The church that floated home

Published 10:09 pm Thursday, August 28, 2014

By Frank Roberts

Any member of the congregation of the Providence Methodist Church on Swan Quarter’s Main Street could have told you how their house of worship found its own location — a location its founders fought in vain to acquire.

It happened in the North Carolina county seat of Hyde in 1876, when a group of Methodists decided to build their own church. They knew the perfect location, but didn’t have the money to buy the parcel of land they wanted.

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It was owned by one of the area’s wealthiest landowners, Sam Saddler. Twice, he was approached by the churchmen; twice he turned them down. He felt he could get a healthy price for it.

Later, the Methodists were offered another piece of property for their dream church. It was on a side street, not centrally located as the Main Street tract, but it was free, and they graciously accepted the offer.

They built a one-story, wood-framed edifice resting on brick pilings. Soon, their money ran out, and they were unable to buy rugs or wall decorations. They had only two kerosene lamps and several straight-backed pews, but it was a house of worship.

Dedication services were held. When they ended, the rain started. Swan Quarter is surrounded by Pamlico Sound, Albemarle Sound, and Lake Mattamuskeet. The rain and wind were wicked, devastating the entire community.

The horrific weather continued for 24 hours, destroying much of the fishing community. Swan Quarter was a disaster area, as water from the sounds flowed into town. Many homes were flooded and, in some areas, water reached five feet.

The residents were startled when they saw the newly built Methodist church almost serenely, majestically, floating down Main Street. In spite of the continuing bad weather, folks gathered outside to watch the spectacle.

Some men tried to stop the building’s progress by tying ropes between trees, but the ropes snapped, and the church moved on. When it reached an intersection, it stopped momentarily, as if a greater force were in the driver’s seat, about to make a decision.

The church resumed its journey, floating down Main Street, then swerving to the left, settling comfortably on Saddler’s property — the lot that originally had been denied the Methodists.

The storm abated the next day. Water ebbed from the streets, homes were being cleaned out, the community was back to normal. The Register of Deeds returned to work, and his first ‘customer’ was Saddler. Their conversation was said to have gone something like this:

“Know that piece of property on Main Street, the one the church sailed to? Deed the lot to the Methodists, and see to it that it can never be taken away from them.”

The Register of Deeds interrupted: “I thought … ”

“Never mind what you thought,” Saddler said. “Makes no difference now. I know what I’ve seen, and I know what it means. I’ve had my warning, and I don’t want another one.”

Later, Methodists tried to give him money for the land, but he refused the offer. Soon, the church opened for worship. By 1907 the membership had grown, and the congregation decided to build a brick church on the site. The old building became the church’s educational area.

If you’re a skeptic you can visit the community’s Municipal Building and check the records.

A few days ago I talked to Guire Cahoon, chief deputy sheriff of Hyde County who told me, “Three or four hurricanes eventually put the church out of business, and it merged with the Soule Church. The old building is now used by United Methodist Disaster Relief.”

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at