Belmont Missionary Baptist Church and Cemetery
The Belmont Missionary Baptist Church and Cemetery are located in a rural area in the southeastern corner of Jefferson County, roughly half a mile to the west of the intersection of Highway 199 and Belmont Road. Established in 1901, the site is the oldest extant resource in the Moscow (Jefferson County) vicinity representing the African-American post-bellum settlement of southeastern Jefferson County. The property is representative of small, rural African-American churches and cemeteries in the South, and covers roughly two acres. It was listed on the Arkansas Register of Historic Properties on December 4, 2019.
The original 1901 church building was lost to a fire around 1945; all of the church records and history were also lost to the blaze, which is the reason why so little information exists on the history of the community and congregation. Around 1947, the current church building was constructed. Due to the modest means of the community and likely in response to the destruction of the previous building, the new church was built out of concrete block, making the building both flame-retardant and economically practical. The building originally contained a sanctuary in the front with smaller classroom spaces and restrooms stretching across the rear. It was also fronted by a pedimented portico, which was enclosed in 1961 to create a small foyer and additional restrooms. Vinyl siding was added to the gables of the building in the late 1980s. The building features a uniform fascia board; however, the gable ridges vary in height. Services for the congregation continued to be held in the building until 2014, when the last pastoral appointee left the church. Since that time, the church has primarily been used as a chapel for funeral services at the cemetery; however, the structure also has hosted community homecoming celebrations, echoing its use as a type of community center for residents of times past.
The church is centered on the western acre of the property with a parking area to the north of it, while the cemetery encompasses the eastern acre of the site. The site is typical of the area in that it is relatively flat with sparse trees.
There are twelve marked burials within the cemetery, which all took place between 1904 and 1929, but there are an unknown number of unmarked graves on the site as well. The numerous unmarked graves are visually evident on the landscape, as many of them have sunk below the grade of the surrounding area. The oldest burial in the cemetery belongs to Joshua Conley, son of William and Rachel Conley, who died in 1904 at two years of age. The most recent marked burial was for Rachel Brown Conley, wife of William Conley, who died in 1929, at the age of fifty. Though Mosaic Templars emblems are the most common, there are also emblems for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Royal Circle of Friends, and Knights and Daughters of Tabor.
Although there is no known written documentation to support it, local history states that some of the early freed men and women to settle in this part of Jefferson County are buried in the cemetery, as well as Buffalo Soldiers from various American military conflicts. There is also a memorial in the cemetery, erected in the early 2000s, that reads on one side: “With the greatest respect the sacred grounds of Belmont Cemetery are dedicated to the African-American men and women who may have participated in the Buffalo Soldiers, the Spanish American War, the Korean War, WW1, WW2” on one side. On the opposite side is inscribed: “The Belmont Cemetery is dedicated to the slaves, tenant farmers, family members, loved ones, and friends buried on these sacred grounds.” However, given that the cemetery was in use only from 1903 until the 1920s, most, if not all, of the soldiers referenced in the monument are likely buried in the Belmont Missionary Baptist Cemetery No. 2, which is located directly north of the church and has been in continuous use since 1921. Since roughly two-thirds of the Belmont Missionary Baptist Cemetery No. 2 are not historic burials, it has been excluded from the nomination area.
Despite the lack of verifiable history for the church, cemetery, and the Moscow community as a whole, which precludes it from being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the property retains adequate integrity of location, setting, design, feeling, association, workmanship, and materials to be included on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places.
For additional information:
“Belmont Missionary Baptist Church and Cemetery.” Arkansas Register of Historic Places. http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/arkansas-register-listings/belmont-missionary-baptist-church-and-cemetery (accessed March 20, 2021).
J. Mason Toms
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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