The precious things are always removed first. They’re handled with care, preserved, and safeguarded so as not to disturb their history or perceived beauty. Careful hands wrap them in padded blankets or quilts and gently set them in an arrangement that will in no way cause a fracture. The pieces that are disposable or not as aesthetically pleasing are swept into a pile or thrown away or burned or sold. And so goes the process of preparing for the demolition of a building.
That same process has begun for the building that stands at the corner of Campbell and Deaderick Street in midtown Jackson. Most Jackson residents recognize this building as the site of West Jackson Baptist Church from 1952 to 1997. After West Jackson joined the migration to North Jackson, the building was used by Christ the King Church and Mount Zion Baptist Church. A few months ago, it was announced that the building will be razed, and the property will become part of phase two of the Jackson Walk. This time next year, a building that was a staple of midtown will be gone and will only exist in photographs and memories. Two things make a building what it truly is: the physical structure itself and the people who inhabit that structure during its life.
After 1952, if you found yourself driving north on Johnson Street, you would see one of the most unique examples of architecture in Jackson. There is a triangular point at the apex of the building, and the apex is bookended by two square columns that are clearly the broad shoulders of the façade. This view of the building gives it an undoubted strength and shows it as a place of possible refuge, both spiritually and physically. In 2003, the building was actually used as a shelter during and after the tornadoes. Through the entrance you would be led straight to the sanctuary, which is literally defined as “a place of refuge.” For over fifty years, members of the three churches that populated the building prayed, sang, laughed, cried, and developed lifelong friendships under the safety of the brick and mortar and the sheer fortitude of the structure.
Seemingly to offset the brawn of the building’s shoulders, an arch-shaped face was built just beneath the pinnacle. If looked upon in a certain way, the entrance almost had the appearance of a human face. The mouth being the doors where members would enter. The eyes were the beautiful, pencil-shaped stained glass windows where light would ethereally transform a Sunday morning service. The soft curves of the archway stood in quiet opposition to the brick shoulders and the pointed pinnacle that surrounded it. The curves were elegant and welcoming and were a gentle foil to the hard power of the encompassing brick. The architecture was perfect for a building that was to be used as a church: the strength of the brick and the meekness of the curved arches . . . a physical picture of the Christ that was worshipped there for so many years.
The soul of the building, however, belonged to the people who inhabited it. In 1952, West Jackson Baptist Church moved its congregation into the brand new building. The church had outgrown its previous buildings and needed more space. For forty-five years, members of West Jackson watched their church grow in the heart of town. For close to ten years, Union University, Calvary Baptist Church, and West Jackson all called midtown Jackson home. In 1975, Union moved away from its Lexington Avenue home and into a new campus in North Jackson. Nine years later, Calvary Baptist moved its congregation north of its Lexington Avenue location to a new home on Oil Well Road. West Jackson, however, remained in midtown until 1997.
During the forty-five years West Jackson occupied the building, there were weddings, funerals, baptisms, potlucks, and any other Baptist tradition one could imagine. The building bore witness to it all, and the people who called that building home shared in life-changing moments within the security of the structure. Regardless of the physical appearance of a building, a building is only useful if it is inhabited. If the people no longer have a need for the building, it becomes obsolete. As the century closed, there was growing concern about the neighborhood where the church was located, and the greener pastures (literally) of North Jackson beckoned. In October of 1997, West Jackson moved its congregation to an enormous building on Oil Well Road, leaving the Deaderick Street location was home to two other congregations after West Jackson left, but it will always be associated with its original owner. Christ the King Church followed West Jackson, and Mount Zion followed Christ the King. After Mount Zion, there was nothing.
The building sat in its current location, empty, for a few years. The school that was adjacent to the church was purchased by the city because the school system couldn’t afford to have it demolished. The church still sat, looking somewhat weaker than it used to look. The strong shoulders didn’t seem as broad as they once did. The welcoming arch seemed to reflect more of a sadness rather than a comfort. And, last month, the building began to be systematically taken apart. Whatever life the building once held, that life doesn’t exist anymore. Healthy Community, LLC purchased the building and will tear it down to begin phase two of the Jackson Walk.
Fittingly, the building will no longer remain in order for new life to grow in that area of the community. If ever a messianic picture was painted, this is it. Regardless of what comes next, the structure that once stood in that location for over sixty years will be gone. Hopefully it can be remembered for what it was.
I drive past this building every day when I’m leaving The Lift. Honestly, it sits right in front of one of the most confusing two-way stop signs in Jackson. When I drive up Johnson Street, though, I see the face of the building and the broad shoulders on which it sits. Lately I’ve seen the process of the end. Each time I drive by the building, I see something missing. At first I would just see a random pile of trash from inside. A few days later, though, I began to see missing stained glass. The building began to take on the appearance of someone who was missing their teeth. Day by day, the building is dying. Whatever life it once had doesn’t exist anymore. The reincarnation process has begun.
When I was a junior in high school, I sat in the balcony of this building and attended the funeral of someone who passed away much too soon. The summer before my freshman year of college, I sat in one of the pews with my friend Nikki and watched my former youth minister get married. At the reception in the basement, I met his new sister-in-law, Leslie, and thus began one of my first significant relationships with the opposite sex. For a long time after that day, I could still see her standing on those steps in her blue dress. Concrete objects are anchors for all of our memories.
Twenty years from now, the building will exist only in our minds and in our pictures. The building will never be as important as the memories that it anchors. Twenty years from now, homes or apartments will dot the landscape where a church once stood. One more piece of architecture will be gone and replaced by another. But the importance of a building is not set in the mortar and brick. It is set, permanently, in our memory.
Gabe Hart is an English and Language Arts teacher at Northeast Middle School. He was born and raised in Jackson, graduating from Jackson Central-Merry in 1997 and Union University in 2001. Gabe enjoys spending time and traveling with his daughter, Jordan, who is eight years old. His hobbies include reading, writing, and playing sports . . . even though he’s getting too old for the last one. Gabe lives in Midtown Jackson and has a desire to see all of Jackson grow together.
Photographer Courtney Searcy likes to design things, take pictures, and write words that tell good stories about their community. Jackson became home after she graduated from Union University in 2014, where she studied Graphic Design and Journalism. She currently works as a graphic design specialist at Union while continuing to make paper goods on the side via her business Fine Company. She thinks the best things in life are porch swings, brunch, art, music, and friends to share it all with.