Midway through 2009 I stumbled across the Preservation in Mississippi blog. I have always been interested in old buildings and photographing them. After another year of lurking around as a hanger-onner-wannabe I finally ventured out of my comfort zone and started posting some about historic sites on my own blog. I was so naive! I was so ill-informed! Thank goodness for a whole lot of curiosity and some excellent tutelage from knowledgeable and trained people, along with learning about the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s Historic Resources Inventory (without a doubt the best of the state resources for my areas of work including Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, although Arkansas comes in second!), I have become more adept.
For example, among my first forays into investigating local historic resources was the Hopewell Presbyterian Church, located in what was formerly called Woodson’s Ridge, in rural Lafayette County. I was so unimpressed, I did not even get out of the car to take the photo. I am not certain what I was expecting for a place listed on the National Register of Historic Places but I confess that this was not it. Now, some nearly six years later, I might be starting to get it. As a result, I plan to do a little backtracking along roads previously traveled, and do a little more justice to some of the great buildings and places I have glossed over in the past. Jump on in, there’s room in the wagon!
The one-story, gable-front, rectangularly-massed vernacular church was built circa 1849…as a replacement for the original log building which burned in 1849. (Joan Embree, 1999, from the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places)
The architect and builder are unknown, though apparently (according to Embree, MDAH, and other sources) this style of church was common among rural Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. There are several surviving examples in Mississippi, although many have been lost to “…neglect or alteration” (Embree). Do you know where those surviving vernacular, wood-frame churches with paired front-entry doors are located? Hint: there are at least six in Mississippi.
The Hopewell Church, although dissolved in 1981, is now part of Camp Hopewell, established in 1951 on the property. The building is significant and merits inclusion on National Register, in part due to its being a rare example, and retaining original framing, weatherboard, windows, doors, and interior fittings including woodwork, floors, and piers. You can see additional information and photographs, including of the interior, at the link to the National Register nomination form on the MDAH/HRI page.
The Hopewell congregation voted in favor of the 1861 resolution to separate the southern churches from those in the north because of
…two distinct governments hostile to each other. (from the NRHP nomination form)
The property contains two cemeteries, one which was for African Americans, and one for Caucasians. Similar to other examples of the environmental architecture of segregation, the African American cemetery was located on the downhill slope south of the building, and the white cemetery was established on a knoll to the west of the church. The church had both white and enslaved Africans’ descendants for members, though the church records do not address seating arrangements according to Embree. Following the Civil War, freedmen continued as members for some period of time. The southern and northern Presbyterian churches were not re-united until 1983.
Circa 1930, a “bump-out” altar section was added to the rear of the church, and can be seen in the photographs at the National Register nomination form link. The current steps are concrete replacements, and the railing is modern. An access ramp has also been added.
And now that I know the rest of the story of this church, and its cemeteries, and why they are important and worthy of preservation, I need to head on back down that road with a renewed appreciation for what it represents, a healthy dose of humility, and enough time to get out of the car.