet been issued. A representative from NCDOT told her on Tuesday, Oct. 2, that a meeting had been scheduled for the next week with the movers — Blake Moving Company — to discuss plans.
“I’m sure they will get the permits they need,” David says, “but the fact remains that they are ripping into this building before it’s even certain they can move the whole thing. It is unlikely, but theoretically, if NCDOT does not issue permits, Germanton could be left with a ripped-up, half-demolished building from which the Church of the Advocate has plucked architectural bits and pieces.”
NCDOT states that they are currently reviewing the structure move permit with Blake Moving Company. “We are having some major issues with the route and the locations of all the stops since this move can not be completed in one day,” an NCDOT employee notified David. “We have the State Highway patrol also looking into the route. So far the planned route goes through two NCDOT Divisions and four Districts.”
This proposed route would wend its way through Walnut Cove. For this reason, attorney Jerry Rutledge, who has been key in the effort to keep St. Philip’s alive in Germanton, addressed the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night. He asked that they do what they can to hinder the efforts to transport the church through Walnut Cove.
Rutledge noted that three groups had joined forces to save the church: 600 citizens who signed a petition to keep the church in the local area, the Friends of St. Philip’s group and about 25 adults who have been meeting as an ecumenical Episcopal congregation in Germanton every Wednesday night for several months.
Although the argument from the Episcopal Diocese was that St. Philip’s needed to be moved due to its disuse in Germanton, the congregation that has formed in Germanton has not been allowed to meet in the old church. Instead, they have been meeting at a nearby Methodist church.
“I understand the laws of ownership,” Rutledge said, but he added that he couldn’t understand why the congregation hasn’t been given the chance to go inside the church to hold a service despite repeated requests to do so. Several of the 25 adults are “devout Episcopalians,” he explained.
Regardless of the fervent efforts to keep St. Philip’s in Germanton and the lack of a moving permit, pieces of the church were being loaded onto the waiting trucks this week.
Hurley assures those who care about the church that it will be well taken care of as his team dismantles it and transports it to Chapel Hill. “I can promise you that you will not be able to tell a difference in it once it’s set back up,” he declares, “except its flaws will be repaired. And it’ll have a new coat of white paint.”
Hurley notes that there has been significant leakage that has caused damage through the years. He believes that the bell tower wouldn’t have lasted many more years.
And the addition built in the 1900s on the back right side of the church has been taken over by termites, Hurley explains, pointing to the visible damage as his workers dismantle that portion first. He says that the damaged wood which still contains termites is being taken down first and separated so as not to spread any contamination.
Hurley points out that a similar, new addition will be built onto the main church structure once it is situated on the new lot in Chapel Hill. The original portion of the church, over 120 years old, is free from termites, he states.
A crew that specializes in removing stained glass windows is expected to arrive on Tuesday, Oct. 9, to take the windows out of St. Philip’s. On that same day, Hurley will be bringing in huge cranes to separate and set the bell tower. His crew will also take off the entire roof at the frieze board and install a rubber roof over the bottom portion of the church so as to protect the interior from any water damage as it is transported.
Hurley’s company recently successfully moved an even older structure built in 1765 from a location in downtown Greensboro to another site across town. He explains that they specialize in this type of dismantling/relocation project.
According to Hurley, the congregation in Chapel Hill that awaits the relocation of St. Philip’s is already holding services on the site that the church will be transported to. “It’s a pretty lot,” he says then reiterates that his team will take good care of the historic church. “When we put it back together, it’ll look identical.”
Still, Rutledge and many others in both Stokes and Forsyth counties are expressing great sadness over what one of them called “the cultural pillaging of the county.”
Rutledge, who moved near the church in 1947, says he has awakened every morning and seen the quaint structure of St. Philip’s in downtown Germanton. But now he looks out on the scene of the church being dismantled to be moved several counties away. “It’s gonna be a sad day for Stokes County when they do this,” he observed.