The city of Homewood, Alabama, was formed in 1926, yet it hosts a number of Christian congregations founded before 1900. Three of them were formed within the city’s current limits. The others followed their members in moving over Red Mountain from Birmingham.
I live and worship in Homewood, and am a historian of American religion at Samford University which is also in Homewood. Yet, I only really became interested in this topic last year when my student, Sam Rapp, was working with the Homewood Historic Preservation Commission on the history of Union Missionary Baptist Church. During our research the question arose, is it Homewood’s oldest church?
Homewood is a suburb of Birmingham. It has some 25,000 people and 8.4 square miles. Located immediately south of Red Mountain from Birmingham, it was the first of the “over the mountain” suburbs. The mountain rises about 500 feet above Birmingham, and when Birmingham was “the Iron City of the South,” it provided Homewood some protection from the city’s dirty air. Furthermore, in the age of “white flight,” the mountain became an instrument of segregation.
Yet, Homewood has always had some racial diversity. Its oldest neighborhood, Rosedale, was settled as a largely African American neighborhood in the 1880s and has remained so until today. In 1926 Rosedale united with Edgewood and Grove Park to form Homewood. Three years later Hollywood was added to the city. From the 1950s to the 1970s additional lands were annexed to the south and west.
Rosedale developed in the 1880s as a primarily African American community that was connected to Birmingham only by a foot path through Lone Pine Gap. Union Missionary Baptist Church is the oldest of its churches. The congregation was established in November 1887 and the oldest part of its current building constructed in 1914. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1888 and has occupied the same hill top site east of Union since that time. Its current building dates from 1950.
Slightly before the development of Rosedale, a Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized in the farming and dairying community known as Oak Grove. The church was located on the north side of Oxmoor Road near where I-65 crosses it today. Its location is commemorated by a historical marker placed just to the east in front of the Shell station at the intersection of Oxmoor Road and Greensprings Highway.
In 1955 with the annexation of Oak Grove the church became part of Homewood. In 1967 when the congregation was displaced by the construction of I-65, the congregation moved a third of a mile east to Columbiana Road. There it built a stately Colonial Revival building and changed its name to Homewood Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Its sign proudly states “est. 1883.” It was admitted to its presbytery two years later.
Fifteen years later, in 1898 a Cumberland Presbyterian church was located in the southern portion where today’s Homewood Central Park is located. In 1906 the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church voted to reunite its denomination with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Rosedale Cumberland Presbyterian Church followed the majority decision and entered the new denomination. The decision, however, split Oak Grove, most continued in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Those who wished to follow the denominational majority united with the Rosedale church to form Edgewood Presbyterian Church in 1912. Most of the time, Edgewood claims the 1912 founding date, but if the Rosedale congregation is seen as its beginning then it too is a nineteenth-century congregation.
The other congregations in Homewood with nineteenth-century origins began in Birmingham and followed their members over the mountain. Trinity United Methodist Church traces its beginning to a congregation founded in Birmingham’s Southside in 1889. That congregation closed in 1926 and its assets and the name Trinity were transferred to the new congregation organized in Homewood later that year.
Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church (established 1887) moved to Homewood after a fire destroyed its building its Southside church in 1949. Second Presbyterian Church (established 1882) also relocated to Homewood from the Southside. Its Southside building still stands on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham next to the Alys Stephens Center. It has served as the home of the UAB’s honors program. Both Our Lady of Sorrows and Second Presbyterian display the cornerstones of their former buildings on their current grounds.
The oldest congregation to cross the mountain to Homewood is First Baptist Church of Birmingham. It was established downtown with the City of Birmingham itself in 1871 and moved to Homewood in 1984. The most recent migrant appears to be Palisades Church of Christ. While its location is technically in Birmingham, it is immediately adjacent to Homewood’s city limits on Oxmoor Road. Palisades was formed in 1992 by the merger of West End and Central churches of Christ. The oldest congregations in these churches’ family trees was firmly established in 1895.
So what is Homewood’s oldest church?
- Homewood Cumberland Presbyterian Church (established 1883, admitted to the presbytery 1885) is the oldest congregation founded within the present City of Homewood.
- Union Missionary Baptist Church (1887) is the oldest congregation founded within what became the original City of Homewood.
- Union Missionary Baptist Church also worships in Homewood’s oldest church building (1914).
- First Baptist Church of Birmingham (1871) is the oldest congreation currently located within the City of Homewood.
For more information on these histories please visit the narratives linked to the church names. They are from church websites, Bhamwiki, and Magic City Religion. If you have information that suggests revisions to what I’ve written, please, let me know.