AHOSKIE – Its foundation has witnessed local, state, national and world history over the course of nearly 185 years.
Its walls – originally erected in 1835 and again 67 years later – have enclosed the sounds of cheerful praise in words and song, laughter, and sadness.
It doors have swung open to welcome family and friends, and even strangers seeking comfort from the storms of life.
Bethlehem Baptist Church is among the oldest structures standing in the Roanoke-Chowan area. Its towering wooden steeple overlooks NC 561 East between Ahoskie and Harrellsville and even though its religious activities of today are restricted to Sunday School services and a few special events, the church remains as a cherished treasure.
That latter fact is the reason Bethlehem Baptist Church was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.
“Bethlehem is considered one of the most intact church buildings of the vernacular Gothic Revival type churches in Hertford County,” stated Judy Perry, a member of the church. “It continues today to offer Sunday School services and it is a popular location, due to its rich history and natural beauty, to hold weddings.”
Bethlehem Baptist Church was established in 1835. Perry said the original church building was destroyed by fire, leading to a rebuilding effort in 1902.
“Very few changes have been made to the church building since that time,” Perry remarked.
The Gothic Revival style incorporated at Bethlehem is noted in its “high style elements” such as castle-like towers, parapets, and tracery windows, as well as the pointed Gothic arched windows and entries.
Bethlehem Baptist Church members were formally notified of the structure’s inclusion on the National Register via a letter sent Feb. 25 from the State Historic Preservation Office, part of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. That letter informed Bethlehem members they are, “fortunate to own and preserve a property that justly deserves this honor.”
“The National Register has been called ‘a roll call of the tangible reminders of the history of the United States’,” stated Dr. Kevin Cherry, State Historic Preservation Officer, in his letter to Bethlehem Baptist Church members.
“It is, therefore, a pleasure for the Office of Archives and History to participate in this program and thereby make our nation aware of North Carolina’s rich cultural history,” Dr. Cherry added. “We appreciate your cooperation in preserving the best of our past for posterity.”
Bethlehem Baptist Church becomes the fourth church in the Roanoke-Chowan area to individually be recognized on the National Register. Others are St. Francis Methodist Church in Lewiston-Woodville, Church of the Saviour in Jackson, and Garysburg United Methodist Church. There are other local churches on the National Register, included within a designated Historic District.
All totaled, there are 34 Hertford County entries on the National Register; 23 in Bertie County; 17 in Northampton County; and 10 in Gates County.