Church Built of Handmade Brick was 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.

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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.

Stories From The Graveyard

There are an estimated 255 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.

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The following stories are just a few of those I found in researching the graveyard here.


Sarah Mahala Grider

B. 29 February 1788; D. 1 September 1891

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.

Photo of Sarah Mahala Grider James, thought to have been taken c. 1880s. Courtesy of Priscilla Kuykendall Jump.

James Alexander

B. 25 December 1784 D. 10 December 1879

Born in Armagh, Northern Ireland, James would marry Coelia (Celia) Hawkins Alexander, and to them, 8 sons and 4 daughters were born here in Leicester, NC. I found two land grants for James, both issued in 1853 for 57 and 200 acres, respectively, along the French Broad River at the headwaters of North Turkey Creek.

He died at 94 years old and is buried in an unmarked grave here at the Brick Church.

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Photo of James Alexander.

Amos Logan Lunsford

B. 27 June 1845 D. 26 August 1889

On August 23, 1889, Amos was attending a tent revival near his home in Leicester when he witnessed a man slapping his child. Amos intervened and a fight ensued with the man. A knife appeared and Amos was stabbed. He was able to make it back to his home where his wife, Malinda, nursed his wounds. He died at home 3 days later. The other man was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Amos Logan Lunsford
Hester “Malinda” Payne Lunsford

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14 thoughts on “Church Built of Handmade Brick was the First of its Kind”

  1. Ronald M "Ron" Wells

    We went to church here the first thirteen years of my life. I have lots of memories of special occasions in this historic old place. I mowed this cemetery with a push mower from about age nine until I left home at about age seventeen in the 1950’s. Many of my family members are buried here.

  2. Thank you so much for this lovely history. I’m interested in American history n glad this has been preserved. Keep up the good work!

  3. Is the church accessible in winter? I’m going to be in the Asheville and Black Mountain area in February. I would love to visit and take pictures.

    1. You can visit the cemetery and photograph the church exterior anytime. I don’t know when the interior is open to the public.

  4. A whole line of my father’s family were early settlers in Leicester, and I likely still have extended relatives there. I wonder if any of my ancestors are buried in this graveyard.

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