Historic Elizabeth Church gives UWA a unique event space

Supporters, community residents and relatives of Elizabeth Church’s last members attended the rededication ceremomy.

Rededicated 19th-century building now part of campus’ Lenoir Chapel Complex

Story: Phillip Tutor | Photos: Betsy Compton

This spring’s rededication of a historic 19th-century Alabama church has given the University of West Alabama a pastoral addition to its roster of campus event spaces.

Built in 1858, the single-room Elizabeth Church has been relocated to UWA as part of the tree-shrouded Lenoir Chapel Complex on Student Union Drive across from Reed Hall. The university held a ribbon-cutting on May 21, after which the church was the site for the first-ever baccalaureate ceremony for University Charter School.

The Lenoir Chapel Complex also includes Cedarwood, a wooden-frame home built before Alabama statehood in 1818 in Hale County. It was relocated to UWA’s campus in 2012.

In remarks made at the rededication, Dr. Tina Jones, vice president of UWA’s Division of Economic and Workforce Development, discussed the intrinsic value of place in people’s lives — place that harbors the smells and sounds of human experiences, creates identities and defines lives. She also thanked the S.E. Belcher Fund and the Ernestine L. Lenoir Charitable Trust for their assistance with the project.

The Lenoir Chapel Complex is across from Reed Hall at UWA.

“Whether we’ve seen them with our own eyes or not, such places are etched into our collective memory, and things that happened in those places have shaped our lives in significant ways,” she said. “Elizabeth Church is such a place.”

UWA’s campus already includes a variety of sites that can host events, including the Bell Conference Center, the UWA Auditorium in the Math and Science Building, Pruitt Gymnasium and numerous other athletic facilities. An amphitheater is planned for the center of campus near Wallace Hall.

With its tall windows and rustic charm, Elizabeth Church instantly becomes a multi-use space appropriate for events such as the UCS baccalaureate or for organizations’ pinning and induction ceremonies, Jones said. 

“We have had inquiries about hosting student activities, smaller theater productions, alumni events and campus ministries activities,” Jones said. “All of these are possible.”

The church’s appearance on the 2011 Alabama Places in Peril list by the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation highlighted the building’s former plight. At the time, those two organizations were blunt in their assessment: “The church is threatened by neglect,” they wrote.

The first Elizabeth Presbyterian Church was built in 1838 on land donated by Elizabeth Knox and constructed from locally hewn timber. Congregants moved that log structure to another location south of York in Sumter County in 1845. The wooden building featuring twin entrances and four large vertical windows on each side that now sits on UWA’s campus was completed 13 years later. Descendants of the church’s original member families attended the rededication and were prominent in its relocation efforts.

“To all of these families, we pay tribute,” Jones said at the rededication. “Your presence today honors this place and these people. Without them, we would not be here.”

Project benefactor Mike Williams (second from left) with Tom Taylor, Patsy Derby Chaney and Bill Taylor, all relatives of Elizabeth Church’s last members.

Dr. Tina Jones gives her remarks at the rededication of Elizabeth Church.