I took Bug and Belle on a field trip up 301 northeast of Fayetteville to Godwin a few weeks ago. Like Council, Godwin is a sleepy little community. There’s not much to it outside of farmland and old falling-down houses. It makes up for what it lacks in excitement with a powerful sense of peace, making it the perfect setting for the historic Old Bluff Presbyterian Church.
This was my first trip to Godwin. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never really explored Cumberland County. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t really explored much of Fayetteville. I’m working on fixing that, though. If not for me, then for the girls. Brandon’s Scottish ancestors settled Cumberland County. That’s why I drove out to Old Bluff – to give the girls a few moments to connect with their roots and learn about their history.
The History of Old Bluff Presbyterian Church
In 1739, the first wave of Scots fled Scotland for North Carolina to escape steep rents, tenancy, and a breakdown of the clan system. Arriving in the small port of Wilmington, they traveled west, settling in the upper Cape Fear River valley in and around present-day Fayetteville. Other Scots followed, and by 1770 Scottish immigrants made up one-third of the local population.
The Presbyterian Church was organized in the Cape Fear Valley on October 18, 1758, when local Scots signed a contract with Reverend Campbell. Though ready to serve the community, Reverend Campbell was not legally allowed to preach until after swearing an oath not to oppose the Church of England in 1759. Once sermons were allowed to occur, they were done in Gaelic, a tradition that continued for almost a century. Reverend Campbell served the Bluff, Longstreet, and Barbecue Presbyterian churches until 1776 – when he moved to Guilford County to escape threats over his support for the Patriot cause.
In 1761, the McNeill family donated one acre of land and Roger’s Meeting House to the Presbyterian congregation. Roger’s Meeting House (later known as Bluff Meeting House) was likely a log building built in 1759. It was the first church in the upper Cape Fear River valley. In 1791, the McNeill family donated two more acres.
Over the next several decades, two other structures housed the congregation until 1853, when Old Bluff Presbyterian was constructed. The Greek Revival-style temple was built with hand-hewn timbers, hand-made nails, and wooden pegs. Featuring neoclassical molding details on the frieze and pediment just below the red tin roof. The interior boasts its original pulpit, three-sided balcony, cast iron pot-bellied stoves, and oil lamp fixtures.
In 1974, Old Bluff was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, the Bluff congregation no longer meets in the Old Bluff Presbyterian Church. They voted to move into a more modern building in 1908 but still maintain the older structure and cemetery. These days the chapel only opens its doors for weddings and an annual homecoming.
The Old Spring
After we walked around the church grounds, we braved the wooden staircase to walk down to the Old Spring. Long ago, local Scots used the spring to carry fresh water up to the church or back to their homes. Today water barely trickles, but the congregation hopes to repair it in the future.
The Cape Fear River
From the Old Spring, it’s a short hike to the Cape Fear River. The pathway was overgrown, and a couple of downed trees blocked the way. The view was worth the extra effort, though.
After exploring the church grounds, it was easy to understand why the Scots settled here; and why they stayed. The upper Cape Fear River valley is as beautiful as the historic church that graces the banks of the river.