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Preservation Through Relocation: Local family looks to restore historic Smirl Chapel

(ROCKWALL, TX — August 2, 2018) One of Rockwall’s longtime families is on a mission to save one of the oldest buildings in the area – the Smirl Chapel belonging to the First Baptist Church of Heath.

Evan and Melissa Tate, who run the Summerfield at Tate Farms events venue in Rockwall, will look to relocate the 120-year-old chapel to their farm and begin a restoration process to preserve the building’s history.

“We want it to look like it did 120 years ago,” Evan said. “We want to take it back to what it was originally because it has a lot of history behind it.”

Over 140 years ago in 1874, 11 people gathered outside the Willow Springs School in the area known today as Heath and formed the Willow Springs Baptist Church of Christ. They purchased two acres of land from one of the area’s earliest settlers, Dr. F.M. McChristy, and constructed a church building in 1894. That building was destroyed by a cyclone four years later, and the church constructed a new building, the one recognized today as the Smirl Chapel.

The chapel, named after one of the Baptist church’s founding families in 2004, served as the main worship building of the church for a number of years until a new sanctuary was built in 1981. The church continued to use the building to hold Sunday School classes and Vacation Bible School, with new add-ons and other renovations made to the structure over time to keep it intact. But even after dozens of remodels, the chapel’s structure and foundation began to rapidly decline, and a decision was made in 2014 to ultimately do away with the building.

Evan and Melissa Tate

When the Tate family learned of the plans to raze the historic chapel, they saw a great opportunity to jump in and save a building which holds a lot of memories for many longtime Heath families, including their own.

“I have a lot of family members and friends who were baptized in that building, attended church and Vacation Bible School in that building,” Evan said.

Preserving the history of the county in which they’ve called home for over 50 years has always been a passion for the Tate’s. Their 56-year-old farm is one of the last remaining horse and cattle ranches still in full operation within the county. The picturesque 700-acre farm also serves as a place for to people to board horses, take riding lessons, participate in training workshops and learn the ways of the cowboy life.

Evan said once they relocate the chapel and complete the restoration process, they have plans to use it as part of their events center where folks can hold weddings and other special gatherings. According to Evan, relocation of the chapel will involve removing the roof to avoid the overhanging stoplights at FM 740 and FM 550 along the eight-mile route to the farm, along with cutting the 3,000 square-foot building in half.

Evan estimates the total cost of the relocation and restoration to be around $300,000. He said the goal is to have the chapel moved to the farm within the next month, since the longer the building sits without climate control, the faster it will degrade.

“When I walked into the chapel it was cold and dark with wires hanging all over,” Evan said. “It looked disheveled, but I immediately saw potential. All of the builders who have inspected the building have told me it has good bones.”

To make the building look as it did 120 years ago, Evan said they’ll have to replace some of the upgrades done to the building in recent years such as the drop down ceiling, flooring and wallpaper. They’ll add a beadboard ceiling measuring 13 feet high, pineboard flooring and feather edge siding to replace the vinyl siding on the chapel’s exterior.

The community has shown strong support for the Tate family in relocating and restoring the Smirl Chapel. Evan said they’ve had contractors and community members offering to donate materials and manual labor once the chapel is relocated to their property. They’ve even had some folks willing to donate a couple of the church pews found in the original building, and plan to have a local furniture shop recreate more of the original pews.

The amount of support has come as no surprise to Evan, who has always known Rockwall to be a very giving community. “I believe the community of Rockwall is strong like that and will want to be a part of this project,” he said.

The Tate family have created a Facebook page called the Smirl Chapel Relocation & Preservation Project where folks can make monetary donations. They hope the community will help them raise at least $150,000 to go towards the project. Those wishing to make a larger donation can do so directly through the First Baptist Church of Heath in order to receive the maximum tax benefit.

To learn more or make a donation, visit the project’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/smirlchapelproject/.

Summerfield at Tate Farms is hosting Beginners Goat Yoga on Thursday, Aug. 9 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the farm. Tickets includes one hour of beginners goat yoga led by Sunstone FIT – Rockwall Village, hors d’oeuvres by Fig + Goat, dinner by Easy Slider, cocktails by Texas Wildflower Vodka, dessert by Bonafide Betties Pie Company and photo booth fun with Photo-Wagon. Guests are asked to wear comfortable clothing, and bring their own yoga mat and towel. All of the proceeds will benefit the Smirl Chapel Preservation and Relocation Project. Tickets are available at www.prekindle.com/event/15754-goat-yoga-at-tate-farms-rockwall.

Story by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News. Photos by Kelly Alexander.

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