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Take time to see lesser-known areas

Mississippi has some unique communities scattered across its 82 counties. The names of some have become well-known simply because they are odd. Hot Coffee, D’Lo (now famous for a TV show about its mayor), Chickenbone and Panther Burn are just a few.

But this part of the state has its fair share of lesser-known communities with interesting names. Earlier this week I spent some time traveling the backroads of Lincoln, Lawrence and Jeff Davis counties, and I stumbled across plenty of places I had never heard of.

The first sign that caught my eye was for a church in Lawrence County named Hepzibah. Sure, this is a church and not an entire community but in some places the Baptist church is the community. This looks like one of those places.  It looks like a church that still has dinner on the grounds and fifth Sunday singings.

Now, most country churches in the South have a few common names. You can find a Mt. Zion, Beulah, Bethany, New Hope, Calvary, Antioch or Bethesda Baptist church in communities all across the state.

But how many Hepzibah Baptist churches have you seen? The one near Silver Creek is the only one in Mississippi, according to the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s website. According to Google, there are a couple in Alabama and another in Georgia.

The one not far from here was established more than a century ago (if I read the sign correctly while driving by). In case you’re curious, Hepzibah means “my delight is in her” in Hebrew. In the Bible, she is the wife of Hezekiah and the mother of Manasseh.

The name is also symbolic of a restored Zion. “No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married,” Isaiah 62:4.

So the name makes perfect sense for a church.

I also drove through Double Pond in Jeff Davis County. Technically, Double Pond is a water association but I bet folks there call it home, too. I’m guessing the name comes from two ponds in the area but I don’t know. If someone reading this does, please let me know.

I also stopped in New Hebron and Old Hebron. Old Hebron Grocery and Old Hebron Baptist Church are both located in New Hebron, according to my map. That’s not confusing at all.

The town of New Hebron has about 450 people, a post office and more businesses than you would think. It would be a stretch to call it bustling, but it’s definitely lively.

The same cannot be said for Oakvale. The tiny community near the Pearl River has three buildings in its downtown — a fire station, hardware store and post office. The post office and hardware store are really part of the same building, so technically speaking, Oakvale has two buildings. I’m always amazed when these little downtowns pop up from nowhere among the pine trees. This is definitely a place you only find if you are looking for it — you don’t pass through it on your way to something else.

A little northeast of there is Mount Carmel, or what remains of it. Apparently, it was once a thriving community back in the 19th century. It is one of the oldest settlements in Jeff Davis County. The community was bypassed during railroad construction and most folks and businesses moved to nearby towns.

Like Mount Carmel, many rural communities scattered throughout the area are not what they once were. Some have disappeared altogether.  But these places hold more history than a library full of books. Sadly, much of that history dies when the people living there do. These communities are a reminder of simpler, and in some ways better, times.

So, while you still can, take a drive on the backroads of Southwest Mississippi and see what you can find.  You will be surprised at how many out-of-the-way places you stumble across. You might even find Hepzibah Baptist Church.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.