SBI, ATF investigating after historic church burns to the ground in Rowan County

The church was built in the 1800s but is now abandoned.
A fire burned a historic church to the ground overnight in Rowan County.
Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 5:57 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2022 at 6:17 AM EDT
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ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) – A fire burned a historic church to the ground overnight in Rowan County.

The fire was on Gheen Road off Highway 601 north of Salisbury. It’s the site of the old Second Creek AME Zion Church that was built in the 1800s but is now abandoned.

Neighbors say the church had not been used for formal worship in about 50 years.

Fire investigators said someone walking their dog spotted the fire around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had engulfed the old wooden church, according to first responders.

“This was a very iconic structure in Rowan County that we hate to see gone this morning,” said Rowan County Fire Marshal Deborah Horne.

Investigators walked through the ashes of the building looking for some indication as to how the fire started.

The fire was on Gheen Road north of Salisbury.
The fire was on Gheen Road north of Salisbury.(Source: WBTV)

The church bell on the ground and what was left of an old piano in the sanctuary were seen, but that’s about all that was recognizable. Late on Thursday afternoon, descendants of the founders of the church came to the site and retrieved the bell.

The fire marshal also said that the investigation was not limited to the church building.

“We’ve had crews here throughout the night and while we had crews here on scene we had other ones that surveyed the neighborhood and got statements from everyone and trying to determine what happened,” Horne said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. By mid-morning investigators with the Rowan Sheriff’s Office, Rowan Fire Marshal’s Office, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were all on the scene of the fire.

Second Creek was established in Rowan County in 1865, according to a family member. The church was described as a “small rectangular frame building, one bay wide by four bays deep, covered with weather boards and a gable roof.”

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