It is true that I’ve written more about Linden where I was raised, and Demopolis where I spent a lot of my youth, and where I moved in 1964, but I’ve also taken great pride in penning words about every other little nook and corner of our county, and I realize that many folks, especially north of the Bogue, and other folks who have moved into our county don’t know a bunch of information about tucked away places and faces, like the once bustling towns of Dayton and Magnolia, which have both seen the last of real bustling and commerce as once was.
I’ve enjoyed drafting and reporting on churches in the history of our county from the big Baptist churches to the once thriving Jewish Synagogue in Demopolis, which now houses the well received and important Food Pantry, and I remember when the Catholic Church north of the Bogue was fully staffed with nuns in their habits, and several priests in flowing robes. When I visited my Uncle Sam Jackson across the street from the Catholic Church I was spellbound while watching them walk by, and more so when one of them stopped to speak to me, and to my amazement, they spoke in English.
Well, let me write on a bit more here, and this time a short report on a tucked away community and tucked away 150-year-old church. The story is from a spot a little southeast of Linden at the confluence of County Road 33 running south from Hugo and 47 coming northwest from the Magnolia area that after the Civil War John Henry Guinn came to that area, having recently been released from an eight-sided prison camp, and oversaw the construction of an octagon shaped church in honor of his freedom, and in 1868, 48 members moved their letters from the Shiloh Baptist Church and organized the Bethlehem Baptist Church. That was 150 years ago this past September.
The story continues that the surrounding community took its name of “Octagon” from that church, and let it be known right here that was long before Octagon Soap was put on the market. (Just had to chunk in a little humor as I’m prone to try to do from time to time). Anyhow, the official church book states that the community life revolved around that church and still does to this day. The book reports that Bethlehem had a city location as Octagon was quite the thriving community at that time with its own post office established around 1876, and people as well as business entities settled in and around the hub of the church although muddy roads hindered transportation mighty bad.
Bethlehem lost a good number of members when U.S. High 43 was paved, and some wanted a building on the hard surfaced road, thus starting up Calvary Baptist, which is there on the highway yet. Bethlehem remained on, and eventually got to enjoy the pleasure of driving up on Sunday morning on a blacktop road.
As much as I thought I always knew the history of this county pretty well, it was not until the mid to late seventies when I was the lawyer for the newly formed South Marengo County Water and Fire Protection Authority that I learned Octagon had depended on cisterns and hauled in water for drinking. Working with Wilfred Hale, J.P. Bedingfield, Curtis Johnson and Rita Hill, it was a pleasure for me to play a small part in bringing flowing water to that eight-sided community.
There have been family names connected with this church and community that have been dear to my family and to me over the years such as Barkley, Glass, Miller, Cobb, Moore, Whitcomb, Hill, Braswell, Bradford, Thomas, Suddath, Hale, Huckabee, Mayton, Williamson, Dunn, Cannon, Guinn, Hinson, Mooring, Westbrook and Perkins, and a number of those family names endure in that church today, including the oldest living member, and World War II veteran, Joe Mooring.
Live on Octagon and Bethlehem, and a Merry Christmas to you all.
— Tom Boggs is a columnist for the Demopolis Times and a native of Marengo County. His column,“Days Gone Bye,” appears weekly.
(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, December 12 issue of the Demopolis Times.)