Jackson County Times

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Circle Hill Baptist Church is Reminder of Life at Old Parramore

by: Dale Cox
Parramore – As the Jackson County “ghost town” of Parramore faded into the past during the mid-20th century, so too did its churches, with one notable exception. Circle Hill Baptist Church at Old Parramore not only survives, but actually flourishes with its strongest membership in more than 35 years.

The story of Circle Hill is one unique to the story of early life in Jackson County. As is often the case, the adjoining Pine Level Cemetery actually predates the church by several decades. While early records are not complete, local tradition holds that the cemetery was established during the 1870s with the death of an infant child in the Valentine family. Older residents of the area later recalled how the father carried the baby’s tiny coffin up Pine Level Hill on his shoulders and buried his child beneath the beautiful old longleaf pines atop the hill.

Other graves followed. Two brothers were killed by lightning while fishing on the Chattahoochee River and were buried side by side at the cemetery. In 1883, Emily Hewett was buried at Pine Level. Hers is the oldest marked grave in the cemetery today, but aerial photographs reveal many unmarked interments that likely predate 1883.

Circle Hill Baptist Church itself began in 1901, when Old Parramore was at its height. The whistles of paddlewheel riverboats could be heard several times daily from the landings on the nearby Chattahoochee River and the constant sound of timbering and turpentine work echoed through the pines.

The original church was a brush arbor at Pine Level Cemetery. In 1913, however, the congregation moved to Oak Grove School, a small log building about one-half mile south of the cemetery. This structure was destroyed by a tornado in 1926. The storm proved a blessing in disguise, however, as it opened the way for Circle Hill to have a home of its own. A rough wood structure was built on the present grounds with money raised through the generosity of the Thomas Hewett family, which donated the proceeds from an acre of cotton to support the project.

The present beautiful white structure in the woods was built in 1957-1958. Of the churches that originally served Old Parramore, the Circle Hill congregation is the only one that continues weekly services to this day. A sister structure, Oak Grove Baptist Church, is now preserved as a memorial to the early settlers of the community and hosts an annual homecoming in October.

In the 42 years that have passed since the church got indoor plumbing in 1968, Circle Hill has seen remarkable growth. Attendance is up by more than 25% in a time when many churches across the nation are reporting decreases in membership. Much of the growth has come in the last six years.

Circle Hill Baptist Church will observe its 58th annual Homecoming on Sunday, May 2nd, with all of the elements of a traditional Southern celebration, including dinner, special music by The Parish Family, a message by guest speaker Brother Roland Gilliland…. and lots of reminiscing.

Editor’s Note: Writer and historian Dale Cox is the author of a number of books on Southern and Jackson County history, including Two Egg, Florida and Volumes I and II of his set, The History of Jackson County, Florida. His books are available locally at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna or online at www.amazon.com.

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