Preservation Society: Restoration improves safety, beauty of Pine Torch Church

Recent restoration efforts not only made the historical structure safer for visitors, but also made the site more “aesthetically pleasing” and historically accurate, according to the PTC Preservation Society. The church is located on County Road 70 in the Bankhead National Forest. 

Teresa Woodruff / Moulton Advertiser

Recent efforts at a historical church in the Bankhead National Forest in southern Lawrence County have made the structure more appealing and safer for public access, according to the Pine Torch Preservation Society. 

The Society’s chairman and president, Dr. Charles Borden, estimated the cost of a recent restoration effort at Pine Torch Church to cost over $10,000.

“The church has had some very significant updates,” Borden announced last week. “We invite the public to see the restoration for themselves. We’re very proud of the way it turned out.”

He said several volunteers and donors are responsible for the projects that began about two months ago. The effort saw the church building’s foundation stabilized, the flooring replaced and some other minor aesthetic upgrades to the historic structure.

A historic marker in the churchyard indicates that Pine Torch Church was built circa 1840, but other historic references and the history of the cemetery suggest the church was actually established sometime in the 1850s.

According to the marker, the church gets its name from congregation members who would use pine torches to light the building at night, and then use the torches to guide them on their journey home after services.

Located along County Road 70 south of Moulton, the existing church building appears to have been moved from another undetermined location and was likely used as a personal residence when it was first constructed, Borden said.

In 2019, Borden and the Preservation Society warned that erosion of sandstone beneath the building put the structure in danger of collapsing. At that time, the Preservation Society received an ample donation of sandstone from Moulton resident Joyce Cole. 

He said another local volunteer, Johnnie Hawsey, has helped keep the churchyard mowed and performed other general lawn maintenance in the area for the Preservation Society. 

In recent months, Borden said the Society has also had construction assistance from Jason England, Blake Terry and Docky Borden, who provided labor and a tractor during the restoration effort.

“Stephen Flannagin, from Mt. Hope, and his assistant did an outstanding and professional job restoring the building accurately and efficiently,” Borden added. “Stephen was the primary carpenter overseeing the project. His contribution gives us some semblance of what the church would have been. His work was historically accurate.”

The restoration effort included replacing poplar logs to improve the structure’s foundation, which was evidently in need of serious attention as the front of the building had begun leaning outward due to rotting support logs, Borden said.

“After replacing the logs, the front naturally straightened. It made a big difference in the appearance of the church, but also improved safety for those who enter the building and improved the overall longevity (of the church building),” he said. 

Borden said the rotting logs also separated the flooring, which was not original to the historic structure, from the interior walls. 

“(The floor) was originally constructed with puncheons—half of a split poplar log,” he explained. “The logs of the church are poplar throughout. That type of wood is more resistant to rot and weather, which is why it was constructed with poplar to begin with.”

Replacing the floors and reinstalling floor joists has made the building extremely sturdy, Borden said. 

Volunteers and workers not only replaced the flooring, but the group worked to restore the church building’s ceiling. A tongue-and-groove ceiling that had existed in the building for many years was also not original to the structure and created a lower ceiling height, Borden said.

The Society and its volunteers decided to remove the ceiling which exposed beams and log rafters inside.

“We feel confident now with the interior exposed, it’s much more aesthetically pleasing,” Borden said.

Other beautification efforts at Pine Torch Church included the installation of new shutters and a matching front door, all built out of poplar and designed by Flannagin. 

Light fixtures made out of oxen yoke were designed and contributed by Parker Montgomery, who was also instrumental in the construction of a new log building erected at the back of the Pine Torch Cemetery, according to Borden.

He said the Preservation Society plans to construct handrails, which will make the main building more accessible to visitors who may have trouble climbing the steep stone steps at the church entrance. He said benches will also be constructed from cedar trees donated by Kim England.

Other minor repairs included shoring up the exterior of the church with logs from trees donated by Ricky England, filling in small cracks and chinks with Quikrete concrete mixture to prevent future water damage, and a routine treatment of the building to water and weatherproof the logs and prevent termite and bug infestations. 

“The building looks more accurate compared to previous construction…The church should be good for another 100 years, we hope with minor upkeep,” Borden said. “We still have some other repairs to be done—not to the original structure, but around the cemetery.”

He said dead tree and limb removal needs to be done around the graveyard, and the Society is looking to expand the cemetery by purchasing adjacent property nearby, although no plans have been set in stone.

The Pine Torch Cemetery, which includes 200 marked graves, is maintained by family members and ancestors of those buried on the grounds of Pine Torch Church. Borden estimated the extended family of those buried in the cemetery is close to 1,000 to 2,000. Plots are only available to those with relatives already buried at the church.

Though no regular services are currently being held in the non-denominational Pine Torch Church, Borden said the building is open for weddings and special occasions.

The Pine Torch Church Preservation Society handles bookings for events and accepts donations for ongoing restoration and maintenance efforts of the building and grounds. The organization has existed formally as the PTC Preservation Society for around 30 to 40 years, Borden estimated. 

Those interested in contributing should mail checks to Dr. Borden’s office, Borden Family Dentistry, located at 627 Lawrence Street in Moulton. Checks should be made out to Pine Torch Church or PTC Preservation Society, Borden said.

Those interested in booking an event at Pine Torch Church may also contact Borden’s office at 256-974-4481 and leave a message. 

“We appreciate all the efforts that have been made by volunteers and donors, and all the detail and work put in by Stephen,” Borden added. “All other future donations and contributions are certainly very appreciated.”

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