Historic St. Phillip’s Baptist Church Has Collapsed

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St. Phillip’s Baptist Church | Claiborne County, MS c. late 1800s

Here in this once bustling region of Mississippi, historic churches dot the maps along some of America’s most important historic routes. Most of them are kept up and marked with a plaque, those churches have become popular spots for historic tourists and locals alike to visit to try and interpret these remnants of our past.

But only a few miles away from some of these prominent landmarks, another important place has been silently crumbling into obscurity for years.

The church bell has been removed, the back and side wall has completely caved in, and the windows have all been broken. A few pews remain inside pinned under old clapboarding and legend has it, a piano still stands inside, although I couldn’t see one.

The locals I’ve spoken with can’t remember a time when congregants passed through these walls. No one can recall the church bell ever chiming. There wasn’t even a consensus about the name of this old church. But I was dying to know more of her story.

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After over a year of digging around to see what I might find, the only clues came from Find A Grave and Google Maps, of all places. Once called St. Phillips Church, this building likely served a Baptist congregation of African American sharecroppers from the surrounding plantations in Wilsonville and Hermanville.

The Graveyard At St. Phillip’s Church

Adjacent to the building is a graveyard with more than 100 interments, with a handful of burials in every decade of the last century, starting with John Hardges who was buried here in 1910.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell us much about the congregation and when they started meeting, who led them in prayer, or when they closed the doors here for the final time. But reading through their names on Find A Grave has helped me to bring some humanity to this important, if largely forgotten, place.

Handcarved headstone of John Hardges, b. 1888 d.1910 (Photo courtesy of Ernest Rucker on Find A Grave)

2019 Update

As I recently reopened my file to see what else I could find on this church out in the woods, I came across an image of it on Instagram. Almost a year to the day from my visit to St. Phillips, the last supporting wall finally gave in and the church has now collapsed. Of course, it was only a matter of time in the condition that had befallen her, but it’s still sad to know that most of her story was lost with her.

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Luckily, the graveyard is well cared for and hopefully, more of the history will emerge someday so we can properly remember those who passed here before us.

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  1. I just love your stories and have a similar interest.
    Besides asking the town people, what other research methods are you using?

  2. This was just lovely. Thank you for your efforts to remember these beautiful majestic buildings. Unfortunately this one only left me with wanting to know more, and I know you feel the same. I don’t know what it is that captures our imaginations about places like this one. I think for me, it is the yearning for a simple time, where there wasn’t so much information and people actually talked to each other and worshiped together to the God that has held our country together all these years. I hope He is never forgotten like these old buildings in our country.

  3. I am hungry for more!!! There are several such churches that I hopefully can find out about here along the levee in coahoma county outside of Clarksdale!!

  4. Just a glance at the trees and vegetation reveal it is unmistakably situated in Mississippi. Great photo and good work!

  5. I just want to thank you for all you do. I love to see the pics that you share and all the articles are wonderful. It really makes me want to go “cemetery hopping” again! I have had a lot of fun searching cemeteries and plan to do it again.

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