Going Inside: Rodney Presbyterian Church

One of Mississippi’s historic and architectural treasures is Rodney Presbyterian Church. Everyone seems to acknowledge this, so why can’t we figure out a way to at least keep the yard mowed a few times during the summer? Getting to Rodney is an adventure, and I was lucky enough to arrive as the afternoon sun was hitting the building just right, but I was horrified to see the condition of the church. Overgrown with weeds that I prayed weren’t inhabited by snakes, the church’s doors were standing wide open, and the side door to the balcony has been completely ripped from its frame. On the one hand, I have always wanted to see inside the building–the doors have always been locked previously–but on the other hand, this was the openess of neglect, not welcome.

I knew the church was endangered because it was listed on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 10 Most Endangered List in 2003:

The Mississippi United Daughters of the Confederacy obtained the building in 1966, receiving a grant to restore it. Since then, however, funds to maintain Rodney Presbyterian have been low, and the building, among the oldest surviving churches in Mississippi, has slipped into another period of decline and is threatened by deterioration from the elements.

Inside, like the other churches on my day’s journey, Bethel and Rocky Springs, there was a guest book and a container for money. Unlike those other churches though, here the guest book was filled and the last entries, written on the back of the back cover, were from January 2012. The container next to the book for donations was completely empty, and given the state of things, I didn’t leave money as I had at the other churches, feeling that it would be stolen before anyone came to check on the church. I saw neglect inside, but no major structural problems or big roof leaks, so the building is still as sound as it can be after four decades without its congregation, but I left very discouraged. If we can’t maintain these obvious historic landmarks, what does that say about the strength or lack thereof of the preservation ethic in Mississippi in this generation?

Just down the street I passed a group of five or six hunters outside their cabins. Their lots were freshly mowed, and it seems to me if a few of them would volunteer to mow the church’s lot once a year, at least that would keep the building from being overgrown. And maybe they could also volunteer to check on the guest book and donation container for the UDC on a regular basis. Brighten the corner where you are, folks!

You can read more about the history of the building and see pictures of its much better condition in 2011 at Southern Lagniappe



Categories: Abandoned Mississippi, Antebellum, Churches, Cool Old Places, Historic Preservation, Mississippi Heritage Trust, Rodney, Urban/Rural Issues

18 replies

  1. One of the inspiring miracles of preservation in Mississippi is Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Winona. When the congregation dwindled away, the good people of that small town banded together to save and preserve this jewel of a church for community use. Perhaps an ecumenical board embracing several denominations could be formed to oversee churches like Rodney (both churches in Rodney), Rocky Springs, etc…..Just a thought. Thanks for these pictures, E.L.

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  2. This is a jewel. It’s superb.

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  3. The only way this place can be saved if the state or county steps in very few really very few people live there as most of you know. I visit when down south (I am from Chicago) it breaks my heart to see it has been left to the elements. Maybe asking the county they send someone once a month to cut the grass and report on any issues about the bldg. Just a suggestion.

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  4. Have been there many times over the years. A rich historical treasure. The town was close to getting voted the state capital during its’ heyday. Yes a shame, but if local residents who remain there and the surrounding counties show no regard for it how can you expect hunters to do the same? The Dept. of Archives I believe somewhat maintain the Windsor Ruins site. Maybe they could be talked into at least cutting the grass there at Rodney. There used to be a Facebook group that shared photos and had volunteers/residents post about volunteer cleanups around town. Don’t see it on there anymore.

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  5. I hate to ask, but where is Rodney? And, if I lived within 100 miles I would be rounding up a crew to help me mow and take care of the place. What a treasure! Thank you for sharing.

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    • Beth,
      Rodney is in Jefferson County, MS near the Mississippi River. When the river floods it overtakes the roads. You can google the exact location. I live in Chicago

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      • Check my link on my name for a brief history of Rodney with a link at the bottom to a map. I would only recommend going with someone familiar with the area as you can get turned around. Another worthwhile stop in that part of the country is Springfield Plantation, one of the oldest houses in the Mississippi Valley area.

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  6. What happened to the old Catholic church in Rodney? I think I read that the sanctuary was moved somewhere else.

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  7. The Catholic Church was moved to the Grand Gulf State Park, I think in the late 70s (I know it was still at Rodney in the mid-70s and was at the state park by the early 80s).

    There is also a nice Baptist church there. In the last flood, the water didn’t quite reach the Presbyterian church, but left a water line 5 or more feet above the ground on the Baptist church. Some sort of church group from, I think, Winona was down there thereafter and there was a story on Jackson TV about them working on restoring those churches.

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  8. Jefferson County is a very poor county….we live a few miles from the church, and it breaks my heart to see it so neglected. The county can barely keep up the roads adequately, and several bridges over the last 30 years have just been allowed deteriorate to the place they were condemned and traffic closed and re-routed. Taking on even the yard maintenance would be very unlikely just because of the cost involved…… and then there is the matter of the cemetery up the hill from the church. As I child I was privileged to worship in the sanctuary of Rodney Presbyterian Church on the celebration of a 150 year anniversary of its establishment. Rodney is now a ghost town with the exception of a few permanent residents and many hunters who have camps there. The church is a beautiful place so rich with history that inside one can almost feel it. Hopefully something can be done before it is too late to save. Our family laments the state of the church each time we see it, but no one seems to know where to turn. Anyone with viable suggestions? Perhaps we should all start brainstorming and band together to see what can be done.

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    • I know that Jessica Crawford with the Archaeological Conservancy was heading up a couple of cemetery cleanups last year or maybe two years ago? The UDC still owns the building and they have a website with contact info (http://mississippiudc.homestead.com/). Perhaps a group of concerned citizens could meet with them to try to figure out at least a basic mowing plan and find a local volunteer–whether resident or regular hunter–who would be willing to pick up donations, look after the guest book, etc. My feeling is that if the guest book is regularly tended, and the donations are clearly being looked after, people will leave money to help. I saw that at both Bethel and Rocky Springs. Granted Rodney is Boondock City, but on a hot summer day near dusk, another couple showed up while I was there, and the guest book entries from last year showed 3-4 visits per day, which is pretty impressive and adds up.

      Whatever plan gets made, it needs to be made with the cooperation of the UDC, local residents, and the hunters, and it needs to be small enough to just keep the building maintained and watched. Once we accomplish that, maybe we can come up with a larger plan, but just that would do wonders for the place and sustain it for another generation.

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  9. It’s easy for me to give advice from hundreds of miles away, but my (Presbyterian) church in Nashville is always coming together to build a Habitat house or fix up houses for poor/elderly/handicapped people. Surely there is a nearby (even 50 miles) Presbyterian church that might take this on if someone from the local preservation community asked them. It’s the perfect grassroots ‘do-gooder’ opportunity and I would certainly be willing to do something if I was near there. I don’t know much about that part of MS, but is it too remote or could it find a new life as a venue for weddings and family reunions and such? Just wondering.

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    • When the river rises it usually floods. The church has been saved by it being on a slight rise off the road.

      Address:

      Rodney Rd, Rodney, MS Directions: Southwest of Alcorn State University. US Hwy 61 north of Lorman to west Hwy 552. After a couple of miles, left on Old Hwy 552, then left on Rodney Rd. Several miles to the town.

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    • It is remote (and I have a very high standard for “remote”), but a certain kind of person loves remote.

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      • can anyone tell us who exactly “owns” the little church now ? it would be nice to know if it even remains for sale and if the sons of the confederacy ever bought it from the daughters of the confederacy—–then based upon price people can get a better idea of whether it is feasible or affordable to take on such a project as i am sure it will be very expensive !

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  10. i looked into buying the Rodney church about 15 years ago from the daughters of the confederacy but it is so remote and there are so many historical markers ( indicating that the interference from “protective” agencies would be so great that no individual could ever succeed in saving this church) —–if the government and others would allow someone to go in with cypress lumber and restore this church ( properly) back to original, it would be wonderful . At that time, weddings were still being held in the church in day hours as there was no electricity. Zebulan Butler was the pastor originally and evidently was close to A.R Graves founder of the ” seminary” at Seminary Ms and A.R’s son, my uncle , was Zebulan Butler Graves, son of A .R. Graves and a well known physician in Hattiesburg until his death in 1970. The poor roads leading into Rodney, at least 15 years ago, are no help either especially in the rainy seasons. Dr Robert Bailey Hattiesburg bailey122122@gmail.com

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    • The presence of historical markers in front of a property doesn’t indicate that the building is protected by either easements or designation. Almost all of the green historical markers are paid for by the owners or interested citizens, not MDAH or any other government agency. In the case of Rodney Presbyterian, I believe that most of the markers were placed there by the UDC itself. According to the MDAH Historic Resources Database, it is not a Mississippi Landmark, which is the primary protective easement program in the state. This lack of designation also makes it ineligible for grants through MDAH. The church is listed on the National Register but that is an honorary program, not protective.

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  11. Hello from sweden in that evening here with blessing and encourage us to take the Holy Spirit in us more and more and let he fall down over america again in to be revival with miracle and and healing and more of glory to God in Jesus blood sake and here too we desire revival in the Holy Spirit to save and heal and and awake up us from sleaping ,thanks and bless and pray,keijo sweden

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