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Today is November 21, 2017

Mississippi Seen

Rodney church escaped war but not aging

Rodney church escaped war but not aging

The Rodney Presbyterian Church is one of a small handful of original buildings still standing from the heyday of a Mississippi river port town. Rodney was nearly as important as the better-known towns that flank it, Natchez and Vicksburg. Most of the town has vanished. Attempts are being made to save the church. Photo: Walt Grayson

    Now that spring is almost here it’s time to take some road trips to see the world coming alive again after the harsh winter we had that one weekend back in January. Well, maybe it was cold more than just one weekend, but not much more.
    I started seeing those early signs of spring that I associate with the first part of March popping out in February while on a road trip to the old Mississippi River Port town of Rodney to get some fresh shots of the Rodney Presbyterian Church. The woods were putting on that slight haze of color as sprouts peeked out through winter limbs. Even azaleas were blooming before Valentine’s Day.
    My destination, the old church in Rodney, was dedicated in 1832. Back then Rodney had two banks, nearly two dozen stores and about 500 people living there.
    Although it was a thriving port on the Mississippi River, Rodney stayed relatively unscathed during the Civil War unlike its neighbor, Vicksburg, some 40 or so miles to the north—with at least one notable exception: There is a cannonball lodged in the front wall of the Presbyterian church. The scar shows where the church building took a hit from a Union gunboat as it shelled the town in an attempt to free some of its sailors, who had gone ashore one Sunday morning to worship at the church. They were captured by Confederates who had gotten wind the sailors were there.
    Although thriving then, the town started dwindling shortly after the war when the river suddenly changed course and kicked west of Rodney about two miles. As the river moved away so did the people, to the extent that the church stopped having regular services by 1922.
    Now, I have been taking pictures of the old Presbyterian Church at Rodney for over 25 years. It was one of my early destinations when I started doing my own stories at WLBT. Back then the church had just undergone several years of renovation and was to be dedicated the following Sunday. It was pristine. New shutters, interior cleaned and remodeled.
    But now, for over a quarter century, I’ve watched the building slowly slip back into old age. The new paint weathered. The shutters rotted and fell away. Cracks appeared in the brickwork that had never been noticed before. The doors, once locked and secured, grew so flimsy that they would hardly close, much less lock.
    Individuals and groups have come along through the years to keep the grass mowed, clean up, replace windowpanes and try to secure the church.
    But in spite of all the efforts, the inevitable aging of the building has outpaced the energy and especially the funds of the volunteers. Now a dire situation has begun to happen; one of the brick walls is forming a buckle at the bottom. And reinforcing a buckling brick wall is way above the restoration-pay-grade of any of the volunteers who are keeping the building alive right now.
    Legislation has been introduced for a bond issue that would benefit the Rodney Foundation with enough funds to shore up the building and also do some face lifting. Hopefully, other farsighted plans can be made to save the old church.
    Rodney Presbyterian Church is a great road trip destination right now. And tourism is a vast part of the economics in that part of the state, from Natchez up Highway 61 into the Delta. But nobody is going to be very interested in going to see where something used to be.

    Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Contact Grayson at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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