The Search for Wesley Chapel – Challenges and Puzzles
Initially I couldn’t find any information about Wesley Chapel. The lack of a Find-a-Grave listing was a puzzle, and this being an African American congregation in the rural south, I didn’t expect to find much in news archives. Some determined searching brought some of the picture into focus, but I still don’t have all of the answers.
I posted the photos to a couple of South Carolina Facebook groups, including the one where I had first seen images of the church. I got TONS of responses. Many posted links to news articles that I was finding at about the same time. Regardless, I was grateful for the response and it let me know I was on the right track.
At first I started with the Cherokee County GIS website to see if I could establish the current owner of the land. This indicated that the owner was “Westerlyn Chapel Methodist”, which I assumed to be a typo.
I could find no other information about previous ownership on this site, but I tried a search using the new name. The only result was a 1994 Gaffney Ledger article about notifications sent out to area churches about filing tax-exempt paperwork. I’m guessing that the error has been in the Cherokee County records since at least that time.
Since this was a Methodist affiliated church I checked with sources from that denomination. Dr. Phillip Stone is in charge of the Methodist archives at Wofford, but was unable to find any references to the church. He referred me to Barbara Green at Claflin University, but she was also unable to find any information on the church. Beth Westbury and Gail Varner with the Spartanburg District of the United Methodist Church also had no success in finding information on the church. My sincere thanks to all of these folks for looking into this for me.
Leaving “Westerlyn” behind I returned to my search of Wesley Chapel, but ran into more unexpected problems. It turns out that there are lots of Methodist churches with that name, including lots of African American congregations. When I searched historical newspapers I narrowed the search to Cherokee County, but I still got hits for Wesley Chapel just over the border in Union County. It took awhile to filter through these to see which might be the one I sought. Adding “Methodist Episcopal” helped some. The earliest record I could find was for an article in the Yorkville Enquirer from 1874 announcing that the church would observe Thanksgiving Day.
A good friend e-mailed me this clip, but I’m pretty sure this is not the correct Wesley Chapel. Another article from 1874 with Rev. Butler’s name specifically places this church in the town of Yorkville, later York.
A search for Charles Butler turned up an article from 1873 about a conference for “Colored Methodist” churches in Yorkville. Rev. Butler preached at that conference, but it doesn’t tell where the conference was held. The article goes on to list all of the upcoming appointments for the Upstate region. Wesley Chapel does not appear on that list.
Yet another article from the Yorkville Enquirer from 1915 announces the 48th anniversary of the church and mentions that 240 parishioners were in attendance. However, none of the names in this list match the names on the engravings of the church. This would place the church’s founding in 1867. I don’t think this is the correct Wesley Chapel, either, but is most likely the one in York.
The plaque for my mystery church specifically had the date October 12, 1915. That doesn’t make sense for the references I’ve found in the Yorkville Enquirer. Cherokee County was founded in 1897, so any news articles after that date should have Cherokee listed as the county rather than York District.
From the plaques on the church I had some names. I could use these in conjunction with other key words and start to piece together some information from news archives. I got to work.
Continued on the next page…