CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – The dilapidated Wesley Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church near downtown, which was scheduled for demolition to make way for new affordable housing, saw a burst of activity Thursday that unexpectedly sped up the project.
Late Wednesday or early Thursday, rain and high winds caused a portion of the roof and exterior walls to collapse. Clarksville Police and Clarksville Fire Rescue crews examined and secured the 1026 Washington St. site overnight, and then waited for daylight.
Neighbors told officials that homeless people were known to take refuge in the decaying Wesley Chapel property. Thus a long, complicated search of the rubble began Thursday morning to make sure no one had been inside the old wood and brick structure when it succumbed to the elements.
As a Clarksville Street Department track hoe carefully moved debris, Clarksville Fire Rescue and Montgomery County Emergency Services combed through the splintered wood and broken bricks. A regional K-9 search team was called in, and two German shepherds repeatedly sniffed through the site.
At one point, firefighters used a boom truck to extend two men over the rubble, and with a drone overhead, the track hoe operator pushed, pulled and lifted rubble to allow searchers to gain access to more and more of the building.
Around 5 p.m. Thursday, after an exhaustive search, officials determined no one had been trapped and sounded the “all clear.” At day’s end, however, the building -- except for a small rear section -- was leveled and lay in a big pile of wood, brick and dust in the middle of the lot.
Now, with tragedy averted and the building all but gone, the City intends to move ahead with the compromise plan worked out between the City, the church, its bank, and Habitat for Humanity.
Here are the essential elements of the plan approved by the Clarksville City Council in May:
- The Wesley Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church board -- with the approval of Citizens Savings Bank & Trust Co., which holds a mortgage on the property -- will donate the building and land to the City.
- The City's Office of Housing and Community Development will use Community Development Block Grant money to complete the demolition and clear the property.
- Half of the property will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, which will build two homes that will be sold to qualifying households.
- The other half of the land will be deeded back to the church, leaving it and the bank real property as security for the church’s outstanding loan.
Wesley Chapel CME has been in Clarksville since 1867, and has owned the Washington Street building since 1975. Before that, the church building was the home of a Nazarene Church.