New Chapel Baptist Church was established in 1867 as a congregation of freedmen organized by Abraham Mabens. Located in the heart of eastern North Carolina’s Cotton Kingdom, it is a landmark of the historically African American southeast quadrant of town.
The church first established a presence on this site, the corner of Madison and East Third streets, soon after the Civil War. Two blocks west is the First Baptist Church, the oldest white Baptist congregation in Plymouth, which was established around the same time. The New Chapel congregation continued to grow, and by the 1920s built the Gothic Revival edifice that stands today. The east-facing main facade of the cruciform plan, red-brick church is distinguished by its flanking towers and unusual grand portico. The cornerstone identifies the architect as S.C. Copeland, who was also the church pastor. It is believed that Copeland was influenced by the biblical description of Solomon’s Temple with its pair of monumental pillars at the east-facing entrance.
The church sits high on a tall basement. The tripartite towers have lancet stained glass windows on the first two levels, an oculus on the third level, and differ slightly in their crenellated coping along the top. While the design is fairly typical of Gothic Revival churches, what is uncommon is the pair of monumental white columns-in-antis that, with the wide steep stairs, define and accentuate the grand entrance portico. These classical elements contrast with the mostly Gothic structure. A separate door on the side of each tower and a pair of double entrances on each end of the transept wings provide a total of seven entry points.
Parallel to East Third Street, the nave is three bays deep and is defined on the outside by three stained glass windows to the north and south; each tripartite middle window is larger than the two flanking ones. These windows flood the nave with colored light, adding to the richness of the coved ceiling sheathed in tongue-and-groove boards. A baptismal pool is located behind the pulpit. The church’s overall appearance and original millwork is largely intact.
Bishir, Catherine W. North Carolina Architecture. Portable edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
Bishir, Catherine W., and Michael T. Southern. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Hood, Davyd Foard, “Historic and Architectural Resources of Plymouth, North Carolina,” Washington County, North Carolina. National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, 1990. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.