During my days as an Uber driver, I started a personal project during Lent of 2016 to chronicle the some of the churches around Charlotte and to specifically pray for the ministry and the people there. Once the initial rush of my work day subsided, usually around 9 a.m., I would find the nearest church to photograph. St. Mary's Chapel was the first of my project.
The chapel was built in 1892 and remains the only building still standing from the days when it served as the chapel for Thompson Orphanage.
Located on the then outskirts of Charlotte - what is now outside the I-277 loop to the south of Uptown - the orphanage began in 1887, with Edward Osborne as its first superintendent.
Prior to the orphanage, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, under the vision of Rev. Benjamin Bronson, opened a denominational academy with funding supplied by the Lewis Thompson family, in memory of his daughter Pattie, who had died in 1867 at the age of 17.
The school would eventually close, but Osborne, a recent convert into the Episcopal Church and who served a 2-point charge south of Charlotte along with establishing an African-American congregation, had the vision to make the orphanage a reality in order to serve all children in need in the region. Without funds, Osborne tapped into donations by Charlotteans to provide clothes, food and other necessities. The original housing was the old Episcopalian academy school buildings. In the first year, after its opening, the orphanage grew to 30 children.
The mission of the Thompson Orphanage changed in the 50s, as federal and state agencies took on more oversight in dealing with foster care. The focus shifted to care for students with mental and emotional needs.
As Charlotte grew up around the orphanage, and the needs shifted, Thompson relocated out of the city itself. Known as Thompson Children's Home, they have several locations throughout the Carolinas and now in Florida.
St. Mary's Chapel remains and is operated by Mecklenburg County as a wedding venue, as well as for tours. It is a centerpiece of Thompson Park, which also contains a Vietnam War Memorial.
St. Mary's Chapel
St Mary's Chapel
Thompson Orphanage historical marker
Bell from Thompson Orphanage