Fundraiser benefits historic church's restoration

Nov. 20, 2012 @ 11:45 PM

If the estimated $417,000 it's going to take to restore Sevierville's oldest brick structure is ever to be raised in the target three to four years, every little bit will count.

That's why Alverrene Bridgeforth, chair of the New Salem Renovation Task Force, said she and the other members of the task force would be dancing if they raised $1,000 at Saturday's yard sale to benefit restoration and renovation of New Salem Baptist Church on Eastgate Road.

"Today has been very successful, and we've been busy," Bridgeforth said. "A lot of people have been coming."

The group has been holding fundraisers for almost a year, and so far it's raised around $15,000. Most of that total came from a May 19 fundraiser, at which the group raised $12,000, enough to pay for the renovation's initial schematics.

"We thought today would be an ideal day, before it gets so cold, to get out and sell so we can really start raising money for the renovations," Bridgeforth said.

Items for Saturday's fundraiser were donated by members of the task force, who are all descendants — however distantly — of Isaac Dockery, the man who originally built the church in 1886. Dockery was a free African-American brickmason from Jones Cove, and he was commissioned to erect the first church for the county's black community.

"This building has been here for the community to use, and lots of different denominations have had church here," Bridgeforth said.

The task force hopes to restore the building, which is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as a memorial and a tourist site.

"The history behind it is important," Bridgeforth said. "It's the love and devotion. It would just be awful to tear this building down or let it fall down. When you have history and something as important as this, we owe it to ourselves and the community to restore it, to do everything we can to save it."

The task force meets on a regular basis to determine new steps to take.

Specifically, the group plans a fundraising event for May 19 — which was proclaimed Isaac Dockery Day — featuring food and a gospel song-fest.

"That should be a huge fundraiser, and we'll be working towards that," Alverrene said. "That's going to be the big event, and we're going to do it every year."

The task force seeks to gain money from fundraisers, donations and grants. To donate, contact Bridgeforth at 919-6557.