Historic black meeting house in downtown Chareston to be moved, restored
A historic black meeting house in downtown Charleston is poised to be moved to make room for luxury homes, with advocates saying relocating the United Missionary Chapel is the best way to protect and preserve it.
Another option included turning the building into a single-family house.
Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review voted unanimously Wednesday to allow the structure to be moved so that 33 single-family units can go forward as part of the “Gathering at Morris Square” development.
The chapel is in the middle of a historically black neighborhood surrounding the Dereef Court area.
As envisioned, the one-story, open-roomed building would be move approximately 500 feet away, to a corner of the city’s Dereef Park on nearby Morris Street.
It will be restored in period design at the developer’s expense and be turned over to Charleston to become a public civic site.
Local historian Mary Miller described the chapel as a nondenominational “urban praise house,” where participants went for worship and social and civil rights gatherings.
The building dates to the early to mid-20th century. It is part of space named for freedman Joseph Dereef.
The idea of moving the building, however, is not without critics. Some contend the shift is part of a series of moves to erase long-standing black community history.
Others questioned the wisdom of crowding a small park by adding a culturally significant building.
Mayor Joe Riley was among those favoring the move, advocating his support in a letter read Wednesday.
BAR member Robert DeMarco also pointed to the security aspects that go with ensuring the building gets a new home.
“By moving it, at least you are preserving the social aspect and giving it back to the community,” he said.
The development being considered for the site is smaller than a plan submitted earlier by another developer, by about six housing units, said owner Chris Phillips Jr.