By Alyssa Schnugg
The historic College Hill Presbyterian Church was destroyed in a fire late Saturday night.
Located on County Road 102, the fire started at about 11 p.m. The Lafayette County Fire Department responded and was assisted by the Oxford Fire Department.
Shawn Bennett, a College Hill resident, got a text from a relative about the fire and headed over to the church at about 11 p.m.
“Before I even got there the sky was just blazing orange,” Bennett said. “When I got there, the fire was fully involved.”
Bennett remained on the scene to watch the fate of the church.
“I thought at first they might be able to save it but it was a complete loss,” Bennett said. “The firefighters fought really hard but they just couldn’t stop it.”
Bennett captured the fire in photographs and videos that have made their way across social media sites Sunday morning.
According to a press release from the Lafayette County Fire Department, the first units arrived on the scene at 11:04 p.m. to find the rear of the structure fully involved. LCFD Engine 10 stretched a line to the rear to begin a fire attack. A second handline was stretched to the front door to begin an interior attack. Interior crews found the fire had spread to the attic space of the structure. As the integrity of the structure deteriorated the decision was made to pull all interior crews out and switch to a defensive fire attack.
All units cleared the scene at 3:20 a.m. No injuries were reported. LCFD FD3, DC2, E10, E4, E17, T17, E7, B10 and 25 firefighters responded to the scene. Oxford Fire Dept. T1, E1, B1 and personnel responded as a mutual aid request.
The church was started on January 11, 1835, in the home of Alexander Shaw, one of the early Scot-Irish settlers in north Mississippi, according to the CHPC website. Originally the church was named Neriah Church, but shortly thereafter it was re-designated Ebenezer Church. 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, built in 1844 under the direction of Francis Timmons, is the oldest Presbyterian structure in North Mississippi and the oldest church building of any denomination in the Oxford area.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The pulpit, the pews, and the pew gates are the original furnishings.
The grounds of the church served as an encampment for Union troops under Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.
It was also the place where Mississippi author, William Faulkner, married his wife, Estelle, in 1929.
The church cemetery contains a number of unmarked Union soldiers’ graves, along with slave burial sites and many Confederate soldiers’ burial sites.
The cemetery, along with the fellowship hall were not destroyed in the fire.
The church announced on its Facebook page that Sunday School was canceled; however, the regular Sunday worship service would carry on this morning in the Fellowship Hall.
“We encourage you to join us as we celebrate our time as a church in the beautiful sanctuary, mourn its burning, and ask for the Lord’s comfort and guidance,” stated the Facebook post.
The cause of the fire was unknown Sunday morning.