UMBC renovation continues, archeologists seek oral histories
Feb. 11, 2018 at 4 a.m.
JEFFERSON – Some curse the rains, but Gary Endsley smiles as he surveys the area surrounding the United Missionary Baptist Church. The Collins Academy director and leader of the ongoing archaeological salvage and renovation project of the church kneels down in the damp mud and pulls out a small shard of pottery uncovered by the recent downpours.
Ensdley said that though the archaeological salvage - which was started last year at the church - has largely shifted into renovating the building, the area is rich with history and discoveries such as this one.
"This is authentic Caddo Indian pottery," Endsley said of his newfound piece. "At this particular site, way down at the bottom at about 75 cm, we have the archaic Indians. Above that way up to about 1800 to 1840 we have Caddo and the first church mixed in. On above that we have the 1883 building. We have multiple horizons (different layers of earth occupied by peoples) which says this is a heck of a spot. Man's been picking this spot out and using it for about 10,000 years."
Archeologist Kari Dickson agreed, adding that the site had been a wonderful source of artifacts.
"We found what looks to be the remnants of a skeleton key that was found fairly deep; we assume it might be from the original structure," Dickson said. "We also found a piece of ochre (often used as war paint) that looks to have a fingerprint on it. That dates even prior to European settlement in this area."
Endsley said the team is using the archaeological finds to inform more about the church and it's people.
"We're whittling back and discovering what was the 1883 (church really like) What color were the walls, what was the lighting like - we're finding this stuff as we go along," Endsley said. "As we're making these discoveries we determine how we're going to replace or reuse things, like lighting, for instance - what did they have? The archeology is informing what we do along with our discoveries. Some of the ideas we had before are long gone, (and) some of our assumptions turn out to be right."
Dickson said the answer to how the church's congregation originally lit the building was written on the walls.
"By having the white walls and blue ceilings, that was how they were able to do most of their lighting through natural lighting. The hurricane and oil lamps were just there as extra," Dickson said, adding other artifacts have given clues on how to replicate the original lamps. "The lighting we are able to come up with based on glass fragments and cast-iron working designs."
Contractor Danny Hurt said that same level of detail was also being applied to the cut of the wood used to replace some of the church's aged timber.
"I found the best piece I could and I cut a slice. I mailed to Phillips Lumber in De Kalb," Hurt said. "They made knives to match it exactly and ran the material for us."
Endsley estimated that more than half would have to be replaced in the renovation process, but that the ceiling and a majority of the floor would remain intact.
Endsley added the renovation has progressed tremendously as he walks effortlessly through the UMBC sanctuary, where once wire cable had to be used to keep the building from collapsing.
"It's straightening up," Endsley said of the once-lopsided church, adding that bringing balance to the centuries-old sanctuary has been hard fought. "Every time we do something (on one side) it moves (on the other). For every action there's an equal and opposite reaction."
The renovation should be completed by April, Endsley said, with a grand opening planned for September.
Endsley said the restoration team is also looking for information from residents and those who have familial connections to the original congregation.
"It's fun finding this stuff out and being able to share it with the community," Endsley said. "One things we're wanting to do now is get some input on who out there has information that can connect back to this church or congregation."
"Our goal is to document as much of these oral histories as we can so it will be in a hard format for other generations," Dickson said. "That preservation of history is the main goal, the only way we get it is by talking to a lot of people."
Endsley tracks the beginning of the UMBC back to 1842, when one of Jefferson's founders, Captain William Perry and his wife, gave three 50-by-150 foot lots of his land so slaves and freedmen could have a place to worship.
According to Endsley, slaves and freedmen alike worshipped under tents on the land until building the first church structure in 1847. But during Reconstruction, the church burned to the ground in 1868, shortly after UMBC was officially established.
When finished, the UMBC church will be a heritage center that will serve as a museum displaying the timeline and story of the church. Endsley said he hopes members of the UMBC congregation, who are still around today and meeting in churches and homes throughout Jefferson will be able to return to worship in the renovated facility.
Anyone with information or memorabilia related to UMBC in Jefferson are encouraged to contact Endsley and Dickson at (903) 665-2900 or email@example.com.