McCoy, Paschal (1816-1885)
Paschal (Pascal) McCoy (1816-1885) was a mid-19th century brickmason, brickmaker, and contractor in Chatham County, N. C. whose work also extended into other piedmont counties. His most important known building was the Chapel Hill Baptist Church completed in 1855 from a design by Rhode Island architect Thomas Tefft.
In 1837, Paschall McCoy married Elizabeth Owen in Chatham County. He was listed in the United States Census of 1850 as a Chatham County brickmaker aged 34, heading a household that included, Eliza, four children—Elmina, William B., Mary E., and John M.—and William Croen (?), a mason aged 23. The same census recorded in the industrial schedule that McCoy was a brickmaker with $200 invested in his work; he employed six “hands” to manufacture 150,000 bricks a year valued at $500; his firm had executed 2,000 yards of plastering valued at $500, and had built six houses worth $500 each and built 15 chimneys costing $600. He has not been located in the 1860 census.
Although McCoy was involved in many antebellum building projects, few of these have come to light. One bit of evidence is a payment of $60 to a Mr. McCoy for unnamed work on the Masonic Lodge in Pittsboro in 1848. It is likely that he built brick buildings in Pittsboro that have yet to be documented. He must have been regarded as an accomplished builder to win the contract for his principal known building: the Chapel Hill Baptist Church.
According to the church minutes, “A bargain was closed between the [building] Committee on one side and Paschal McCoy contractor on the other, for the erection of a neat substantial Brick building.” The large structure was to be 60 feet long “exclusive of the tower,” and 45 feet wide, with the walls 20 feet high “above the highest part of the ground.” It was to be “completed entirely according to plan & specifications” for $3,200. McCoy signed the contract for the project on March 6, 1851, and delivered the building to the church trustees on May 5, 1855.
As M. Ruth Little and Marshall Bullock have shown, the design for the Baptist church in Chapel Hill was provided by the noted architect Thomas Tefft of Newport, Rhode Island. The publication, Thomas Alexander Tefft: American Architecture in Transition, 1845-1860: An Exhibition by the Department of Art, Brown University (1988), includes Tefft’s perspective drawing of a Baptist church in Chapel Hill, NC, dated 1853 (held by the John Hay Library at Brown University). The drawing shows a simplified Romanesque-Italianate edifice with a central, projecting entrance tower with an open belfry in front of the front-gabled sanctuary; the building has round-arched arched openings and appears to be stuccoed.
Related to this project is a letter in the University Archives at the University of North Carolina, from the Brown University Librarian, F Way Ca[illegible], dated February 29, 1853, to University of North Carolina president D. L. Swain, explaining that the pastor of the Baptist church in Chapel Hill “wrote to me to procure a drawing of a place of worship. The architect lost the letter and I have forgotten the address.” The librarian hoped that Swain could help him, presumably to supply the address of the Baptist pastor. The architect in question was Thomas Tefft of Providence, Rhode Island. Well known nationally, Tefft created a large body of work including numerous industrial buildings and several churches; raised in a Baptist household, he designed a substantial number of Baptist churches, which may explain why the Chapel Hill minister turned to him.
As shown in M. Ruth Little, Town and Gown Architecture, the Chapel Hill Baptist church was indeed built according to the essentials of Tefft’s design, with round-arched windows and a projecting three-stage entrance tower. Evidently the local committee or the builder made some adjustments—not an unusual occurrence—for the church as built differed slightly from Tefft’s perspective drawing. The tower appears more compact and its third stage had louvered openings rather than the fully open belfry shown in the drawing. The brick walls are left exposed rather than stuccoed: like some other major buildings in Orange and nearby counties, they show a remarkably late use of Flemish bond brickwork, a handsome checkerboard pattern more popular in the 18thand early 19th centuries (see John Berry).
The Baptists’ decision to obtain a church design from a northern architect of note was part of a larger trend in Chapel Hill, which encompassed churches as well as campus buildings designed by nationally known architects including Thomas U. Walter and Alexander Jackson Davis. In 1853, the local Methodists erected a pediment –front church, for which the architect or builder is said to have been a Mr. Horn from Chatham County. By obtaining their design from another nationally known architect, in 1855 the Baptists had a house of worship comparable to others in the community.
After the Civil War (and perhaps earlier), McCoy turned to farming in Randolph County. During the Civil War, on January 1, 1864, Paschal McCoy wed Emily E. Spinks in Randolph County, N. C.; it is not known when his first wife, Eliza, died. The census of 1870 showed McCoy, aged 54, as a farmer in Randolph County, N. C., with his wife, Emily, aged 45. The household included son John plus black domestic servants and farm laborers. Family information indicates that Paschal McCoy died on June 20, 1885, at Moffitts Mill in Randolph County, N. C.
- Mary Ellen Gadski, “History of the Pittsboro Masonic Lodge,” typescript, 1977, Survey and Planning Branch, North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- M. Ruth Little, The Town and Gown Architecture of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1795-1975 (2006).
- Steven Stolpen, Chapel Hill: A Pictorial History (1978).
- Dates:1853-1855Location:Chapel Hill, Orange CountyStreet Address:W. Franklin St. at Church St., Chapel Hill, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:M. Ruth Little, The Town and Gown Architecture of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1795-1975 (2006).
Steven Stolpen, Chapel Hill: A Pictorial History (1978).Note:The Biblical Recorder, a Baptist newspaper published in Raleigh, reported on May 10, 1855 on the dedication of the "meeting house" in Chapel Hill. Noting that the church had only about fifty members, the writer reported that it now had "a house of worship which in every respect is equal to any in the village. We were supplied with the dimensions of the building, but have not the paper containing it at hand." Located in a "pleasant and growing part of town," the building was of brick, "substantial, and sufficiently large for all ordinary occasions. It is entered by a large vestibule, which projects out some 15 feet from the body of the house, on which is a neat belfry. The bell has been procured, and we were particularly pleased with its clear, deep and rich tones. The isles [sic], seats, pulpit and gallery are well arranged and in good taste." The cost of the building including the lot was "a little less than four thousand dollars." Its completion signaled a "new era" for Baptists in and around Chapel Hill. The 1855 brick church served the congregation for many years, but after the congregation moved out, it was renovated in 1931 and dedicated for use as a Masonic lodge. It was demolished to make way for a parking lot in 1961. The congregation erected a large new church on S. Columbia St. in 1923, and in the mid-20th century the congregation's name was changed to University Baptist Church.