I saw so much last Saturday when I went up to the Carrollton Pilgrimage, I’m still sorting through all the pictures I took. Whenever I drive up to Carrollton, I like to swing off of I-55 and hit Hwy 17 at Pickens. That takes me all the way up through Holmes County and straight into Carrollton, and along the way I get to visit a few old friends like the Asia M.B. Church.
Up the road a ways from Lexington, you run through the rural community of Acona, which you know because you pass a green sign that says “Acona” and you start seeing scattered houses on both sides of the road. Just as you think you’re out of the community, you see on your right the large open area that is functionally downtown Acona. As in thousands of similar places earlier in our history, many community functions gathered in the same buildings; in this case, the Acona Church also held a lodge hall (used originally for Grange meetings) upstairs (one of a small group of such 2-story church/lodge buildings in the state), a 3-classroom school building dealt with educational needs (for white children), and a cemetery behind the church gathered the community members to their fathers when the time came.
Acona Church, School, and Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2002, and I’ll let the National Register nomination tell you more about the place:
The church and the cemetery behind it, face west. The separate school building faces north from near the southern boundary of the property. The cemetery, still in use, includes burials and funerary markers dating from 1899. A chain link fence has been erected around the cemetery, the grounds of which have several mature trees and shrubs. A gravel road from the highway to near the church facade continues in a curve toward the former school building. A path leads from the south of the church to the cemetery at the eastern end of the property.
. . . .
Acona Church, Cemetery, and School . . . is significant at the local level for its vernacular architecture, its funerary monuments, and its history as a surviving church and school complex of the late 19th and early 20th century. The buildings, with their intact materials and plans, offer examples of late 19th and early 20th century rural building practices and styles. Historic school houses are becoming increasingly rare in Mississippi and throughout the nation. A school in combination with an early post-bellum church and its associated cemetery, is a combination once common but now rare.
The church building was built in 1876, according to a history of Acona by Mrs. J.D. Williams published in the Lexington Advertiser in 1960. The National Register nomination passes on some of the historical information:
Two women, Mrs. Landfair and her kinswoman, Mrs. Sara Garrell, were among the 11 charter members of the Acona Church. The Trustees paid Mrs. Landfair $25 for ‘three and one-half acres of beautiful wooded land.’ John A. Hamilton is recorded as the architect and supervisor of the building [we know of no other buildings he constructed]. Mrs. Hamilton conjectures that he was aided in church construction by other church members and by ‘trained ex-slave artisans.’ Mrs. Williams recorded the memories of Sam D. Bailey, who as a teenager, ‘sat a-top a load of lumber’ driving his father’s wagon home from Vaiden to the construction site.
The school building, constructed in 1903, is one of the oldest rural schools standing in the state. In 1910 the school became a “consolidated school” by incorporating nearby Downer and Cedar Glen Schools. This would have made it one of the first consolidated schools in the state since the enabling legislation allowing consolidation was passed in 1910, although apparently at least two schools (Acona and Woolmarket in Harrison County) claim to have been the “first” consolidated school. The building is so early that it does not follow any standard plans like most schools starting around 1920 did–it doesn’t have the almost ubiquitous large banks of windows nor is it on an east-west axis as would be expected in later schools. It’s truly one-of-a-kind.
Acona Church and School may not be as well known as some landmarks, but as you can see, this little gem is worth the effort to see. So next time your driving up Hwy 17, stop in and say hello to the place.