To all Woodville friends and family,
St. Frances is moved! After three years of purse-snatching, meetings, grant writing, reroutings, weather delays, interminable waiting, and many ups and downs, Historic Woodville has finally accomplished what we told Archives and History we'd do back in 1997: move St. Frances Methodist Church back to its original home (in 'Historic Woodville' where it was built in 1895), then proceed with its restoration. St. Frances made her final journey home on March 9, 2000, a perfect spring day. The actual move began on March 2, when we moved the church down Hancock Street across the Peanut Test Farm just to the edge of Cashie Street. A week later, we completed the move to St. Frances Cemetery. Long time supporters, reporters, photographers, and curiosity seekers were there to greet the splashdown around 2pm. Doug Britton rang the bell to the applause of all who witnessed this historic moment. The church has so much more 'presence' here, where its members from the 19th and 20th centuries are buried among beautiful hardwoods. We consider this move to be the most important of our accomplishments since we incorporated 3 years ago.
We hardly know where to begin in our gratitude to those who made all of this possible. Billy Tyson of J.W. Tyson Contractors in Stantonsburg, NC and his crew deserve the most credit. He planned and worked with us for over two years prior to the actual move. No one except those who witnessed it could ever believe how methodically his team worked, how every detail of the move was coordinated, how everyone knew exactly what to do at each moment of the move – from the initial two weeks of prepping the church on the steel beams to the inching of the church and the steeple down Hancock Street, across the Peanut Research "Test" Farm to its tedious journey down Highway 11 to the final touchdown that afternoon. All of this had to be coordinated with the raising/lowering of Sprint/NCPower/ MediaCom power lines, as well as the services of the Highway Patrol and Sheriff's Office.
But without the very generous support of many private donors too numerous to name, we could not have hired the highly recommended Billy Tyson. Nick Beasley, Senator Marc Basnight, Utilities Commissioner Bobby Owens, NCPower's Director of Community Affairs Michael Thompson all were crucial in helping us obtain grants/corporate donations for this formidable project. Perhaps none of Billy's expertise nor the grant/private money we received would have made any difference without Elizabeth Widmer's dogged determination, though. As the oldest living member of St. Frances Methodist Church, she alone cared for its upkeep for most of the 1990s until we decided to move and restore the church. She was our most ardent supporter throughout it all – each time we hit a roadblock , her response was to "pray a little harder". She kept our spirits up the many times it seemed as if our best efforts would be unrewarded.
Billy Tyson just last week completed the beautiful brick foundation. We now face the complete restoration of the church. Bruce Lassiter is currently working on the steeple (still on the ground );when he finishes it we will 'crane' it back on top of the church, and begin dressing up the church – painting, floor repair, HVAC, and a new roof. In the fall we will begin a much needed landscaping project. Jamie Gurlaugh of Roanoke River Partners donated $400.00 to start this project. We will work hard to get this church open for tours/special events by the spring of 2001.
Soon we will have a section on our website detailing the history of St. Frances - from its construction in 1845, through its move in 1896 a mile away, to its return home this year. We will also have pictures of the move on the website.
Because our available funds will only stretch for the church repairs, we are in dire need of funds for landscaping. To provide a buffer of cedars and wax myrtles on the back boundary and the side boundary adjoining the cotton gin, as well as general clean up/maintenance of the grounds, we will need an additional $15,000. We are grateful, as always, for your help in preserving this beautiful little church and helping to make Lewiston-Woodville even more proud of its past.
Vicki Paton and Molly Urquhart