Church Built of Handmade Brick the First of its Kind

The Brick Church | Buncombe County, NC | c. 1876

Around 1876, Thomas Redmon “T.R.” James commissioned the firing of enough bricks to build a substantial mansion for his family in a small community in Western North Carolina, called Leicester.

In those days he made his living as a farmer, but just ten years earlier, he was at Appomattox at the close of the Civil War, for which he had spent 3 years of his life fighting for the Confederacy. 

As he built his home, T.R. included enough bricks to build a church for his rural community to replace a previous antebellum log structure. The church was constructed on 2 acres of land deeded to the community by David Palmer and was named The Brick Church as it was the first brick example of its kind in the area.

Handmade bricks that were made from clay and fired nearby in the days before mass production

This facet of its construction adds a lot to its story because, at that time, Leicester was largely isolated from the outside world due to its hilly landscape and rough wagon roads.

This meant that transporting heavy bricks into the area would’ve been nearly impossible and as such, most structures of that time were built of wood that would be milled locally.

Since brick wasn’t readily available until the railroad came through in 1880, the construction of this all brick church in 1876 makes it an exceptional example of the craftsmanship that existed locally at that time.

But as the years went on, rural life would change with the arrival of the railroad and later with cars and improved roads. Wars would come and go and people moved away. The church would close in 1928 and then reopen again in 1936 before closing for good in 1954.

Today the building and graveyard are well cared for and a homecoming service is held here yearly.

From the Graveyard

There are an estimated 249 interments here and headstones that date from the late 1700s in what likely started as a family cemetery, then expanded to inter members of the church congregation.

As I was researching some of those buried here, I came across a Jacob O’Dell Duckett, a Revolutionary War Veteran in the Private Continental Line. Born in Maryland, he would find his final resting place here in Leicester, NC (then called Turkey Creek) in 1809.

Photo courtesy of Priscilla Kuykendall Jump.

Sarah Mahala Grider

Another interesting story is that of Sarah Mahala Grider James. Born in 1788, Sarah would raise 5 children here in Leicester, including a son Thomas Redmon James, who built this church.

She would live to be 103 and according to family legend, Sarah could still use her spinning wheel on her 100th birthday! 

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