Huge Fire Destroys Historic College Hill Presbyterian Church
Sanctuary was engulfed in flames around 10:30 pm on Saturday, August 13, 2022
College Hill Presbyterian Church, one of the most historic buildings in all of North Mississippi, was destroyed by fire on Saturday, August 13, 2022. Located less than five miles from the Oxford Square, in the community of College Hill, the sanctuary is the oldest church building of any denomination in the Oxford area and the oldest Presbyterian church in North Mississippi.
The fire started around 10:30 pm and the Lafayette County Fire Department responded to the blaze with assistance from the Oxford Fire Department. The Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department issued an official first responder traffic advisory at 11:30 pm for College Hill Road and County Road 103.
Local residents say the fire is a complete loss of the sanctuary. The cemetery and fellowship hall were not destroyed in the fire.
College Hill Presbyterian Church was organized on January 11, 1835, in the home of Alexander Shaw, one of the early Scot-Irish settlers in the area. Originally the church was named Neriah Church, but shortly thereafter it was re-designated Ebenezer Church.
In 1836 members migrated to this area, and on January 11, 1841, the church was renamed College Presbyterian Church in recognition of the founding of the North Mississippi College.
In 1842 the congregation paid $400 for 23 acres on which to construct a public place of worship. The sanctuary was built in 1844 under the direction of Francis Timmons. Constructed of bricks fired on the site, the building was completed in 1846 at a total cost of $2,809.75. The pulpit, the pews, and the pew gates are the original furnishings.
During the Civil War, the Union army camped around the church and College Hill area in November and December of 1862. The troops were under the direction of General William Tecumseh Sherman, who used the sanctuary as his headquarters. The church cemetery contains a number of unmarked Union soldiers’ graves, along with slave burial sites, and many Confederate soldiers’ burial sites as well.
Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner married Estelle Oldham in the church on June 20, 1929.
The Session’s original Minutes, dating back to the 1835 organizational meeting, are safeguarded in a local bank. Local residents report that the church’s generations old Bible on display in the pulpit was saved from the fire.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation.
Video of the blaze at the College Hill Presbyterian Church shot by College Hill resident Shawn Bennett.
Newt Rayburn Newt Rayburn founded THE LOCAL VOICE in March of 2006.
Previously, Newt was Editor of PROFANE EXISTENCE in Minneapolis, and Art Director for Ole Miss' LIVING BLUES magazine. Newt won a National Magazine Award in 1999 for his SOUTHERN MUSIC ISSUE with THE OXFORD AMERICAN.
A seventh-generation Lafayette County, Mississippian, Newt Rayburn's alter ego—Neuter Cooter—lead the Mississippi band THE COOTERS to Rocknoll Glory across the USA from 1993-2018.
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