Historical society seeks help gathering Crenshaw County church histories

Published 1:37 am Thursday, December 22, 2022

In Spring of 2021, the Crenshaw County Historical Society began investigating the history of the county’s churches, those still operating as well as those no longer meeting.

Now organizers are asking communities to come forward with information they may have about local churches and cemeteries.

“The project was in the back of our minds because it was one of the original goals when the Historical Society formed in 1990,” said Crenshaw County Historical Society President Oleta Owens. “Church is an integral part of a community, especially in the South. Churches are what communities are centered around.”

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Owens said some churches do not keep a written history, but information may be found on church bulletins, cookbooks used for fundraisers, and even in the homes of families whose ancestors served within a church.

“I was a member at Lapine Methodist Church, and I have the history,” Owens said. “It’s a pretty well written history. So far, the churches I’ve gotten in touch with have no written history or it hasn’t been located yet.”

Some churches document history with a plaque or cornerstone, Owens said. Black churches, she explained, sometimes have no written history but usually do have a cornerstone identifying people involved with forming the church.

Pam Campbell, the group’s recording secretary and treasurer, said the growing trend to research ancestry and their DNA often leads people to discover ties to Crenshaw County.

“Usually when they contact us for information, we go to the cemeteries and the churches and say, ‘This is where your ancestor is buried. This is where they went to church,’” Campbell said. “It’s a key factor in helping someone discover who they are and where they come from.”

According to Owens, nearly 200 churches have existed within the County, some started even before the County formed officially in 1866. After compiling a list, she and Campbell traveled county roads to set eyes on each one and learn what they could about the histories and collecting information on schools and communities as well as churches.

“Many times, we didn’t see a school, but we did see a church,” Campbell said. “Often, the church and school and maybe even the town hall were all in one building.”

The society has already gathered many interesting stories. Grace Bible Church, for example, was once called Redeemers of the Breach, and had been founded as Vernledge Methodist Church, Vernledge being a name representing the area between Luverne and Rutledge.

“Ed Walker told us that one of his relatives had built the church,” Owens said. “He was getting married and his to-be wife was a Methodist. She wanted to get married in the Methodist Church so he built her the church.”

The society welcomes citizens to come forward with information they may have about church histories, Owens said. The group hopes families will share what they have and also join in the effort to compile the information.

“Our goal is to publish a book,” Owens said. “Sales from the book will help fund future projects and improvements at the museum.”

To share or inquire about Crenshaw County church histories, contact Oleta Owens at (334) 850-2788 or Pam Campbell at (352) 406-4732.