Morgan Chapel - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Morgan Chapel

Historic graffiti eastern panhandle church discovers Civil War soldiers' scribblings 


BUNKER HILL — An old brick chapel lies off a side road in Bunker Hill, and for many years that chapel held a historic secret. 

Four years ago, workers fixing Morgan Chapel's plaster, woodwork and paint uncovered that secret by accident. 

"We had some termite damage and age-related problems and some other things. As they were scraping off the paint, with every scrape they uncovered more and more writing," recalled Bishop Mike Klusmeyer, of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia, which preserves the historic chapel. 

But this wasn't the type of graffiti normally seen written on the sides of buildings or trash bins. These graphite doodles and messages were written by soldiers staying at the chapel during the Civil War. 

Almost invisible at first glance, the writing and pictures nearly jump off the walls as soon as a carefully-trained eye nears closer. Snakes, flowers, women dancing and a pig with the message "our boar" all are scrawled across the church walls. 

Soldiers also wrote names, companies, home states and messages ranging from "down with traitors, treason and copperheads," to expressing dinner plans. 

The church was founded by Colonel Morgan Morgan in 1740 and was used as a family chapel for the most part of its early days. 

Many of Morgan's successors are buried in the surrounding graveyard, Klusmeyer said. The current, and the site's third structure, was built in 1852. 

According to The Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia's website, the chapel was one of Berkeley County's first places of worship, and it also housed Confederate and Union soldiers. Klusmeyer said the upstairs portion is thought to have served as a small hospital. 

"While men recovered upstairs, they probably just doodled on the walls," Klusmeyer said. 

At one time, historians suspected the building had taken hits from a canon because there were areas of mismatched brick.  

"We discovered old writing in some old history of the church and it stated that you could see that the bricks were replaced and the assumption of the writing at that time was that it was hit by cannonball fire," Klusmeyer explained. "When the paint was removed, it was apparent that the locations of those new bricks were too strategic and too regular in locations that it was not cannonball fire. It was removed and holes were punched through the walls to be used as an armament so soldiers could shoot from the church." 

Klusmeyer said officials knew about writing in the small back room, which withstood a fire back in the 1990s. A tornado also blew off the building's roof. Fortunately, he said, the building still stands tall. 

However, authorities are looking for ways to prevent the old parish from perishing.  

"We want to use the church and its 150-plus-year history," Klusmeyer said. "It has been open from time to time for short whiles and usually for a very small congregation or family. We recognize in its present state with its historic state, it has never become a full-fledged parish." 

Authorities also must find a way to preserve the plaster so work will not be completely lost. 

"We are now working closely with the Berkeley County Historical Society … We brought people in and the initial estimate is $63,000 to restore or preserve the plaster and do some moisture remediation. We're also looking for friends of Bunker Hill." 

Klusmeyer said as funds become available, authorities will move forward as quickly as possible. Although the chapel currently is not open to the public, he envisions a day when the chapel's doors are open not only to historians and researchers but the community as well. 

"As time goes on, we are opening it up more and more," Klusmeyer said. "It's open for Morgan Morgan Days, Heritage Day tours and this coming September, The Diocese of West Virginia will hold a diocese convention in Martinsburg, and we plan on opening the church and holding church services that Sunday morning for those that came for the convention and anyone else wanting to join us." 

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