TALLADEGA NATIONAL FOREST — The hewn-log Shoal Creek Baptist Church in the Talladega National Forest near Fruithurst is one of six structures named this week to a list of threatened historic structures.
The 123-year-old church’s original floor joists and foundation piers are failing, causing the floor to sag in places, according to Shoal Creek Preservation Society’s Alan Jones, 62, who also serves as the secretary/treasurer of the nonprofit group.
The Alabama Historical Commission included the church on its 2018 Places in Peril list, announced earlier this week. Unaware of the designation until a reporter called on Tuesday, Jones responded, “Well, very good, that’s good news.”
Jones said he was “cautiously optimistic” the church would be included on the list because of its popularity. It’s the picturesque setting of Sacred Harp singing every Labor Day. The church is also used for other events, such as weddings and family reunions.
Jones nominated the church for the list to help bring awareness to its condition and to gain credibility with possible donors. The repairs needed are beyond the society’s budget, skills and knowledge.
Jones said the preservation society, which owns the church, is interested not only in preserving the church itself but also in preserving the names associated with the church dating back more than 100 years.
The Missionary Baptist Church was built in the 1880s but burned down and was replaced by the current church in 1895, according to the preservation society’s website.
Because the building is listed with The National Register of Historic Places, of the U.S. Department of the Interior, any restoration and repairs would have to use “like materials” according to Jones.
This is the 25th year for the Alabama Historical Commission to release a Places in Peril list. According to the Historical Commission, the list has included bridges, caves and antebellum houses. The goal of the list is to bring preservation into the forefront and to show how important it is to save Alabama’s history.
Even though the building needs repairs, Jones said it is still safe to occupy during the annual singings.
“No one’s in jeopardy coming to the singings,” Jones said, adding the building is not a liability.
“We have been aware that we can’t not do this, its original construction but it can’t stand forever without attention,” Jones said.
Jones said the current floor was replaced in the 1940s due to a fire but that the floor joists were never replaced and are original.
The church is nestled in a clearing of towering pines and hardwoods about a half-mile up a bumpy dirt road off of Cleburne County Road 61 in Talladega National Forest. An adjoining covered pavilion is used during the annual singing for serving food.
Behind the church is a cemetery with rows of irregular rocks serving as tombstones, poking through green ferns. Some of the graves are marked, including one of a former Confederate soldier who died July 3, 1924.
The Pinhoti Trail passes behind the cemetery, and a sign marks the church to inform hikers of its history.
During a visit to the church on Tuesday, it appeared solid, despite the roof’s sagging ridgeline; Jones said it had been like that for some time. To enter the church one must lift a rusty nail affixed to chain from a hasp that holds the wooden door shut.
Inside, a few copies of the Ten Commandments were seen on a few of the 19 wooden pews that surround a black wooden pulpit. The wooden logs that form the walls are either white or red oak, according to Jones, who said the builders used trees they found on the property. Pops and cracks from the rafters heating in the July sun and an errant bee buzzing around were the only sounds heard in the darkened one-room sanctuary.
Jones said a historical marker was erected at the church last Labor Day during the Sacred Harp singing. Jones’ dad, Joe Jones, 87, and his brother Houston secured the marker during the unveiling ceremony.
The elder Jones said he was delighted when he found out that Shoal Creek Church was included on the list.