Monday, January 10, 2022

Paradise Lost

The people of the Delta have been at war with nature for centuries, draining swamps and clearing forests to create valuable farmland. But in many places, nature it is fighting back. Take, for example, the many abandoned buildings that are scattered across the region. As soon as a place is forgotten by people, it will be slowly consumed and hidden by plants. Animals move in, and gravity begins its work to take down what people built.

The Delta can seem like a place where neglect grows more quickly than weeds, where decades of depopulation and disinvestment loom over the flat lands like mosquitoes. And it is always sad and humbling to see a place that people once built and maintained be lost. An abandoned structure represents many things: years of empty history, lives who have moved elsewhere, memories lost.

There is an old church in the Arkansas Delta, near the town of Scott, that I've been taking pictures of for over a decade. Time has not been kind to it over those years. Vandals had attacked it, leaving graffiti. The roof developed a significant sag, which looked like it was nearly ready to collapse. This is one of my last pictures taken of the church, in the winter of 2021:

Paradise Lost

I drove out by the church last weekend and was saddened (but not surprised) to see that it was gone. Blackened scorch marks on the dirt are all that remain, along with the concrete steps and a few pieces of brick and twisted metal that survived the fire.


This was once called "Paradise Church," but I don't know anything about its history. Like when was it built, and when was it abandoned? The area around Scott used to be home to many old plantations, and there used to be many old sharecropper homes along the roads nearby. As farming became more modernized, all those people weren't needed and they moved away. This church was not the only one nearby that was left abandoned when it could no longer support a congregation.

South of Scott
Photo taken 2011.

Partly Cloudy
Photo taken 2015.

Paradise Lost
And from the fall of 2019.

It is a rather sad and depressing end, for the church to just be burned down. I'm sure people drove by here and thought it was just an eyesore, but I disagree. This church was once an integral part of this area, a part of a community. It provided character, and helped to make the Delta unique. I know that not all abandoned buildings can be saved and preserved, but it is still painful to lose a structure like this. History is tenuous sometimes, and some places just shouldn't be forgotten so easily.

It didn't seem like it had been long since the church burned. But green shoots were already defiantly growing out of the burned and blackened soil. Before too long the plants and weeds will overtake the patch of dirt that was once occupied by the church. In a few months, vegetation will surely hide all the remaining debris from the church. Before too long, no one would even know that a church once stood here. Nature wastes no time in reclaiming its land.

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