The People of Wesley Chapel
A church isn’t the building, it’s the people. From the plaques on the church, the headstones in the cemetery, and other names I’d found in news stories, I had a list of characters, each with their own story.
Sadly, the news wasn’t often kind to those on the earlier plaque. As with those associated with the Robert Davidson murder, many never made it into the paper unless they had been accused or arrested of something. Always the bad news, never the good.
It seems that salacious news made the papers more often than good news. But that wasn’t always the case. Beatrice Jeffries, a member of the church, was active in the Cherokee Council of Home Demonstration Clubs.
It seem that several of the members of Wesley Chapel were also involved with fundraising for other churches. New Zion Methodist received support from Wesley Chapel members, including Willie Corry, Addie Corry, Edna Hoey, Ninie Hambright, Arthur Corry, and Asa Knuckles.
This creates yet another mystery. Where was New Zion Methodist and why were so many Wesley Chapel members involved with this church during the 1930s? I’ve not found any reference to it in Cherokee County. Was it another name for Wesley, for whatever reason? Did the Corrys and others come here after the Davidson incident? It’s another rabbit hole for another time.
There are two members of the church that I would like to highlight, though. The first is a name with which we are now very familiar.
William Edward “Willie” Corry
Willie Corry was born on February 1, 1888 to Al and Sally Love Corry. At an early age he took an active role in the life of Wesley Chapel. Despite witnessing racial violence that resulted in a man’s death, he remain devoted to his church. It was he who built the structure now standing on the church site.
Corry was a veteran of World War I. He served eight months when he received an injury to his right side which landed him in the hospital for four more months. The nature of the injury is unknown, but it would continue to cause problems for years to come.
After the war Corry began working as a carpenter and taught at Ebenezer School in Draytonville. This was a one-room segregated school and Corry was the only teacher.
Thanks to Matt Compton at the Cherokee Museum we were able to find a photo of the Ebenezer School where Corry taught.
By 1936 Corry’s war injury was causing problems and he sought help at the Veterans Hospital in Columbia. This brief article gives the most complete description of Corry’s career outside of the church. It describes him as a “colored war veteran, merchant, farmer, carpenter, and school teacher.” It also goes on the say, “Willie lives on J. K. Wood’s farm…where he operates a successful general merchandise store.”
Despite his prominence in the community, I was only able to find one obscure photograph of Willie Corry. This photo shows two men in a tobacco field at a distance. Corry is one of them, but I don’t know which. The image is not clear enough to see facial features.
Willie Corry died on July 3, 1969, at the age of 81. His obituary was listed in The Gaffney Ledger.
The obituary said that the funeral would be at Dunton Chapel Methodist Church with interment in the church cemetery. From that reading I thought his grave would be at Dunton Chapel, but that church doesn’t have a cemetery. For a long time during my research Corry’s grave remained a mystery. However, Lowell Manning, a descendent of one of the church families, and I were able to located Willie Corry’s grave behind Wesley Chapel. It was set off in a place of prominence, as it should be for the builder of the church, away from the other graves.
Now that I had is information I was able to add Willie Corry’s information to the Find-a-Grave listing for this cemetery.
Vesta Corry Harris
Whenever I made an inquiry about Wesley Chapel, the one name that always came up was that of Vesta Harris. I’m not sure how Vesta is related to Willie Corry, perhaps as a cousin or niece, but her story comes much later in the life of Wesley Chapel. Vesta married Dewey Harris, also a member of the church.
Vesta Harris was well known in the Gaffney area as a florist. She operated a successful shop in town known as Vesta’s Flowers. Harris won many accolades for her floral work, including placing first in many competitions sponsored by the Cherokee Garden Club and others. I came across multiple articles in the Gaffney Ledger about her work. Here’s just a sample of her awards.
Harris was named state “Woman of the Year” multiple times for her home demonstrations.
Vesta Harris died in 1981 at the age of 77. Her daughter, Mattie, continued operating the floral shop after her death.
In 1984 the flower shop burned. However, Mattie Harris Manning continued to operate the shop until the late 1990s.
When I first visited the Wesley Chapel cemetery I was struck by the number of flowers on the graves of Dewey and Vesta Harris. Now, knowing her background, it seems only appropriate.
Continued on the next page…