Coatopa Presbyterian Church | Sumter County Alabama | c. 1901
Today it might not look like much, but this little white chapel is all that remains to mark the story of an Alabama community that used to stand here.
Founded in 1847 by J.R. Larkins, Coatopa Alabama was built around the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad that brought rail lines to the South in the 19th century. The small community experienced modest growth but didn’t have its own post office until after the end of the Civil War in 1866.
In 1892, an organizational meeting was held to establish a Presbyterian Church here and this building was completed in the following years. By 1900, Coatopa, from the Choctaw Indian words for ‘wounded panther,’ had a cotton gin, a doctor’s office, a school, and multiple merchants, including the Stewart & Parker store, said to be the biggest and well-stocked in the county at the turn of the century.
The rest of the information I have been able to gather about the community of Coatopa comes from old newspaper articles that help us to better understand what life might’ve been like here.
Like the many mentions of ice cream socials in 1893, 1917, and 1921 that the women’s club hosted to raise money for school supplies and bibles. An announcement from 1924 inviting the community to a wedding at this church. Or like the announcements I found from 1932 and 1942 notifying the community of the funeral services of young townspeople who passed too soon.
There isn’t a clear reason why this community disappeared but by the 1980s, population decline took its toll and led to the closure of the post office in 1986. By the mid-1990s, this church had closed too. The post office, stores, school, and homes that used to stand here are long gone, leaving only this magnificent church behind.
Sometime in the early 2000s, the building was acquired by the Sumter County Historical Society and donated to the University of West Alabama. Plans began to relocate and restore the church on their campus but never became a reality, so she sits here, filled with a colony of bats that now call it home.