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Parish History Notes 3: Where was the Chapel

In 1957, while workers were excavating to install the heating system under the northeast corner of Fork Church, they made a “startling” discovery. Judge Leon M. Bazile, a noted local historian, was consulted, and the men described to him a 15-inch brick wall and a large area covered with bricks. Headlines in the May 30, 1957, Herald Progress declared that a 222-year-old mystery was solved: the Ancient Chapel was located at last! All historical literature before this date stated that the chapel is believed to have stood not far from the existing church, but no historian has challenged the judge’s conclusions since that time.

With respect for the workers, who were relying on feeling more than sight in the dark crawl space under the church, and certainly respectful of the aging Judge Bazile, who could only rely on their descriptions, it is now clear that the chapel has not been located. When the pews and floors were removed during renovations in 1997, we had a much better opportunity to observe and study the long-hidden areas under the church. The brick wall was clearly a partially-abandoned portion of the structure of the existing church, and the brick paving was compacted brick dust remaining from the time of construction.

It is not likely that the Chapel in the Forks contained a single brick.  The 36-foot by 24-foot framed structure would have rested on timber piers. There would certainly not be a 15-inch brick foundation. Also, at a time when church attendance was virtually mandatory, the chapel would not have been torn down before the church was ready for occupancy.  There is no documentary or physical evidence that the chapel burned.  There is archaeological evidence of two postholes, which could relate to the railing that was placed around the chapel by 1724. It is logical to assume that the site of the chapel is nearby, but for now we are essentially back to our pre-1957 knowledge, with only the suspicion that the two structures stood side-by-side for a brief period of time.