Thursday, April 7, 2011
By SUE WATSON
The little church that it is said to “take a telescope to see” is open this year for the first time for the Holly Springs Pilgrimage.
Located at 154 South Memphis Street, next door to city hall, it is one one of the first gathering places for Sunday School and worship in the city.
The tour of the Sabbath School Church includes pretty little ladies in long antebellum attire, a presentation of the history by a tour guide and a display of antiques by The Antique Shop in Mt. Pleasant, owned by Carl Isom. Antiques will be on sale.
The little white church looks like a shotgun house and is preserved today by the Town and Country Garden Club. Proceeds from plate lunches sold next door at the First Presbyterian Church at the corner of South Memphis Street and Gholson Avenue and any gracious donations will be used to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the “little church.” Town and Country Garden Club is a (501)(c)(3) nonprofit organization and donations are tax deductible.
A shortened history of the Sabbath School Church is found in the Town and Country Garden Club’s cookbook, “Butter and Love,” now in its second edition. It will be on sale at the little church during the tour.
The Rev. Daniel Baker, a 49-year-old Presbyterian minister, came to Holly Springs in November 1840 and founded the church. He said, “As one uneducated man remarked, ‘It required a telescope to see it.’ ”
Baker is remembered for having carried on a noteworthy ministry in the little 16’ by 48’ church which then faced south on a lot at the corner of what is today Memphis Street and Gholson Avenue.
But the Holly Springs Presbyterian Church was organized earlier in 1836 by Rev. Daniel Gray, who upon arrival found settlers already living in the city, two of whom had organized a pole-and-mud cabin on the site that became the little frame church.
In 1837, Rev. Samuel Hurd succeeded Rev. Gray and “a few praying members” put up the 16’ by 48’ frame building that had separate entrances for women and men. A financial panic in 1837 left many people without money to support the church except 10 or fewer members.
As such, the structure of reduced proportions and diminished elegance created a building that even by today’s standards does not look like a church. One architectural historian declared it to be the oldest example of ‘shotgun’ architecture in America outside New Orleans.
It remains as one of the oldest buildings in Holly Springs and North Mississippi. By 1843, membership increased to 114 and included some Native American heritage and slave members.
Built in 1837, the Holly Springs Presbyterian Church is one of 12 oldest surviving Mississippi church buildings and the oldest surviving outside the Natchez District. It served as a house of worship until 1948, then was converted into secular uses. In its time it has served as a residence, as an office, as a farmers’ Production Credit Association office, and most recently, as an office for the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce.
The present Holly Springs Presbyterian Church was built in 1860 and the little church was moved from its corner location to the center of the block. It was reoriented to face east, the way it remains today.
The Sabbath Church was rescued from ruin in the 1960s by preservationist Charles N. Dean Jr. and the structure is part of the Courthouse Square National Historic District. It has been designated a National Presbyterian and Reformed Historic Site.
The exterior of the little church remains essentially unchanged except for the addition of Greek Revival detailing in the 1970s. The interior has been remodeled several times and preserves the original features, except possibly for door latches, etc. Originally, the building had no interior partitions. Pews, possibly from the original structure, are preserved in the current Holly Springs Presbyterian Church. One pew has been restored to its original location, the gift of the Holly Springs church.
An expanded story of the Holly Springs Presbyterian Sunday School, available in brochure form, provides an in-depth description of the church’s historic leaders and prominent events from which this condensed version is drawn.
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