St. Matthias Episcopal church is one of the most historic churches in all of North Carolina. Situated on a hill top in Asheville’s historically African American East End community, the church began its services as a historically African American church in 1865 as a part of Trinity Episcopal Church under the leadership of Jarvis Buxton Junior.
Buxton was born in Washington, North Carolina in 1820, and raised in the Episcopal tradition. His father was also a priest. He was educated at the University of North Carolina where he graduated in 1839 and he subsequently traveled to the mountain counties to begin an episcopal ministry. With the help of Thomas Patton and with the support of other prominent families in the Asheville area his Trinity Church in Asheville became the location for one of the first independent black congregations in town, The Freedman’s Chapel.
With the support of Trinity Church members Hattie and James G. Martin their building was used as a meeting place for the newly freed black congregants beginning in 1865. The church was dubbed the Freedman’s Chapel. Dr. Darin Water’s dissertation “Life Beneath The Veneer: The Black Community in Asheville, North Carolina from 1793-1900” describes the formation of the Freedman’s Chapel as an effort by the well-to-do white community of Asheville to aide in the spiritual growth of African Americans after emancipation and one of several thriving congregations despite the Baptist tradition being preferred among many African Americans. Black congregants would meet at Trinity Church in the afternoons where Buxton would hold a second service, but soon, the congregation outgrew their secondhand-services and needed a building of their own.
Work for the new home for the Freedman’s Chapel began in 1894 and the building for St. Matthias Episcopal Church was complete in 1896. The church has been recognized on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. It’s National Park Service description is as follows,
Sited on the western slope of Beaucatcher Mountain in Asheville’s “East End,” the historic black neighborhood of the town, St. Matthias Episcopal Church stands as one of the finest churches ever built for a black congregation in North Carolina. The handsome Gothic-style brick structure with elaborate interior woodwork houses the oldest congregation of black Episcopalians in the western part of the state. First known as Trinity Chapel, it was founded for the newly freed slaves of the area in 1865 by Jarvis Buxton, a noted Episcopal rector who had .organized the first Episcopal congregation for free blacks in North Carolina in Fayetteville in 1832. Trinity Chapel flourished under various leaders and by the end of the nineteenth century a new church was needed to serve the growing congregation. Bishop Joseph Blount Cheshire laid the cornerstone of the present structure in February, 1894; the building was completed in 1896, and the name of the church changed to St. Matthias. St. Matthias maintained its influence into the twentieth century, and has aided in the formation of several black Episcopal churches in, the Diocese of western North Carolina.
To this day, St. Matthias serves the Asheville community. It is a welcoming church with a focus on social justice and community unity. Thanks to wonderful community leaders the church has remained well-maintained and active. Hopefully, this historic and beautiful place of worship will remain a beacon of hope for the Asheville community for years to come.