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  • Writer's pictureDiocese of WNC

St. Matthias Receives Foundation Grant

The Episcopal Foundation of WNC has just announced an award of $20,000 to support the preservation of a Black heritage site, St. Matthias Episcopal Church.

The grant includes funding for the preparation of Site Development and Landscape Plans to guide future investments. St. Matthias has contracted with Asheville-based landscape architecture firm Sitework Studios. The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County (PSABC) and Energy Home Inspections will also provide technical support. The project should be completed in 2023.

The grant complements ongoing efforts undertaken by the St. Matthias congregation on its own and with support from PSABC and the Episcopal Diocese of WNC.

St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Asheville’s East End/Valley Street neighborhood is an active, vibrant, diverse and inclusive church, and it’s a well-visited Black heritage site. After almost 130 years, the church buildings and earthwork foundations are threatened by moisture intrusion. Specialized studies indicate that stormwater improvements are needed to preserve the buildings and stabilize the foundation for future generations.

St. Matthias was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. It is believed to be the oldest Black congregation in Asheville, established initially as a Freedman's Church in 1867. It provided community outreach from its earliest beginnings: it was the location of the first school for Blacks in Asheville, beginning in 1872, and as far as we know was the only school for Blacks in the city until the first public school opened in 1885. The current church was built in 1894-1896 by formerly enslaved master brick mason and congregant James Vester Miller, who went on to build the Asheville Municipal Building and other prominent public structures in the city. His descendants are active in the church today.

In addition to St. Matthias being an active church and partner in the East End/Valley Street neighborhood, it is also recognized as an important heritage site. The church had over 1,000 visitors during 2022, primarily from Hood Huggers International tours and the James Vester Miller Historic Trail. It is planned as a highlight on the new Asheville African American Heritage Trail and expects an uptick in visitors when the new trail is launched.

About The Episcopal Foundation: The Episcopal Foundation of Western North Carolina is a non-profit corporation founded in 1963 by Bishop Henry with an initial gift from Mr. Charles Timon, also a major benefactor for Deerfield Retirement Community. The Foundation operates under its own independent charter, which direct the Convention of the Diocese to elect its Board of Directors. The Foundation uses income from its investments primarily to make grants to small parishes and institutions in the diocese that otherwise cannot afford needed building programs, renovations, capital improvements and major repairs. This is St. Matthias’s first grant from the Foundation.

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