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Historic Las Cruces chapel restoration complete, volunteers host public ceremony

Las Cruces volunteers spent the last seven years up to their elbows in mud, mortar and adobe bricks to restore the state?s oldest existing African American church. Now they plan to celebrate with a ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 9 at 638 North Tornillo to unveil a bronze plaque commemorating the Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church listing on the National Register of Historic Places.


White washed building
Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church after volunteers, including faculty and students from NMSU and Dona Ana Community College, spent seven years restoring the historic church. (Photo by Beth O?Leary)

Phillips Chapel in October 2009 before volunteers began restoring the state?s oldest existing African American church. (Photo by Beth O?Leary)
Portrait of Clarence Fielder
The late Clarence Fielder, retired NMSU history professor, initiated restoration efforts for the state?s oldest existing African American church, Phillips Chapel CME. (Courtesy photo)

Volunteers included students and faculty from New Mexico State University and Dona Ana Community College, who dedicated thousands of hours to restore the one-room church built in 1911. Both the exterior and interior of the building were restored, repairing windows, replacing doors and refinishing interior flooring and woodwork. The church houses a small congregation and is located in the heart of the African American community in Las Cruces.

?This was a community project from start to finish,? said Beth O?Leary, New Mexico State University anthropology professor emeritus in the College of Arts and Sciences, who is among those who led the restoration efforts. ?The youngest volunteer was eight years old and the oldest was 85. Musicians, business owners, gardeners, people from various churches as well as historic preservation groups pitched in to help.?

The late NMSU history professor Clarence Fielder, whose grandparents started the church, initiated the effort to restore Phillips Chapel back in 2003. Physical work to restore the structure in the Mesquite historic neighborhood began in 2009. Fielder passed away last year but he did see the restored chapel.

?Clarence loved Phillips Chapel,? said O?Leary. ?He inspired us all with his vision to ensure Phillips Chapel would remain as a vital part of the community for the next 100 years.?

Pastor Rickey Taylor holds regular church services at the chapel each Sunday at 10 a.m. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Phillips-Chapel-CME-Church/523749377658510 .

For more information you can contact Sandy Marshall at slmarshallphotography@gmail.com or Beth O?Leary PH: 575 526 2450 / boleary@nmsu.edu