One of Holly Springs’ earliest churches, which went by several different names (Christian Church, Reformed Baptist Church, Primitive Baptists, Disciples of Christ and “Campbellite Church”) has been largely lost to history, though this “extinct” church is an ancestor to the modern Holly Springs Church of Christ.
Both the Campbellite/Reformed Baptist/Primitive Baptists and Church of Christ congregations originated in the “Restoration Movement” that began in the early 19th century when Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander Campbell attempted to restore “primitive” Christianity. Eventually, in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Restoration Movement split into several different sects, including the Disciples of Christ and the modern Church of Christ.
(Nota Bene: though the term “Campbellite” was used pejoratively by opponents of this congregation, it was the most common term used in antebellum times for this congregation, and will be the term used going forward in this post.)
In Holly Springs, the Campbellite Church was founded as early as May of 1836, just a few months after the first settlers arrived in the town, making the Campbellite Church one of the very earliest Christian congregations formed in Holly Springs. Campbellite missionary James N. Brown was likely responsible for the foundation of this congregation, as he wrote to the Millennial Harbinger (a Cambellite newspaper) in May of 1836 and described the congregation-
“I attended a call of some of the brethren at Holly Springs, now the county seat of Marshall County, where a church was constituted of upwards of twenty members, who there and then agreed to meet every Lord’d day for the reading of the word, prayer, praise, breaking the loaf, etc. I have since learned they continue steadfast.” – James N. Brown (May 10, 1836)
On January 13, 1837, the Campbellite Church received a lot for a church building near the corner of today’s Market Street and Gholson Avenue. The size, shape and construction method of this building is not known. The original trustees of the Campbellite Church were John Hardin, David Hardin, Thomas Loving and Edmund Coldwell. David (1770-1844) and John Hardin (1802-1865) were early settlers to Holly Springs, and John Hardin was one of the original stockholders of Holly Springs, making him a well-known and prestigious figure in early Holly Springs.
Contemporary sources show that the Campbellite Church of Holly Springs was one of the most active congregations in town during the earliest days, much to the chagrin of other congregations. The Campbellites seemed to have a particularly frosty relationship with the Methodist Episcopal Church (the progenitor of the modern United Methodist Church), which was- by a large degree- the largest congregation in Holly Springs in antebellum and Victorian times. In 1838, the Campbellite Church is described as one of the “four churches” of Holly Springs (the Episcopal Church would not be founded until a year later, in 1839). One of the most famous “Campbellites” in Holly Springs was Joseph Matthews, who eventually became Governor of Mississippi.
By 1842, the Campbellite Church had established a school, run by a “Hamilton”. This school was described as a “seminary” in 1843. In 1845, Joseph Greer preached at the “Christian Church” (Holly Springs Gazette). The Campbellite Congregation is last mentioned in a deed in 1846. It is unknown when the Campbellite Church began its decline, as the congregation was rarely mentioned in contemporary sources after 1845. The congregation was almost certainly disbanded by 1859, when the original church building was sold. According to some sources, the original church building was destroyed during the Civil War. The lot is empty by the time the earliest Sanborn Fire Maps (c. 1886) were drafted.
In the early 1900s, the Tyson House and Hotel (1900) was constructed on the north part of the Campbellite lot. Wooden garages were later constructed on the exact spot of the church building (see picture above). This important early Christian congregation was largely lost to history. Even famed local historian John Mickle, in an article written in 1930, confused the Campbellites for the early Baptist Church (whose earliest church buildings were located just to the south of the Campbellite Church).
Though the Campbellite Church went extinct before the Civil War, its modern successor is the Church of Christ, which was formed in Holly Springs before World War II. The members of this Church of Christ were even called “Campbellites” by some locals. Today, the old Campbellite Church lot is the parking lot of the old Greer and White insurance office.
Much of the preceding information comes from the McAlexander Collection at the University of Mississippi Archives and from local historian Bobby Mitchell, who is a modern “Campbellite” himself.