‘The church in the valley’

Homecoming service held April 3 at Hard Labor Church in Vernon featured more than the traditional celebration of church history; it also looked toward restorations that would mean the 90-year-old church could be enjoyed by more generations in years to come.

Despite the occasional wedding or funeral service, the church has not been active since 1987; however, former parishioners, members of the community, and local history lovers recently gathered there to celebrate homecoming and discuss efforts to repair damage caused when trees fell on the church roof during Hurricane Michael in 2018. Although volunteers have long removed the trees and made roof repairs, significant structural damage remains and will require specialized repairs to preserve the building’s unique workmanship.

“Volunteers accomplished removal of the trees and the roof repair, but closer examination revealed underside structural damage that will need repair to ensure the church’s stability,” said Lynda Waller of the Vernon Historical Society. “Without correction, eventually the building will collapse in on itself, and the church will become susceptible to more damage. The Vernon Historical Society, working with the community, is attempting to raise both awareness of this condition and funding for repairs of the building as our major project for 2022.”

Originally known as Washington Primitive Baptist Church, Hard Labor Church was constituted in 1848 and is one of the few remaining buildings in Washington County that span three centuries of history.

Waller says the first church building was located on the north side of Owens Pond Road in proximity with the older original cemetery. In 1931, church members decided a new church would be necessary to accommodate growth. The Whittington family donated the timber for the new building with the neighbors cutting, sawing, and dressing the lumber used. In 1932, church members and the community worked together to complete the new church, which was also utilized as a school in the years before the county education was centralized.
During cemetery expansion in 1950, the church was relocated across the road to its present location. A new roof and handicap access were later added during renovations made in 2010.

“Adequately stabilized when it moved in 1950, it remained as such for years,” said Waller. “The impact of the trees caused the building to shift, and the east back wall shifted off the bottom support beam with the south wall facing a similar compromise.”

The historical society, along with members of the community and the Whittington family, periodically monitor and clean the building but say they want to move forward with efforts to ensure it continues to stand the test of time.
Waller says enlisting volunteers and obtaining funding are important aspects of the project, and the Homecoming event was an important first step. She said the event did not disappoint.

“There are very few things in life you plan and have turn out as well as you had hoped,” she said. “This was one of them. It was a fantastic day, and in addition to great music, food, and fellowship, we were able to raise some funds to help with the repairs.”

The event included a special music program by Debi Shores Whitaker, flowers by the Vernon Garden Club, and an address from guest speaker Dale Cox, who spoke about the church’s history and the history of the Hard Labor com-munity.
“Once the cost of repairs is known, the Vernon Historical Society, along with friends of the old Hard Labor Church, will seek funding for completion of repairs to ensure the church remains as a structurally-sound historic treasure of Washington County.”

Anyone interested in assisting the Vernon Historical Society with the Hard Labor Church repair efforts can contact Waller at 334-494-4090 or by email at [email protected].
Hard Labor Church is located at Hard Labor Road and Owens Mill Road.