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December 2, 2023

Old Churches in Rosedale

Beautiful pieces of our county’s history

By Anne Martin, The Bolivar Bullet

The Delta is dotted with beautiful, old, historic churches. Two of those churches are located in downtown Rosedale. 

The Rosedale United Methodist Church looks like you might expect an old church to look with its white clapboard exterior giving it a quaint feel. But, inside is exquisite craftsmanship that has withstood the test of time.

“I think this is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen,” said Katherine Pearson, long time member and church historian. “We are so fortunate this beautiful church is still here and being used every Sunday.”

Each Sunday morning the same bell tolls calling worshippers in that has rung for the past 133 years. Inside, the walls and ceiling are clad in pine tongue and groove beaded board with a dark stain. The wood wasn’t just placed on the wall in a straight up and down pattern but instead laid at an angle creating a decorative design on the wall.

Even some of the beautiful stained glass is original. The tri-colored windows placed on either side of the front door has been in place since the church was built. 

Other stained-glass windows, each one a memorial to a former church member, were replaced during a major renovation in the late 1960s.

Three intricately carved wooden chairs are also original to the building. Two of the chairs grace either side of the altar while a third arm chair is used by the minister during worship service when he is not standing at the pulpit.

“The back of each chair is covered in needlepoint that was done by the ladies of the church,” said Pearson. “The design was created especially for us and is a copy of a portion of the stained glass over the altar.”

The little church at the corner of Front and Vorhees Streets is home to the oldest congregation in town.

Methodism arrived in the Delta in 1837. Circuit riders would visit and hold services in the home of Harriet Blanton (later Theobald) in her log cabin home on the banks of the Mississippi River at Bachelor’s Bend, just north of present-day Greenville. At the time the Delta was an immense cane break with a few settlements along the river front.

The circuit riders would travel from town-to-town enduring hardships along the way. The area was covered with great trees, evergreens, cane and bamboo. They were subject to illness such as yellow fever. Many times, they would have to travel great distances between communities.

Services in Rosedale were held in the homes of members for a number of years until a church was constructed. According to Florence Warfield Sillers’ History of Bolivar County, the Methodists worshipped in Col. Frank Montgomery’s parlor and in the homes of other members until 1876 when a church was constructed. It was faithful member Montgomery and his wife Charlotte who provided the land on which the church and parsonage were built, selling the plot for just $20.

The first church on the site was completed in about 1877. It was used not only for worship services but served as a schoolhouse for the community. The building was not meant to be a permanent structure. It was torn down and replaced in 1889 with a larger frame building. That is the building still in use today.

Col. Montgomery was a driving force behind the Methodist Church in Rosedale for many years. 

In 1876 the Methodist congregation was a sizeable one with 52 members.

According to the History of Rosedale, Mississippi edited by Curt Lamar, Rosedale was a rugged and “hard-drinking” town during its early history. And, this presented to the Methodist preachers what they considered a distinct challenge, if not a serious danger. The Methodist ministers in Rosedale led the battle against the saloons which were prevalent in the early decades of the town’s existence. One minister led citizens in 1892 in a successful effort in eliminating the saloons, although the drinking itself endured.

A tornado ripped through the community on May 31, 1893. The steeple was torn off the church and the roof and walls of the building were damaged. The steeple was soon replaced and the building repaired.  

A parsonage was located next door to the church. In 1916 church leaders decided a new one was needed. It stood until just a few years ago when it was torn down.

The church also purchased a bit of history in 1960 when it bought the Lobdell Scenic Studio to use as an educational building. The studio was the only one of its kind in the state, rising 47 feet high. It was the workshop of John. V. Lobdell Jr. who painted stage scenery and settings for the theaters and school auditoriums all over the mid-south. His canvases were arranged on pulleys which enabled him to paint a canvas measuring as much as 50 feet long and 18 feet wide.

The late 1960s also saw a major renovation to the church. Overseen by Mrs. Walter Sillers, central air conditioning and heating was added to the building. New pews were placed in the sanctuary.

“We’ve worked hard to maintain the building and take care of it,” said Joe Barnes, longtime member and former chairman of the board of trustees, the committee that oversees the physical building. “This is beautiful church.”

While the membership of the church has declined over the years, reaching almost 250 at one time, the congregation is still very active and vibrant.

While the Methodist may have arrived first in the Rosedale area, the Episcopalians have the oldest church building. Grace Episcopal Church on Main Street is the oldest remaining church edifice in Bolivar County. Built in 1879, the vernacular Carpenter Gothic structure looks much like it did when constructed.

Inside, once passing through the vestibule, members and guests can sit upon original pews. And original hand-hewn hardwood floors were uncovered a few years ago when carpeting was removed. 

“We took up the old carpet and redid the floors,” said John Raymond Bassie, church member and senior warden. “The original floors were all made by hand.”

Stepping inside is like stepping back in time. Hand hewn tongue and groove beadboard covers the walls, placed at an angle, and ceilings. But the ceiling and the wall above the wainscoting was painted a soft white many years ago. Bassie, nor his wife, Linda, know exactly when it was painted only that “it has always been this way.”

The pale-colored walls reflect the light and provide the perfect backdrop for the beautiful woodwork. Light pours in from the stained-glass windows located on all four walls of the building. Several windows around the sanctuary are original to the building. Other windows were replaced in the early 1900s. 

In 1908 a triplex stained-glass window was placed over the altar by Mrs. Charles Scott and John Kirk in memory of their family members who played a role in the early development of the church. The land on which the church is built was given by Charles Scott, a member of the church. He also gave land to other congregations in Rosedale.

By 1879 there were only about 25 members of Grace Episcopal, including the Scott and Kirk families. Colonel And Mrs. Lafayette Jones were also charter members.

Col. Jones, along with several other settlers, arrived in the area in 1855 at Abel’s Point, a landing on the Mississippi River just below the Rosedale Cemetery. The colonel settled down and built a house, naming it Rosedale, after his family estate in Virginia. The seed was planted for the name of the town. In 1876, Sen. Blanche K. Bruce led the effort to change the name of the town, which at the time was called Floreyville, to Rosedale. This was one year before the first Methodist church was built and three years before Grace Episcopal was constructed.

The small Episcopal church continued to grow. An article in the Bolivar County Democrat on March 20, 1890, told of the progress of church improvements, including the acquisition of a new organ, which came all the way from Chicago, and carpeting. A small room was added on the southside of the building to accommodate a choir and organ.

But, the church steeple was damaged when a tornado roared through Rosedale in 1894. By 1903 electric lights were added to the building. In 1904, the Scott’s also gave a tract of land next to the church for a rectory. The building is still standing but has not been used as a rectory for many years.

Flood water rushed into Rosedale in 1897 and poured into both Grace Episcopal and First United Methodist. The flood occurred when the levee broke between Rosedale and Gunnison. Water covered Rosedale for six weeks and stood ten feet deep. In the churches, water reached above the chancel and pulpit. In the anxious days prior to the break, the church bells served as warning signals. In times of high water and possible levee breaks, if the Episcopal church bell rang, it meant “run north, we need help, the danger is there.” If the Methodist bell rang, it meant “run south.”

Both congregations are proud of their buildings, as both have a place in Rosedale history. While member at Grace Episcopal and First United Methodist has dwindled over the years, membership is still very active.

Services at First United Methodist are held every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. led by Lay Leader Marty Tubbs. Grace Episcopal holds services at 9:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of the month with Fr. Les Hegwood. On the remaining Sundays, the congregations meet at 10:00 a.m. led by a lay reader.

Both congregations invite you to worship with them and to see a bit of Rosedale history.