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'Built by one of my ancestors': Heritage sign project preserves history

Dickerson Chapel Heritage Sign.png
John Blackfeather Jeffries, Gregg Phillips, and Rev. Holman (left to right), pose with the new sign at the Dickerson Chapel. Photo courtesy of Tanya Day.

The Orange County Historical Museum built a new sign for the Dickerson's Chapel AME Church, a historic landmark constructed in 1790, as part of its heritage sign project in February.

Based in Hillsborough, the project aims to create and repair heritage signs in the area.

Orange County Historical Museum Site Manager Tanya Day said the museum created the project with the intent of continuing a tradition of research and acknowledgment of history. She said original plots of land in Hillsborough are marked and researched in order to best preserve the sites.

“It is really a way to enhance, not just an aesthetic aspect of the Hillsborough history, but also to interpret what is there,” Day said.

Kenneth Ostrand, a member of the Historic Hillsborough Commission, organizes and markets the project, and Gregg Phillips, secretary of the museum's board, refurbishes and installs the heritage signs.

Originally the Orange County Courthouse, Dickerson's Chapel was bought by Hillsborough's first Baptist minister, Rev. Elias Dodson, in 1845 to be the First Baptist Church. About 40 years later, it was conveyed to the trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and is still used as a church today.

Rev. William Payne was one of the leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church starting in the 1850s. His descendent, tribal chief of the Occaneechi John "Blackfeather" Jeffries, reached out to the Orange County Historical Museum about the previous Dickerson's Chapel sign.

Though not a member of the church anymore, Jeffries attended services with his mother and grandmother when he was a child.

“It’s still my family church, and that church was built by one of my ancestors,” Jeffries said.

This connection to the church was a big part of why Jeffries reached out to the museum about the sign, which he said was flaking and close to falling down.

Myrtle Mayo, who has served for decades as Dickerson's Chapel's secretary, said the church community cares for the sick and helps to build relationships of compassion, love and unity.

She said many church members have ancestors that helped to construct the building and the new sign will help the preservation of the church.

“Where the church is located, and the history that it has, will impact the entire community because it has great history,” Mayo said.

The heritage sign project has previously worked on signs for residential buildings, but Day said Dickerson's Chapel was special because of its historical significance in Hillsborough.

“We are just one part of the preservation of that particular history," Day said.

The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough offers a self-guided walking tour that features Dickerson's Chapel. Mayo said she has given many tours of the church featuring its history and architecture.

As many families with children move into the Hillsborough area, Day said, the heritage sign project allows them to learn more about the history of where they live.

“This is a way for future generations to continue to appreciate the history here, move forward with the history here and in some ways, continue to interpret that history,” she said.

Those who are interested in repairing or creating a sign for a piece of historical property can contact Day at 919-732-2201.

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