Travelers Rest Academy returns to long-standing history of Christian education

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2023

Since its formation, Travelers Rest Missionary Baptist Church has provided its members with spiritual guidance and support and in later years provided education for area children through its Travelers Rest Academy.

According to the church’s history, Travelers Rest’s story began with a small group of people who met in 1913 in a home on Reed Street. As the congregation grew, it moved to a home at the intersection of Madison and Levee streets and by 1922 moved into a building on Pearl Street under the leadership of the Rev. John I. Williams. Under Williams, the church held its first revival, which brought an additional 27 people into the fold, the junior and senior choirs were formed and the church’s missionary society and usher board were formed.

Williams served as pastor until 1932 and was succeeded by the Rev. Joseph Henry Williams, who served until his
death in 1972. During his tenure as pastor, the church was severely damaged by fire and then rebuilt on the
same site.

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Williams was succeeded by the Rev. Thomas Baldwin, who served as pastor until his death in 1991 and
was succeeded by the Rev. Thomas E. Bernard, who later became Travelers Rest’s first full-time pastor who was involved in the development of church outreach programs and the transition in 1994 from the church holding two services a month to every Sunday.

Also during this period, according to the church’s history, Travelers Rest held its first leadership conference and became incorporated with bylaws. The church later purchased a two-story house for tutoring and mentoring youth and in 2000, the church acquired its recent home, buying the Bowmar Avenue Baptist Church after
that congregation left to become what is now Crossway Church.

Travelers Rest Academy opened in 2001 with 15 children and grew to 175 children from 6 months to sixth grade before closing. In a July Vicksburg Post article on the school’s reopening, school director Janet Watts said the idea for the school began in 2000, with Bernard.

“He said we have a lot of students here and he said we needed to start our own school,” Watts said. “By him saying that, and I was an educator, I said ‘OK,’ so we started the school.

“We got a lot of help from Porter’s Chapel Academy when we first began,” Watts said. “They showed us how to get accredited and showed us how to get this school started in a Christian way.”

Bowmar Elementary, she said, helped when Traveler’s Rest got ready for reading and science fairs by allowing the school to hold its fairs at the school.

At the time, Watts said, Travelers Rest Academy “was a great school; well-known all over Mississippi.”

The school uses the Abeka curriculum, which is a Christian education program.

“Everything is Christian, including the Bible,” Watts said. “We are non-denominational as far as school is concerned, but the church is Baptist.”

“We will not teach Baptist doctrine,” said the Rev. Dr. General Bryant Jr., Travelers Rest’s present pastor.

Bryant said he is excited about the school’s return.

“I’ve heard a lot about school life,” he said. “Prior to coming here from Tallahassee, Fla., I did my research on it and they had a lot of positive things to say about the school. I also talked to local officials and a lot of them came through this school or their children came through this school. They are very excited.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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