LEBANON, TN — While commemorating Juneteenth, a new Annex will be dedicated on June 18 behind the slave-built 1827 sanctuary of Pickett Chapel under restoration by the Wilson County Black History Committee (WCBHC) for education, events, and exhibits on Market Street in Lebanon.
The Annex will be inaugurated on June 18 by state and county leaders after the 11 a.m. opening ceremonies of the Juneteenth Street Festival with music, dancing to a DJ, food, vendors, history and garden tours, and a Kids Zone during the national holiday weekend. The Juneteenth Street Festival is free and open to the public until 5 p.m. along Market Street.
Five years in the planning, “the Annex has been a slow project, and it feels good to reach its completion now,” explained architect Cyril Stewart, who has also drafted the relocation and restoration of Lee Buckner School from the Rosenwald era in 1927 to the Franklin Grove Estate and Gardens in Williamson County. “I wanted to design The Annex as a reception and lobby for when visitors first walk into the building for an introduction to Pickett Chapel. The WCBHC also needed a simple flexible space, and I felt like it should be modest and not overpower the look of Pickett Chapel.”
The Annex will revitalize the traditional African American neighborhood of Market Street in the Tennessee Main Street (TMS) community of Lebanon, where the WCBHC will have a conference area, a learning library, restrooms, storage, and offices adjoining Pickett Chapel. On the National Register of Historic Places since 1977, Pickett Chapel was designated in 1980 by the United Methodist Church as one of its original 100 Historic Sites in America.
Now finished, the Annex will utilize all 950 square feet that cost $95,000 to “show the progress of the overall construction around Pickett Chapel,” said WCBHC Board member Bob Black, who volunteered to supervise much work after preserving The Capitol Theatre he owns in Lebanon. “We are now able to meet in the Annex instead of in homes or at the chamber of commerce, and we could move in artifacts from a storage unit after it flooded this year.”
Juneteenth is a reverent reminder at Pickett Chapel of the aftermath of the Civil War in Wilson County. During Reconstruction, a total of 30 freed blacks paid $1,500 for the deed on July 28, 1866, for ownership of Pickett Chapel from their white masters. After attending
services in bondage there from 1827 until 1856, they established their own Methodist church. Both First United Methodist Church and Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church have their origins in Lebanon with Pickett Chapel.
Nearly condemned after the millennium, Pickett Chapel was spared in 2007 by the WCBHC from the wrecking ball. The descendants of those 30 former slaves—and other members—in the WCBHC took second mortgages on their residences and staged fundraisers in Wilson County to rescue Pickett Chapel.
Over the next 10 years, the WCBHC finally retired the $65,000 debt for Pickett Chapel in 2017. Immediately, it began a master blueprint to tear down the old Annex from 1947 with its classroom for Sunday school and kitchen for a new two-story glass extension. Later, the new Annex was revised to one condensed level by Mr. Stewart.
Almost fully furnished, the new Annex has received in-kind support from Vanderbilt Health with desks, chairs, and bookcases, and from Tennessee State University for tables. A local interior designer, Molly Alspaugh, also volunteered to lay out the multi-functional Annex with that furniture and window treatments. Lowe’s donated a hot water heater, and Home Depot gave four cypress trees and other landscaping. FedEx sent 33 employees on May 10 to clean up and garden around Pickett Chapel to get the Annex ready for Juneteenth dedication.
In the previous Annex, “there were cinder blocks and concrete floors,” recalled WCBHC Board member and Minister Vincent Harris in a 2016 book about Pickett Chapel. “There were cold days, where the kitchen pipes…frozen so hard that one could not believe anyone would be able to cook in there. In the summer, it was so hot that the wasps gathered in the eaves…to sting the next person out the door.”
As a landmark, Pickett Chapel will be celebrating its 200th anniversary during 2027 under the WCBHC’s strategic five-year vision for the future. Through the Tennessee Historical Commission, its barrel-vaulted ceiling will be repaired during 2022 with a $50,000 match 60-40 grant. The WCBHC’s mission is to have Pickett Chapel be a living history museum for African American architecture, arts, archeology, activities, and archives.
“As a church, Pickett Chapel was so connected to community that it would be hard to compare it to anything today,” Mr. Harris emphasized. “There were educators, business people, general laborers, factory workers, college students, and just plain folks. It was virtually a Who’s Who of the East side of Lebanon.”