The oldest known continuous congregation in the River Region is Cain’s Chapel in Holtville. The first church was a log church built by Elisha Milton Cain almost as soon as he moved his family from South Carolina to the territory that would later become the State of Alabama. The chapel was used for Cain, his family and the men and women who worked for him.
The log church was built on Cain property in Pine Flat where a few of the old logs still reside; however, the Presbyterian Church of Pine Flat now occupies that territory. Surprisingly, Cain and his family are not buried in the cemetery at the current Cain’s Chapel, but all are buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery, the first cemetery for the log church location.
A larger church was built in 1820 on the property that the church calls home today. The decision was made to build a newer church in a different location where it would be closer to a large creek and more accessible to water.
The first known grave in the new church cemetery was that of an infant girl who was traveling through the area with her family. Her father was a drummer, a type of salesman, and the Cains opened their home to the family for their stay. The little girl died during the night from what is believed to be what we now call Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. No one knows her name or the year of her death, but until the 1950s a small brick house provided shelter for her grave and kept it safe from wild animals. All landmarks leading to the child’s grave have since disappeared.
As 2020 marks Cain’s Chapel’s Bicentennial celebration, a small room within the church has been designated to serve as a museum and historical exhibit. At just about 12 feet by 20 feet, the space is filled quite beautifully with the history of Elisha Milton Cain, his family and the church he established so long ago. The moment I stepped into that small room, I could see the passion felt by this congregation to share its church’s history.
A white cross hangs on the wall in the corner of the room – a cross that once hung in the old chapel before renovation. It was donated by the family of Ben Myrick, a young man who left to fight in World War II and never returned home. A stained-glass window portraying the same white cross also was donated in his memory and still hangs in the old chapel. A new stained-glass window has been installed in the Worship Center.
Members of the Cain’s Chapel congregation have worked tirelessly to plan a yearlong celebration for this milestone. There will be re-enactors in costumes representing different periods of history. The dedication of the new stained-glass window, along with a historical marker for Cain’s Chapel United Methodist Church and Cemetery, will be the first of 12 monthly historical programs.
Programs include an old-fashioned wedding to be held Feb. 14 with a reception afterward. On March 29, there will be an old-fashioned picnic at Confederate Memorial Park, including a mystery guest speaker, games and gospel music. Local historian Annie Crenshaw will speak on May 3, and attendees are encouraged to bring their favorite family recipes to be included in cookbooks to further commemorate the bicentennial.
Two presentations I personally plan to attend are on June 13, where Dr. Susan Dubose will speak on famous Alabama women from the past 200 years, as well as the Cemetery Walking Tour on Oct. 25. The Bicentennial Homecoming Celebration will be held on Nov. 8, 2020, and will feature Bishop David W. Graves as the guest speaker.
The book Passing It On by Marie “Bitsy” Nelson is being updated and should be available to the public sometime in the spring. Keep an eye out for it – it’s filled with so much history of Elisha Cain, his family and his church, that you’ll want to add it to your personal library. I know I will.