“Valley Creek Presbyterian Church is a historic Presbyterian church in Valley Grande, Alabama, United States. The two-story red brick church building was built in the Greek Revival-style from 1857–1859. The sanctuary and a mezzanine level, formerly a slave gallery, are located on the upper floor. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 28, 1976, due to its architectural significance.”1
AN OLD MOTHER CELEBRATES HER DAY
By Minnie L. Lardent
Published in The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 03, No. 01, Spring Issue 1941
Three miles north of Selma stands Valley Creek Church, the oldest Presbyterian house of worship in Alabama. In 1816, before Alabama was a state, when Selma was merely a bluff on the Alabama River, a fleet of covered wagons carrying eight families and their household goods journeyed from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, crossed the Chattahoochee River and finally came to the hills north of what is now Selma, where they pitched their tents.2
Built the church before their homes
Agreeing among themselves that they were not likely to find a spot better suited for a home than this “Pleasant Valley” as they called it, they decided to remain and at once took steps to secure a grant of land from the United States government. Then began the clearing of the forest, cutting of roads and cultivation of the soil. Like most early explorers, these people were devout and the thing of paramount importance to them was a place in which to worship. Their wives and children could live in the tents.
Homes could be built later—and at a later date many handsome homes were built in the neighborhood—but their first need was for a church.
First church was razed and a frame building arose
Accordingly, a site was selected and, all hands working together, trees were felled and a small log house was built. The rich fertile soil yielded more than these people ever dreamed that it would and a year later they decided that a larger and better church could be afforded. So the little log church was razed and a more pretentious frame building arose in its stead. Shortly after the new building was completed in 1817, the church was formally organized and the Reverend Francis Porter of Long Cane Church, Abbeville, South Carolina, was called to the pastorate.
First school in Dallas County
As there were no schools in the vicinity, this gentleman also taught the children of the settlers, thus launching the first school in Dallas County. These hardy pioneers were particularly fortunate in their selection of a locality, for, on the fringe of Alabama’s Black Belt, it was a soil that would grow anything that could be produced in the Temperate Zone. They had fought in the wars of the American Revolution and of 1812 and were inured to hardships and under the stimulus of their industry and thrift the rich virgin soil gave abundantly year after year.
Church was the centre of social life
From its beginning the Valley Creek Church was a centre around which the social life of the community gathered. For many years camp meetings were held there annually, drawing crowds from far and near. As God had prospered these people far beyond their hopes, they felt that they should give of their abundance to His service. They therefore contributed liberally of their funds and their moral support to whatever cause Presbyterianism of the state sponsored.
Assisted in the building of the First Presbyterian Church in Selma
They assisted financially in the building of the First Presbyterian Church in Selma, now one of the largest churches in the city. They also helped in the building of the Alabama Avenue Presbyterian Church of Selma, as well as Pisgah, Mount Pleasant and other churches of that denomination in the state.
First Presbyterian Church – Selma 1907 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Alabama Avenue Presbyterian Church in Selma, Alabama (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Second story uses as an auditorium
In 1857 the present church was built, a handsome two-story brick structure which stands today to all appearances as firm and strong as when it was completed, although the storms of eighty-four winters have passed over it. In the beginning, the second story was used as an auditorium by the members and the Negro slaves held their services in the lower floor on Sunday afternoons.
Valley Creek Presbyterian Church (Wikipedia)
Bronze tablet with names inscribed
Gone now are the handsome homes which once dotted the countryside; gone are the descendants of these people to the cities and to other states. There are not enough left to justify an all-time pastor, but to a handful of devoted women goes the credit of keeping up the sentiment and preserving the memories of the historic structure. At the entrance to the building is a bronze tablet on which is inscribed the names of the early fathers of the church, placed there by the Woman’s Auxiliary.
Also due to the efforts of these women, the Association of Descendants of the Early Families was organized several years ago. The day devoted to mothers was chosen as the most fitting on which to honor this old Mother of Presbyterianism in the state and so, on each Mother’s Day homecoming is celebrated. Descendants of the men who thought it meet that a place of worship be built ‘before they provided themselves with material comforts, gather from the surrounding country, from nearby cities and from far distant states to spend a day at this venerable old shrine of their forefathers.
Program in the hands of the descendants
By eleven o’clock the auditorium of the church is filled to overflowing. As far as possible the program is in the hands of the descendants. There is music, both vocal and instrumental by talented musicians. The Holy Communion is administered by young men, themselves elders in other Presbyterian churches. Then there is a sermon by some eminent divine who considers it an honor to be invited to speak.
At the close of the service, shortly after the noon hour, baskets are brought forth, their contents arranged on snowy cloths in the shade of the old trees that surround the edifice and a sumptuous dinner is served in the traditional old-fashioned style. Fried chicken, boiled ham, pickles, buttered rolls, hot coffee, lemon pie and other trimmings that the true Southerner deems essential to a well rounded picnic dinner are there in such abundance that every one present forgets whatever ailment he or she may have and just eats and eats and eats.
Outstanding incidents remembered
The afternoon session includes talks on the historical significance of Valley Creek Church and outstanding incidents of its one hundred and more years of existence. Then there is a memorial hour when tributes are paid to members who have passed on during the year. New officers of the Association of Descendants are then elected for the following year and after farewells are said all depart for their various homes.
In its setting of century-old oaks, serene, in the dignity of age and the consciousness of years well spent—of services graciously rendered—this beloved old “Mother of Presbyterianism in Alabama” stands as if guarded by an eternal blessing. Looking back upon a purposeful past, she also gazes forward hopefully to a future of further usefulness in Selma, Ala. .
Valley Creek Cemetery
About a mile and a half from the old church is Valley Creek Cemetery, the spot selected and prepared by the first settlers for a final resting place. These Scotch-Irish who, with their families, braved the hardships and privations, the Indians and other dangers of a new country, who cleared the forest, built homes and lived ‘worthy lives in this Pleasant Valley, and whose good deeds returned to them as prosperity, now rest under the cedars and oaks, awaiting the coming day.
A visit to the place where these old pioneers, their families and four generations of their descendants now sleep, proves interesting.
One finds there an atmosphere of quiet dignity, a brooding stillness, broken only by the murmur of the wind in the trees and the notes of the feathered choir. Every tree in the enclosure has its hallowed associations. There are shrubbery and flowers in abundance in season, many of them descendants of the ones planted by loving hands in that long ago time when the once sturdy pioneers, grown feeble, began to “rest from their labors.”
Cemetery is well-kept
The place is better kept than most old burying grounds, perhaps because it is still in use. Occasionally a descendant who has gone out into the world passes on and the remains are brought back to be interred with other descendants.
Usually, these old cemeteries are cluttered with fallen underbrush and stones that are broken, moss-covered, or aslant across sunken graves. Scattered all through this enclosure, however, are monuments erected long years ago that are still well preserved.
Original settlers buried in cemetery
It is interesting to read the names and inscriptions on these stones. It is said that all of the original settlers are buried here, the Morrisons, William and Robert, brothers; John and Carson, sons of Robert; Chris Osborn; Enoch Morgan; James and William Russell and their wives. Here are the graves of Caleb Tate and William Morrison who fought in the war of the Revolution.
Under another stone lies Major James Russell, a veteran of the war of 1812. He also fought with Andrew Jackson in his war against the Indians.
Here are graves of men who fought in the Mexican War.
There are some who gave their lives in defense of their country during the sixties. In fact, every able-bodied man in the community shouldered a musket and went forth to meet the Yankee when Abraham Lincoln declared war against the South. Some of them failed to return. Some of the men who remained at home too old to fight, lost their lives when General Wilson captured.
Monuments to noble intrepid women
Here are monuments erected to the memory of the noble intrepid women who brought their children and shared with their husbands the hardships and privations of pioneer life; women who bore their burdens courageously and reared their children to be God-fearing men and women.
Here are graves of the women of Valley Creek Church who contributed largely to the cause of the Confederacy in the making of clothes and other supplies for the soldiers of the South. During the World War another generation of these Valley Creek women rendered distinguished service in food conservation and other work. And there are graves of women who, through the years have been largely responsible for keeping alive and carrying forward ‘the traditions of the old Valley Creek Church.
2The founding family members were former congregants of the Rocky River Presbyterian Church, organized in 1751 (Wikipedia)
Click this link to see Valley Creek Presbyterian facebook page with additional photographs of the interior.
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