Antioch Baptist Church

The Antioch Baptist Church was founded in 1818, and is the second oldest church in Montgomery County.  James McLemore and his brothers moved to the Mount Meigs area from Jones County, Georgia, and he immediately started the new congregation at Antioch.  The original location is just north of Interstate 85, but today only the old cemetery remains on that site.  The congregation moved to a new site adjacent to the Peoples Village School in 1919.  That building has been expanded and renovated numerous times over the years, and is still the congregation's home today.  The next set of photos show the church building and its historical marker, as well a map showing the church's location.

Granite marker in the side of the current Antioch Baptist Church building, Mount Meigs, Montgomery County, Alabama

Antioch Baptist Church historical marker, Mount Meigs, Montgomery County, Alabama

Antioch Baptist Church
Mount Meigs, Alabama

Organized on June 5, 1818, the Antioch Baptist Church at Mt. Meigs was the first church of any denomination established in Montgomery County. Rev. James McLemore was its founder and first pastor. Antioch, like most churches in the county, had both white and black members before the Civil War and Reconstruction era. Antioch was officially incorporated in May of 1911 under a 9-man board of trustees. In 1919, the Antioch congregation built a new church building on land adjoining the Peoples Village School using material from the old church building; it was bricked and rededicated in 1980. In 1989, classrooms and a fellowship hall were added and a larger sanctuary with a capacity for 1,500 worshipers followed in 1999. The public road leading to the church is designated “Antioch Lane” in recognition of the role Antioch has played in the surrounding communities.
— Alabama Historical Association - 2008

Antioch Baptist Church historical marker location, Mount Meigs, Montgomery County, Alabama

Antioch Baptist Church, Mount Meigs, Montgomery County, Alabama


The next two photos show the Old Antioch Cemetery, and the final map show its location.

Antioch Baptist Church, Mount Meigs, Montgomery County, Alabama

Antioch Baptist Church, Mount Meigs, Montgomery County, Alabama


Grace Episcopal Church

Today we're going to look at another old church here in Montgomery County.  The most interesting thing about Grace Episcopal Church is that it was designed in 1861 according to the popular architectural style of the time, Carpenter Gothic.  Sadly the outbreak of the Civil War and its aftermath delayed the actual construction until 1893.  Rather than soliciting a new, more contemporary design, the congregation used Joseph Pierson's original plans.

Grace Episcopal Church in 1962 (photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Grace Episcopal Church, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

Rear of Grace Episcopal Church, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

Site of Grace Episcopal Church historical marker, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

Approach to Grace Episcopal Church, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

Grace Episcopal Church historical marker, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

Grace Episcopal Church

In the late 1850s the cluster of Episcopal families around Mt. Meigs undertook to build a church and engaged Pennsylvania architect Joseph W. Pierson to prepare the plans. The plans were submitted in April 1861, but due to the hardships caused by the Civil War and its aftermath, it was over 30 years before the church was actually built. Finally becoming a reality in 1893, Grace Church was constructed according to Pierson’s original plans in the “Gothic Revival” style popular for rural Episcopal churches all across the South during the 1850s. The auxiliary buildings and the church gardens are of much more recent construction but reflect the style of the original sanctuary.
— Alabama Historical Association - 2000

Fair Prospect Cemetery

First, let me apologize for the unscheduled two week break.  My computer was acting up, and in the end I got a new PC and I'm running Windows 10, and everything seems to be going smoothly now.  Second, we're going to do a bit of a series with the two posts this week and the first post next week.  Today we're going to start with a hidden cemetery on a little bluff above US-331, but it's going to eventually lead to the birth of organized education in central Alabama.

In 1828 a twenty-three-year-old preacher from Georgia named William McGauhy came through central Alabama.  His evangelistic efforts ended with the establishment of the Fair Prospect Church, the oldest Restoration Movement church in the state, and one of the twelve original members was seventeen-year-old Mary Lumpkin.  Two years later Mary married Elkanah Barnes, and six years after that they had their first child, Justus McDuffie Barnes, better known as Mack.  By the time Mack was 11, he had two little sisters, and the Barnes family moved from their one room log cabin into a new plantation house.  Mary intended to name the home, and the community around it, after the Greek geographer Strabo.  Unfortunately, the postal service misread her letter, and so the new post office was named Strata.  In 1854, the Barnes family sent Mack to study at Bethany College, a liberal arts school in West Virginia founded by Alexander Campbell in 1840.  Mack finished his degree in only two years, and returned to his father's farm unsure of what to do next.  His father encouraged him to teach, and so in September 1856 Strata Academy was founded with thirteen students on the Barnes plantation.  We'll return to Strata Academy in our next post.

16th century engraving of Strabo (public domain)

The Fair Prospect Church was thriving in the 1850s, and they had established a cemetery adjacent to the building.  The oldest extant graves date back to 1851.  In 1870, the church building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.  The congregation left the cemetery in place but started meeting in one of the new Strata Academy buildings a little less than two miles north on present-day US-331.  The Academy left the property in 1881 (we'll cover the reasons in our next post), and the old Fair Prospect congregation still meets to this day on that site as the Strata Church of Christ.

The Fair Prospect Cemetery is still in use as well, even if it is a little hard to get to.  Elkanah and Mary Barnes are both buried there, and there is a memorial for Mack, but he is actually buried in Montgomery.  Below you'll find photos of the cemetery's historical marker, the memorial for Mack Barnes, the entrance to the cemetery along US-331, and the current Strata Church of Christ building.  The map shows the cemetery historical marker, but if you follow US-331 about 1.7 miles north you'll find the current church building on the right side of the road at Hickory Grove Road.

Fair Prospect Cemetery historical marker, Montgomery County, Alabama

Fair Prospect Cemetery
Montgomery County

Atop this hill lies Fair Prospect Cemetery, established in the 1840s as part of Fair Prospect Church. Land was donated for the church and cemetery by Benjamin Mitchell (1765-1848) and his wife Jane Scrimpton Mitchell (1775-1850). The location of their graves is unknown. The earliest marked burials date to 1851 and the cemetery is still active today. Justus M. Barnes, founder of Strata Academy, was a leader in the congregation and his parents are buried here. In the 1870s, the church burned after lightning struck it and the congregation began meeting at Strata Academy. When the Academy moved and became Highland Home College, the church retained the campus building on the site of Strata Church of Christ. A.S. Naftel, founder of the Naftel community, acquired much of the Mitchell lands after 1850 and members of his family are buried here.

Listed in the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register
— Jay & Ruth Mitchell Ott, Descendant of Bejamin Mitchell - 2011

Memorial to the founders of Strata Academy, Fair Prospect Cemetery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Barnes, Jordan, Kilpatrick

Preachers, teachers, planters,
when this was wild frontier,
taught with love unstinted,
helped bring religion here.
Kith and kin take notice.
These leaders neath this sod
shaped a growing country
their monument to God.

— Erected in loving memory by Dr. M.B. Kirkpatrick

Entrance to Fair Prospect Cemetery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Strata Church of Christ, former site of Strata Academy, Montgomery County, Alabama


Bethel Cemetery

The Alabama Baptist Association was formed on December 13, 1819 by four congregations from the area surround Montgomery: Antioch, Elim, Rehobeth, and Bethel.  The Bethel congregation was just north of the Old Federal Road in Pintlala.  The building is gone, but their cemetery is still standing and being maintained by the Pintlala Baptist Church just south on the Mobile Highway.

The Bethel Cemetery was opened in 1819, so it is old, but that alone might not have been enough to warrant a historical marker.  This cemetery's claim to fame is an odd marker placed in 1923 commemorating an event that took place in 1837.  A missionary movement was sweeping through the Baptist faith in the 1800s, and eventually made its way to the Bethel congregation.  Just like in many other congregations both before and after, the Bethel congregation developed a division over the missionary concept.  One group was in favor of this missionary movement, and wanted to make an active effort to go out and recruit new followers, both at home and abroad.  This group became known as Missionary Baptists.  The other group held tightly to the Calvinist idea of "the perseverance of the saints", which essentially means that God chose all of the people who would follow him before the world was created.  If all of the believers had already been chosen by God, there was no need to go "recruiting".  This group was known as Primitive Baptists.

In 1837, this disagreement came to a head at the Bethel Baptist Church, and the Primitive members voted to exclude their Missionary members from the congregation.  The Missionary Baptists formed the original Pintlala Baptist Church, which only lasted five years but was revived several decades later.  The Primitive Baptists continued to meet as the Bethel Baptist Church, but their membership declined and the congregation disbanded in the early 1900s.  The Women's Missionary Union placed the original stone marker at the Bethel Cemetery commemorating the split of the Bethel Baptist Church in 1923, and in 1998 the Pintlala Baptist Church was able to acquire the cemetery property and begin a much needed restoration project.  The following year the cemetery was placed on the Alabama Registry of Landmarks & Heritage, and the year after that the Alabama Historical Association placed the new historical marker.

The next few photos show the cemetery gates, the stone marker commemorating the split, and the modern marker.  Transcriptions of both markers are also included.

Bethel Cemetery gate, Pintlala, Montgomery County, Alabama

Bethel Baptist Church split marker, Bethel Cemetery, Pintlala, Montgomery County, Alabama

Bethel Baptist Church
Feb. 13, 1819
Elder Eleclius Thompson, JaS. McLemore, Edward Mosley, Builder, Geo. Shackleford
Split of Primitive and Missionary
Site marked Nov. 4, 1923

Bethel Cemetery interior, Pintlala, Montgomery County, Alabama

Bethel Cemetery historical marker, Pintlala, Montgomery County, Alabama

The Bethel Cemetery

Bethel Cemetery was constituted Feb. 13, 1819 and located on Federal Rd. Bethel Church was 1 of 4 churches in the Alabama Baptist Association which was formed on Dec. 13, 1819. On July 22, 1837, the church became the object of a major split in Baptist life. In Oct.. Missionary Brethren were excluded from the church and the split became final. A marker memorializing the division between the Primitive and Missionary Baptists was placed in the cemetery by the Montgomery Baptist W.M.U. on Nov. 4, 1923. Pintlala Baptist Church acquired the cemetery in 1998.
— Alabama Historical Association - 2000

Setting of the Bethel Cemetery historical marker, Pintlala, Montgomery County, Alabama


Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church

We're leaving the big city behind for this post.  Everyone in central Alabama knows US Highway 231.  It takes you from Montgomery down to Troy and then on to Dothan.  Eventually it will take you all the way to Panama City, Florida.  But before all of that, US-231 takes you to the southeastern corner of Montgomery County.  

Just before you hit the county line, take AL-94 north.  A few more turns will bring you to the Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church.  I assure you, if there is a single historical marker in Montgomery County that no one has ever accidentally passed by, this would be that marker.  But that's a shame, because the church and its grounds are beautiful.  I don't have a lot of information to share about the church, so this post will mostly be about the photos, but if you ever find yourself wanting to go for a drive in southern Montgomery County, this is definitely a spot worth visiting.

Wide view, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

As you can see, the church is exceedingly well cared for, with exceptional landscaping and a picturesque stone wall surrounding the cemetery on both sides of the church's rear.  You can read the historical marker text in the quote or in the next photo.

Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church

Constituted on August 27, 1842 on this site with six charter members including Moses and Sarah Rushton, Susannah Rushton, William and Emily Miley, and James Gardner. First structure built of logs by master carpenter Jesse Yon on land given by Moses Rushton, who moved to Montgomery County from Orangeburg District S.C.

Present Colonial Revivial building completed in 1931. Architect was Frank W. Lockwood and landscape architect was Graham M. Rushton.
— Alabama Historical Association, 1989

Historical Marker, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

The current building just entered its 85th year.  

The next four photos show a closeup of the church's front, as well as closer views of the cemetery and the Dinner On The Grounds pavilion on the north side of the property.

Front view, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

South side cemetery, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

Building, grounds, and pavilion, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

North side cemetery and pavilion, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

I also stumbled across this U.S. Geological Survey marker in the ground just a few feet from the cemetery wall on the south side of the church.

U.S. Geological Survey marker, Pisgah Primtive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

As you can probably tell from the shadows in the earlier pictures, I was really racing the light by the time I got to the church, so I decided to stick around for a few minutes to get a shot of the sunset.  This was taken from the church's front steps.

Sunset, Grady, Alabama

As I mentioned earlier, there isn't a lot of history in this post.  The church is technically in Grady, but it's really in the middle of nowhere.  The original congregation came together four years before the state capital moved to Montgomery, and they were celebrating their tenth anniversary when the final touches were put on the current capitol building.  To make up for the lack of historical facts, our next post will take us to Selma to learn which Alabamian is the highest office holder in the history of the United States.