We left Dwight’s car at the Mays site and set off in search of lunch. Many places were closed, not so much because it’s a federal holiday but because lots of places are closed on Mondays. Howard’s Cafe on Main Street turned out to fit the bill.
After lunch we headed south of town and toward Phoenix. Our first stop was Rehoboth Methodist Church. This is the site where four blacks were lynched by a mob of whites. In this case, lynching means that they were shot, not hanged. Even so, the prominent oak out in front of the church caught our attention and we wondered if this was where it happened.
The congregation was established in 1811 and the first church was built near the present-day Rock House. In 1860 a new church was built on the present site, on land donated by Red Tolbert. This white frame structure lasted until 1957, when it burned. The current structure replaced it.
In the cemetery behind the church we found the Tolbert Family plot, including the graves of John Robert, Thomas Payne, and Robert Red Tolbert.
There were other Tolberts buried in the area. George W. Tolbert’s stone states that he was a “Patriot, a Republican.”
In addition to the Tolbert graves there were lots of Ellenberg graves. I’m sure that these are somehow connected to our family, but I have yet to find that connection. One of the most interesting set of stones was a husband and wife. One stone spelled the name “b-e-r-g” and the other spelled it “b-u-r-g.” I know that both spellings occur in our family. My great grandfather was Thomas Franklin Ellenberg and his brother was Hezekiah Watson Ellenburg. This, however, I chalk up to a misspelling by the stone carver.
We browsed through the cemetery a bit more, but it was time to move on. Across the road from Rehoboth is Phoenix Road, and a mile along that route was our next target.
There is very little left of the once thriving farming community of Phoenix. There are farms and houses, but no indication of commerce. The intersection of Phoenix Road and Katy Hill Road was the most likely spot for the center of the community. Several roads come together at that point, making it a natural place for gathering. The only sign of ruins or former habitations was one lone chimney back in the woods. We didn’t stop to explore, but on my 2020 trip I did take photos of the intersection. The bottom photo shows the approximate location of the Watson and Lake store, according to Loy Sartin.
Just past this intersection on Katy Hill Road is the last extant building from the Phoenix era. The Phoenix School now serves as a community center. It was built in the summer of 1898, just before the election riots.
The school architecture seemed unusual with its bay entryway and projecting gable on the right. Loy Sartin told us that the gable was a later addition when the school added an auditorium
Back in the day Professor Thomas Wright was the headmaster/teacher at the school. There are several notices in the local papers about school activities. It’s good to see that life wasn’t completely riotous in the Phoenix community.
We left the school for our next stop, First Damascus Baptist Church, southwest of the Phoenix location. “Bose” Etheridge, the first casualty in the election riot, attended this church and is buried in its cemetery.
According to a rather unusual cornerstone, the church was founded in 1831. The current structure was built in 1980 after the original wood frame church was destroyed by fire.
Bose Etheridge’s grave was easy to find. It was the tallest obelisk and close to the road. His headstone states that “He died for his country.” He was 42 at the time of the election riots. The grave marker is by the firm of Leavell and Gage out of Greenwood and signed by them. This is the same firm that made the headstone for David Wyatt Aiken, Alan’s ancestor who was involved in the Phoenix incident. Other members of the Etheridge family were buried nearby.
One other unusual headstone caught our attention. This was a petrified hickory log used for a headstone.
We didn’t stay long to explore First Damascus Baptist Church. The afternoon was slipping away and we had at least one more stop on this trek. Across the street from the church was a stark reminder that the sentiments that fueled the 1898 riots were still present 124 years later.
Just around the corner from First Damascus Baptist Church is Second Damascus Baptist Church.
This church was founded in the 1850s by African Americans who were tired of being relegated to the balcony of First Damascus Baptist.
We had one more stop on our journey. Retracing our steps back past Rehoboth Methodist Church and along a GPS “shortcut” on a muddy, rutted dirt road, we were on our way to Tolbert’s infamous Rock House.
Continued on the next page…