‘The Church in the Wildwood’ Old song, old church, old town have much in common

Published 12:13 am Sunday, October 14, 2012

ROCKY SPRINGS — The sound of music nearly as old as the building itself carried from the historic Rocky Springs Church into the loam hills along the old Natchez Trace Saturday morning during the second annual fall gospel singing.

“We’re going to start with ‘The Church in the Wildwood,’” said Nate Holman who led the singing. “That’s what we’ve got right here, a church in the wildwood.”

The hymn, written in 1857, is from a time when Rocky Springs was a thriving town of more than 2,000 residents and the church had just celebrated its 20th anniversary.

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The church, the town and the song all eventually fell by the wayside. Today, a sign in the woods proclaims the town of Rocky Springs to have a population of zero. The church was de-consecrated June 30, 2010, and ownership of the building was transferred to a nonprofit Friends of Rocky Springs Church.

“The Church in the Wildwood” is rare enough that Holman pulled and copied it from an obscure hymnal.

“I couldn’t find it anywhere else, so I had to make photocopies,” Holman said.

A group of about 25 spent the morning and afternoon flipping through the photocopied stack of sacred songs and the United Methodist Hymnal and calling out the numbers of their favorites for the singalong.

“It’s great to have them back in here. It’s always good to have people come and visit,” said George Cranfield, the caretaker of the church grounds who lives about eight miles from the church.

Cranfield was one of three regular members when the church closed in 2010. It was a tough decision to close the church, he said, and two years later, he still hasn’t found a regular church home.

“We tried to keep going, but with the three of us, we just couldn’t do it,” he said.

The church remains open 24 hours a day for visitors along the Trace, and is rented for weddings and family reunions but rarely church events, Cranfield said. A church homecoming is every April, and Holman said he plans to host the fall gospel event every October as long as he is able.

“I love singing, and I love the old songs,” said Holman, who lives in Waveland. “You don’t hear the old songs much anymore.”

Upkeep for the church site, which contains a cemetery with graves dating to the 1840s, is financed through private donations, which has dropped off as the economy has weakened and fewer people are traveling the Trace, Holman said.

Though donations have been weak in recent years, visitors still sign the guestbook and leave money to benefit the historic building.

“I’ve met people from all over the world here,” Holman said.