Sweet Home Church a “slice of heaven on earth”

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    Sweet Home ChurchMONTGOMERY COUNTY – A glimpse of heaven on earth for a local college student has led to a life long journey to see a local church restored to her former glory.
    Karen Hamilton tells the tale of how she first spotted the beautiful corner of Montgomery County she now calls home. She explains that as a college student driving from her home in Black Springs to Russellville for college she spotted what she describes as “heaven on earth.”
    “I would drive by the Hughbanks place and think that is the most beautiful, pristine place on earth. It’s like heaven on earth.” She shared.
    As time went on she found herself in an unforeseen position when she and her husband Jody purchased the spot of land she had admired so many times on her way to college. She recalls that there was some mention of the old Sweet Home Church which sat on the road possibly being included in the sale, but no one knew for sure. A few months after purchasing the property they found out that when the church disbanded the property did indeed revert to the private land owner.
    The church, which sits on Highway 27 North, was built in 1907 to proved the community with a place to worship after spending much of the second half of the 19th century holding services in makeshift locations. The church was built on land donated by local farmer W.J. Hovell. The new church was dedicated on May 17, 1908; the day’s sermon was drawn from Luke 7:5: “For he so loves his people, that he built them a synagogue.”
    The church served the community for over seven decades before being decommissioned in January 1977. The congregation was made up of people from various denominations. They held a Non-Denominational Sunday School but use the Presbyterian literature.
    Karen stated in a recent interview that after finding out they owned the church she felt a need to restore it, but it wouldn’t be until two or three years ago before they were able to begin the project.
    Restoration began with windows which had began to fall apart due to age. She noted that she was surprised that the abandoned building had not fallen victim to vandalism over the years.
    The project was slow going until last fall when she realized that the roof was leaking and the foundation was in need of repair. She explained that a drop down ceiling had been installed in the church. She had decided to remove the addition and it was in that process that she realized the roof was leaking. She left to drop down ceiling in place to protect the floor of the structure.
    The restoration project kicked into high gear as she and a small group of helpers began to clean the building out so work could continue.
    It has not been easy and Karen bragged on Edwenna Rowland for helping her with the project.
    The Hamiltons have also discovered that the Northwest corner of the foundation is sinking . Karen stated that the floor itself is still in fairly good shape, but the damage to the foundation adds another threat to the floor of the church.
    “If the floor goes, the building goes.” She said.
    Karen began to look for ways to get help in the restoration. She created a Facebook page and a gofundme account. She also decided to apply for a position on the national registry of historic places. This led her to the Preserve Arkansas list of Arkansas’s Endangered Places.
    She recalls finding out about the list just before the deadline. Her preparation for the national registry made the process of applying for a spot on the state list easier.
    Karen was excited to find out recently that the Sweet Home Church was indeed named as one of seven structures to the Preserve Arkansas’s 2016 list of Seven to Save: Arkansas’s Endangered Places.
    The announcement took place on May 12 in the State Capitol Rotunda. Arkansas’s Most Endangered Places Program was started in 1999 to raise awareness of the importance of Arkansas’s historic properties and the dangers they face. The list is updated each year to generate discussion and support for saving these places that matter to Arkansas.
    The Arkansas’s Most Endangered Historic Places list highlights historically and architecturally significant properties throughout the state that are facing threats such as deterioration, neglect, insufficient funds, insensitive public policy, and inappropriate development. Preserve Arkansas solicited nominations from residents and organizations across Arkansas.
    Karen stated that this new distinction doesn’t come with any grants, but it does provide invaluable exposure.
    She stated that her goal is to restore the building so it can be used by the community again. She added that she has been approached about converting it to a vacation rental property, but she refuses to consider the idea.
    “It began as a church and it will stay a church.” She said.
    Her vision is to see the property used for weddings, reunions and even church services one day.
    If you would like to find out more about how you can help with the restoration of the church check out the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/oldsweethomesociety. The gofundme account can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/eesxkrzz.