|McGaha Chapel, 2011|
(The following information was taken directly the Transylvania County Historical Society website, http://www.tchistoricalsociety.com, with permission. It tells the story of one of Transylvania County’s hidden gems. The McGaha Chapel is located across from Sherwood Forest in Cedar Mountain. The community near the McGaha Chapel was known as Loftis in the late 1800s.)
The historic McGaha Chapel was finished in 1872 during the difficult Reconstruction period following the Civil War in the context of multiple families that had been split in loyalty, fighting on different sides. Documents indicate that an unsuccessful attempt had been made in 1854 to start a community church to seek some reduction in the coming tensions of the war.
Significant persons in the building itself were those who became trustees: J.C. McGaha, R.W. Raxter, F.M. Pressley, Jackson Gillespie and A.J. Loftis. Andrew Jackson (A.J.) and Margaret Loftis gave the plot of land for $5. Earlier deed work was revised so the Loftis names were removed to be sellers and it was finalized in 1883 stating: “The parcel of land lies within the Dunn’s Rock Township, Transylvania County, N.C ., on the North side of the Little River on the Johnstone Turnpike Road, to be used, kept and maintained as a place of Divine Worship for the use of the ministers and membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”
J.C. “Craf” McGaha (1832-1908) and his wife Harriet, were significant forces, and operated a free way-station in their nearby home for travelers and drovers (with their cattle, pigs, turkeys, etc.) who could not afford hotel or inn overnight fees. The Turnpike was the major connection to Greenville, S.C. and their hospitality was known far and wide. Craf was county surveyor and a teacher; as a child Craf, who later served in the Confederate Army, had convinced his parents, Jesse and Candace McGaha, to free their slaves.
The earliest membership roll shows not only Methodist but also other church members, underlining the ecumenical nature of the community.
Craf’s and Harriet’s son, Bunyan McGaha, who served three terms as Sherriff of Transylvania County and later as a Federal Revenue officer in the surrounding area, renowned for the illegal whiskey trade in the late 1800s and early 1900s, helped carry on the church for years. He started the first bus line between Brevard and Greenville, S.C. and used it for transporting members and preachers. An active businessman in Brevard, he established a newspaper in 1898, The Sylvan Valley News.
The pristine chapel remains essentially as it was in 1872. It has some of the original hand-pressed glass windows, weatherboard siding, front-gable roof and boxed eaves; the Chapel rests on stacks of fieldstones. The handmade pews made of single boards demonstrate the very large trees sawn by the local builders. The simple pulpit and mourner’s bench, and probably the pews, were crafted by A.J. Loftis.
It was an active congregation until about 1930 when available transportation allowed commuting to Brevard. Some modifications such as a chimney have been removed, and the building has been restored to its original state (adding only a few safety items and some replacement wood). The First United Methodist Church of Brevard turned the Chapel over to the Transylvania County Historical Society in 2007.
For 140 years the McGaha Chapel has served as a symbol of bridging painful differences and healing through gathering, sharing and worship.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. Visit the NC Room during regular library hours (Monday-Friday) to learn more about our history and see additional photographs. For more information, comments or suggestions, contact Marcy at marcy.thomp [email protected] or (828) 884-3151 ext. 242.