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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 8, 200812:00 PM EST

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Strickland Holloway’s gift of love and miracles

Residential developer Strickland Holloway works best under pressure and that’s a good thing.

He had 24 days, five guys and a whole lot of faith to build Grace Chapel in time for his daughter’s wedding.

And, he did it!

“I work best under pressure,” said Holloway. “I probably do better under pressure than I do any other time.”

Holloway, who was in the midst of developing Waterman’s Bluff, a gated community in Yulee, had planned for Grace Chapel to be built at the entrance to the property but it was still a plan until his daughter, Whitney, announced her wedding date.

“We had several delays trying to get things done with sewer and water issues and some other issues, so we were always trying to get everything finished and my daughter wanted to go ahead and get married. I wanted her to be married here on the property in the chapel, but we never could quite get everything completed. Finally, she came to me and said, ‘Look, we are setting a date. That was fine. They set a date of Apr. 22, 2006.”

At the end of 2005, Holloway was getting ready to start putting in the infrastructure in Phase Two and was waiting for permits on the site plan and the chapel itself.

“I thought I would get those by December 2005, which would have been plenty of time to have gotten the chapel built without a lot of pressure,” said Holloway. “As it turned out, the permit for building the chapel was not received until Mar. 22, 2006. So, I had a little less than 30 days to get the chapel built. It was a pretty much a miracle.”

Holloway said when his wife, Pamela, was sending out invitations, she asked him if she should put “on the grounds of Waterman’s Bluff” or “at Grace Chapel” and he told her “Grace Chapel.”

“She said ‘You’ll never get it finished in time’,” said Holloway. “And I told her to ‘Never say that to me again. Leave me alone and just get the dress ready.’”

Coincidently, Danny Johnson of Dixie Builders, a builder friend of his, called him that same morning and asked if he happened to have any projects available.

“I told him that today was his lucky day,” said Holloway.

Johnson came down from Georgia and brought his crew of five and they went to work. Holloway tried to convince the crew to stay in Yulee to work longer hours, but they didn’t want to. They would drive an hour and a half each day and work from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They would not work on Saturday and Holloway didn’t want them to work on Sunday.

“We had exactly 24 working days to get the chapel built,” he said. “About two weeks into the project, we were ready to put the roof on. The trusses had to be hand-cut and hand-built and put together and we had to raise it with a crane. We finally got the roof on and it was lightning outside and everyone ran inside. I said to them, ‘Now that I have your attention, I want to tell you what we are doing here. How many of you believe in miracles?’ One guy raised his hand. I told them, ‘All of you need to believe in miracles because you are in the middle of one. “You may not know it or you may not recognize it, but you are all in the middle of a miracle. We need to have this chapel finished by April 22 for my daughter’s wedding and that gives us two more weeks.’

“They all looked at me like they didn’t think they could do it and I told them to ‘Quit looking at me like that. We are going to get it finished. You don’t know how you are going to do it, I don’t know how you are going to do it, but it’s going to happen. So, just enjoy the miracle that you are involved in.’”

They got the final Certificate of Occupancy from the county on the day before the wedding. At 4:45 p.m. that afternoon, the power and water were turned on. Friday night they had the rehearsal in the chapel with no pews because the floor still had to be sanded and finished. Saturday morning the front of the chapel had to be painted.

“So, I met the paint crew Saturday morning,” he said. “At 3 p.m. the floors were dry, so we took the pews in and played musical pews to put the smallest one in the front and largest in the back. These were all handmade 1800’s pews and all were different sizes and were curved.

“I had bought the stained glass windows from the 1800’s about four years before and they had been in storage. I had never seen them with light on them. When we pulled them out of storage and put them in the back of the chapel and I got to see them with the light behind them for the first time, I literally had to just sit on the floor and look at them for a while because they were so pretty.”

Everything in the chapel was either old or made to look old, from the doors to the trim to the flooring.

Interesting fact: Where does one buy pews, stained glass windows and pulpits from the 1800’s? Well, www.ebay.com, of course.

“When you are looking for unique materials, you have to buy them even if you are not ready to put them in yet,” said Holloway. “Because you are not going to find them again.”

At 5 p.m. as the guests were arriving, Holloway was on a front-end loader hauling the last pile of construction debris away as workers were throwing sod down on both sides of the walkway as people were walking into the chapel.

“At 5:30 p.m., I ran to the house to take a shower,” said Holloway. “I got on my tuxedo and it was 6:15 p.m. looked at my wife and daughter and said ‘What were you so concerned about? I still have 15 minutes to spare. I feel like I’m wasting time.’ So, we literally got finished 15 minutes before the wedding. It was as close as you could cut it.”

In honor of the first wedding held in the chapel, Holloway had the forethought to put Bibles in the foundation under front and back thresholds, pillars and footers with an inscription saying that the first wedding took place on Apr. 22, 2006 before he started building the chapel.

“So, had we not finished, I would have had a hard time explaining why those Bibles were written in that the wedding had taken place on Apr. 22, 2006 in that building,” he said. “We believed that we would get it done and we did get it done. But, it was amazing and it was a miracle. There is no way humanly possible that anybody could have gotten it done in 24 days.

“I show it to other builders and they ask how long it would have normally taken to build and I say six months and they ask how much would it have cost and I say three times what we spent on it. It was truly a miracle. But, it is the cornerstone of our faith and the cornerstone of the community.”

Grace Chapel will not hold regular services. But, once the community is up and running, Holloway would like to invite pastors, evangelists, ministers and missionaries to come for a week at a time and enjoy the facilities, rest and give testimony. The chapel will also be available for weddings to residents as well.

Holloway’s entire family is involved in the real estate/building industry.

Son Morris Ashton, who has a master’s degree in architecture and is a licensed Florida builder, designed the chapel and will be heavily involved in building the amenities and some of the houses in the community. Oldest son Strickland III lives in Georgia, but comes and helps out on the project as well.

His newly married daughter, Whitney - now Mrs. William Wasden - is a real estate broker and owner (with husband Bill) of Wasden Land Brokers and Plantation Properties and Land Investments. Holloway’s wife Pamela is the interior decorator and as he says, “She is the detail person who makes it all come together.”

Waterman’s Bluff is located in a very remote location off of Chester Road in Yulee. There are currently four families living there and it’s planned toeventually have 142 homes. Lots are from $300,000 to $950,000.

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