In 1913, Calvary Episcopal Church of Tarboro, NC established a mission church about seven miles outside of town at what was then Pender’s Crossroads. Calvary set up seven different Mission Churches around Tarboro to meet the needs of the county people who had difficulty coming into town on Sundays. The Chapel was a wood framed building on the property known as Oak Grove, then the seat of the Pender Family of Edgecombe Co. Their cousin, William Dorsey Pender, was the youngest Confederate general and was known to be one of General Lee’s personal favorites. He was later killed at Gettysburg. The Pender family purchased over 600 acres in the early 1800’s and built their home (which is still standing), on the property in 1832. The property was then called the Oaks, but became known as Oak Grove for the numerous large Oaks on the property. Around 1920, two sisters, Penelope and Eliza Gray (decedents of the Pender’s) inherited the property and moved there from Baltimore. With help from cousins, they built what is now St. Anne’s Chapel, and dedicated it to their Mother William Anne Pender Gray in 1922.
The Chapel was designed by a German Architect practicing in Baltimore named Koch. Built in the Gothic style with 12” thick brick walls, exposed crossing scissor timber trusses, and a slate roof, it has withstood much in its 90 years. The Gray sisters suffered from loss of hearing and insisted on keeping the chapel in operation so they could “hear the service” better than they could in town. Church services were held in the Chapel until the 1950’s. Several residents of Tarboro remember driving out to St. Anne’s in the late 40’ and 50’s with the Rector to assist in the afternoon services for the Gray’s and others who lived in the area.
After the Grays deaths, the chapel fell in to disuse and was deconsecrated in 1965. Its bell, which was made in Philadelphia, and a number of stained glass windows, pews, and other furniture, were given to Churches in the area. The windows were boarded up, and it sat empty. Over the years vandalism and decay took its toll on the structure and the adjacent family cemetery. The remaining side windows and original light fixtures were broken out, floor joists and doors rotted, and trees and poison ivy encircled and took over the building, such that only in winter, when the trees were bare, could the shape of the brick gables be seen.
In 1999, just after Hurricane Floyd ravaged eastern North Carolina with flooding and downed trees from the high winds. On the 300-yard long lawn that stretched from the main house to the Chapel a total of 28 trees fell, including a large Pine tree that hit the house and destroyed one of the two matching original chimneys. All of the trees were felled by a strong wind out of the North as the backside of Hurricane Floyd left Tarboro, which meant that all of the trees fell from north to south except the trees at St. Anne’s Chapel which, miraculously, fell in different directions away from the chapel. The adjacent cemetery was also left unscathed. One large, heavy Oak limb was stopped just short of going through the chapel’s roof by the fork of a fragile Dogwood tree, and stayed there until heavy machinery could be brought in to remove the limb.
Following the disaster, Kevin and Trish Wilson purchased the property, which consisted of the main house, a cottage, and the Chapel on 17 acres of land. The Wilson’s began a restoration of St. Anne’s by stabilizing and replacing the rotted floor joists and repairing the Maple floor. The doors, which had rotted off of their hinges, were rebuilt, new wiring and period lighting were installed, and new glass was installed in the side windows.
It was thorough that all of the original stained glass windows had been removed prior to the storm, the openings covered with plywood, hardware cloth and thick vines of poisen ivey and wisteria. However when Kevin Wilson was evaluating what would need to be done to replace the windows, he began removing the wood and overgrowth, and upon coming to the largest opening, he found that the original dedication stained glass window remained, fully intact. It is a 9’ tall by 30” wide depiction of Jesus ascending with the Dove of Peace above his head and the Disciples at his feet. Hand painted lettering at the base dedicates the window and the Chapel to (the Gray’s) “Mother”. The window was made in Germany in the 1920’s of a very thin art glass and all the faces are hand painted. Over the years vandals had fired BB guns at the chapel windows not knowing what was or was not there. Numerous pellets went through the plywood and hit the window in several areas but none hit Jesus, or the disciples. The dedication window has been restored and complementary stained and leaded glass windows were made for the 8 other gothic window fenestrations in the walls.
Kevin and Trish’s landscaping has created a rear courtyard and lawn area capable of handling marquee tents of up to 100’ in length, complete with underground electrical service for outdoor events, and a 2 acre grassed meadow for parking. The Chapel has a separate entrance on McNair Rd about 150 yards from the intersection of Howard Ave. and less than ¼ mile from Exit #484 on Hwy 64 between Tarboro and Rocky Mount, NC.
Over the years the Chapel and grounds have been the site of many weddings, receptions, family reunions, parties, music events, picnics, meetings, and special church services. The property is maintained as a unique pictorial canvass that is available for your next celebration. Become a part of this rich history!