In his “Historical Sketch of Long Street Presbyterian Church,” Reverend R. A. McLeod wrote, “The real story of this church will never be fully known until He who keeps a perfect record opens the Book in which His records are kept.”
The Fort Bragg Cultural Resources Management Program is striving to create that perfect record.
The heritages of two antebellum churches on Fort Bragg – Long Street Presbyterian Church and Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church – will be preserved for posterity as a result of recent Historic American Buildings Survey documentation and cutting-edge technologies.
Built in 1847 and 1854, respectively Long Street Church and Sandy Grove Church are the two oldest structures on the installation. They served as the cultural, social and religious centers for their surrounding communities until they were purchased by the United States Army in 1921 and 1923.
Now, the Fort Bragg CRMP preserves the churches and their rich histories to comply with federal cultural resources management regulations and to provide a connection between the past and the present.
“We consider (Long Street Church and Sandy Grove Church) to be our largest and most precious artifacts,” said Dr. Linda Carnes-McNaughton, an archaeologist with the Fort Bragg CRMP. “As such, they are unique and irreplaceable.” Long Street Church is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Sandy Grove Church is Eligible for Listing on the NRHP. They are considered to be stellar representations of vernacular religious architecture in pre-Civil War North Carolina.
The HABS Level I documentation of Long Street Church and Sandy Grove Church was part of a project facilitated by the Fort Bragg CRMP to make up for the October 2011 demolition of Lee Field House.
Carnes-McNaughton explained that Lee Field House was eligible for NRHP inclusion, and its demolition created an “adverse effect” that required mitigation according to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, one of the primary drivers of the Fort Bragg CRMP. To mitigate the adverse effect, the Army agreed to support the documentation of the churches per a memorandum of agreement with the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. The documentation included standard HABS Level I drawings, large-scale digital photography and three dimensional digital modeling conducted by a combination of traditional land surveying techniques and state-of-the-art laser scanning.
The Savannah District of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the cultural resources management firm New South Associates and digital preservation specialists CyArk conducted the documentation.
“The electronic archives of these two churches will provide a long-term record of each building in two dimensions and three dimensions,” Carnes-McNaughton said. “They record every detail down to the grain of the wood, the cracks in the plaster, the carvings on the pews and the shine on the glass windows.”
Thorough documentation of the churches was imperative for various reasons. Neither church was ever equipped with fire protection. They have remained intact only as a result of the care bestowed upon them by their original builders, the 19th and 20th century communities of worshippers and the United States Army. In addition, neither church was built according to any architectural plan, as was common practice at that time. Therefore, detailed construction and design information on the structures simply did not exist – until now. So, if the wooden structures are lost due to any natural disaster, the legacies of Long Street Church and Sandy Grove Church will be preserved even if the actual buildings do not survive.
“The drawings, the photographs and the three dimensional digital models will provide rich and textured images for us to ‘experience’ the churches,” said Carnes-McNaughton. “The descendants of the original congregations and those whose ancestors are interred in their cemeteries will be overjoyed to see these churches properly recorded for future generations. This information will be so important to many scholars of early Sandhills settlement, architectural historians, our military community and patrons of all ages.”
The documentation of the churches will eventually be available for the public. Copies of the final plans will be placed in archives and will be accessible through the North Carolina State Archives, the Scottish Heritage Center at St. Andrew’s University in Laurinburg, the North Carolina Presbytery Archives and the Fort Bragg CRMP. The digital models will be available on the CRMP Internet site, where interested individuals may enjoy a 360 degree virtual tour of the exteriors and interiors of the buildings as if they were actually visiting the sites. The drawings will also be on file at the North Carolina Office of Historic Preservation as permanent records.
All of these resources will further weave the cultural fabric of Fort Bragg to build a bridge not only between the congregations of the past and the descendants of the future, but also between history and science. As Reverend McLeod said, “It is a regrettable fact that much of the sacred history connected with this ancient altar is forever lost from human record. Yet, out of the threads that remain, it is possible to construct a fair, though limited, history of this old church and the community surrounding it.”
For more information, contact the Fort Bragg Cultural Resources Management Program at 396-6680. Visit sustainablefortbragg.com.