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Today is June 3, 2020

Mississippi Seen

Church Hill community rises again

By Walt Grayson

Church Hill community rises again

It has been a couple of decades since the first time I drove up Highway 553 between the Emerald Mound exit on the Natchez Trace, north of Natchez, and then back to the Trace at the Fayette exit. It’s a loop about 15 or so miles long, I guess. The ride is pleasant enough. Off through the trees every now and again you can catch a glimpse of one of the old antebellum plantation homes that managed to survive here. There are about a dozen of them. You can’t see all of them from the road. But you pass by the gates that lead back to them.

Springfield Plantation may be the most famous. It is privately owned, now. But it used to be open for tours. Springfield is where Andrew Jackson married Rachel Robards — the first time. They went through another ceremony in Nashville later after discovering Rachel wasn’t quite divorced when they married in Mississippi. Well, it wasn’t Mississippi yet. The area was still controlled by Spain. And Spain didn’t recognize protestant marriages at that time, anyway. (Wait a minute. I am straying way off track from what I wanted to write about. Sorry.)

Anyway. Back to the Highway 553 loop. The gem of the byway is Christ Church about two-thirds of the way up from the Natchez end. And unlike the old homes, the old church is in plain view, atop the rise at the fork of 553 and Church Hill Road. You can’t miss it. 

Two hundred years ago Christ Church was the center of the Church Hill community, a community built around cotton growing. Over time erosion, the Civil War, the boll weevil and the young folks moving away depleted the community of the number of people it takes to make a living here. And when the people go, usually the church also ends up going right with them. Which Christ Church did, ceasing full time services in the 1990s.

However, last month there were over 300 people back at Christ Church to celebrate its 200th anniversary. Plus, it has started baby steps back into full time church-hood with an afternoon service every second Sunday of the month.

What happened? People have started coming back to Church Hill in enough numbers to bring things back to life, somewhat. And what is bringing the people back? Well, it’s not a resurgence of farming or any other tenuous thing like that. They are relocating to Church Hill just to be here, to live here, to restore the old homes, some of them, and make a life here. And Christ Church is a part of that life.

I have seen many thriving places evaporate in Mississippi in just the few years I have been doing television stories around the state. How nice it is to see one of them beginning to come back to life. And how appropriate for that to happen right here at Easter. 

 

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.” He lives in Brandon and is a Central Electric member. Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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