BEAR CREEK — Annie Taylor McCrimmon is no novice when it comes to preserving local history.
In 1967, at the age of 18, McCrimmon worked with senior citizens in her community of Bear Creek — a small unincorporated township in southwestern Chatham — to establish the Union Taylors Community Center.
The center, located on 530 Mays Chapel Rd., served families from historically Black neighborhoods in the surrounding areas, largely from congregations at Taylors Chapel Missionary Baptist Church and Union Grove A.M.E. Zion Church. Many of its members, like McCrimmon, have roots in town that stretch generations.
The Union Taylors Community Center opened in a period rife with change amid the civil rights movement of the 1960s and desegregation efforts, a time when McCrimmon recalled elders in her community wanting to provide a space for individuals to draw together and to have a “better standard of living.”
“What was important to them was everybody being treated with respect, because they lived and worked in a community where their voices weren’t always heard,” she said. “So they created that for this community, they set that standard.”
But in recent years, the center has fallen into disrepair, in need of significant renovations to remain functional.
Now, half a century after the center’s establishment, board members from Union Taylors Community Center like McCrimmon, along with the support of local organizations, say it’s imperative to restore the community hub to its former glory and to ensure future generations experience the same legacy of fellowship and connection.
‘Time for unity’
On Saturday, One United Chatham, a coalition of several faith groups, and Community Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE), a local nonprofit, partnered with leadership from the community center to host an Interfaith Holiday Thrift Market to support the center’s revitalization efforts. The thrift market, held at Taylors Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, aimed to raise $8,000 for the purchase and installation of a new HVAC system at the community center.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., around 40 people picked their way through rows of tables lined with donated items, from baby clothes and jewelry to kitchen appliances and other household ware. Despite a steady barrage of rain throughout most of the morning, spirits remained high inside the church, as cheery Christmas music and warm scents of chili carried through the halls.
By the close of Saturday’s event, organizers raised around $3,000 towards the purchase of the HVAC. According to Stephanie Terry, CORE’s community organizing director, an anonymous donor matched the funds Monday to raise the total to more than $6,000.
Several faith groups across the county contributed items to the event through One United Chatham, with donations being collected from Oct. 29 through Nov. 30.
One United Chatham grew out of an interfaith conference hosted in 2021 by the Baha’is of Chatham County in conjunction with CORE.
Supporting the revitalization of the community center through the thrift market marks the first project that One United Chatham has worked on, CORE Executive Director Karinda Roebuck said.
“The idea for us more so is building community, and when we’re building community to try to change systems in our organization, our community, we have to understand that we’re in the South, in the rural South,” Roebuck said. “And the church is a huge gateway into community.”
Reaching across these various channels of connection offers an opportunity to engage with individuals and build community around other critical issues in the county, Roebuck said, referencing efforts to keep Chatham Hospital’s Maternity Care Center open.
Faith groups involved in the coalition include Chapel in the Pines, Pittsboro Presbyterian, The Local Church, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Pittsboro United Methodist Church, Union Grove A.M.E. Zion Church, the Baha’is of Chatham County and Taylors Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.
Terry also spoke to the significance of the interfaith element of Saturday’s thrift market.
“In a time of all this disunity, it’s time for unity,” she said. “And there’s nothing better that people that believe in one God, and care about human beings, come together and show love to one another.”
Terry said planning for the event took around two months, and the groups hope to host another thrift market next year in support of renovation efforts when they’ll have more time to advertise the event.
‘A hub for the neighborhood folks’
The Union Taylors Community Center began operations in 1969, and construction costs were funded in part by a $1,500 grant from the federal government to support community centers in rural areas, McCrimmon said. Much of the interior of the building has remained the same since its establishment.
Around five years ago, bathroom repairs led to the center’s temporary closing. In that time, the roof has since been replaced, but as the building sat vacant, gatherings have been forced to move to households or nearby churches.
Jesse Ellerby, the president of the center, told the News + Record that other necessary renovations included installing insulation in the attic, putting in a new deep fryer, refrigerator and cabinets in the kitchen, replacing sewage lines and finishing bathroom repairs.
Ellerby estimates the total cost of renovations to be $45,000 to $50,000, and said he’s hoping the center will be able to reopen in time for Easter.
“Everything I’m doing, I’m doing it to last another 50 years,” Ellerby said. “I’m not shortcutting anything.”
For McCrimmon, who serves on the community center’s board, she sees the renovations to the center not only fulfilling a need to get a crucial gathering space up and running again, but also serving as a way to re-engage younger members of the community.
“I think that’s part of the urgency of us getting our building restored,” she said. “Our children are graduating from high school and going on to colleges, and not seeing a need to come home.”
McCrimmon’s daughter, Cicily, 49, who stopped by Saturday’s event, recalled going to the center as a child for its afterschool program — something that board members hope to offer again once the building is open.
The current revitalization efforts are critical, Cicily said, particularly in a time of disconnection with a lack of a centralized space and limited ability to gather in-person over the last few years of the pandemic.
“[The center has] always been like a hub for the neighborhood folks, the children and the older folks to come and get information, to come and get learning, to celebrate,” she said. “So it’s been around a long time.”
Though Annie Taylor McCrimmon lives in Sanford now, she still comes to Bear Creek to worship and gather with her loved ones. It’s a place that holds great significance for her — McCrimmon’s own great-great-grandparents helped to settle the nearby church and community more than 140 years ago.
Passing on that sense of history and close-knit community is imperative to her.
“We want to make sure that the generations behind us know their history, know the names of people, as folks say, on whose shoulders we stand,” McCrimmon said.
For those looking to contribute to support renovation efforts, visit paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=YTL3G76GF698U.
Reporter Maydha Devarajan can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @maydhadevarajan.
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