The Surprise of New Dixie
If you happen to be traveling west on Arkansas Highway 77 between the Arkansas River and Bigelow, and you’ve never seen St. Boniface Church in the New Dixie Community, you are in for a big surprise. You’ve been cruising down a country road, enjoying what one expects to see in a central Arkansas rural environment. Then all of a sudden, here’s this traffic-stopping jewel of a church right there in the big middle of the boondocks. The front of the church faces southwest, so if you intend to take pictures of the front, visit in the afternoon for the best exposure opportunities.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Pine Buff, Arkansas
The first service in the Saint Boniface Catholic Church of the New Dixie community in central Arkansas, as you see it here, was held in September of 1906. The beginnings of the parish pre-date that service by some 27 years, back to 1879, when immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland formed the fledgling parish.
Corporate generosity of the day provided real estate for the church. The Choctaw Railroad, now known as the Rock Island Line, donated 40 acres there in the New Dixie Community. Eventually a church, school, rectory, and a Sisters’ house for the nuns who taught at the school dotted the landscape of the small but vibrant community.
95 Feet into the Heavens
From ground to the upper tip of the cross on the steeple is 95 feet. Looking at it head-on, it looks taller.
Honor Roll of Warriors
On the vestibule wall, as you enter the church, you see an Honor Roll with 41 names of men and women who served in World War II. I make the assumption based on the appearance of the uniforms. Many of the names on the list match the names of the original settlers, clearly demonstrating the strong values which permeated the community. From what I could tell, those values linger.
A Different Perspective
Close up with a wide angle lens gives a slightly different perspective. The best season to photograph the church and get maximum details of the building is winter, when the leaves have dropped.
Move left a few yards and the front view includes the evergreens surrounding the building.
Early in 1906, the Sisters’ house caught fire during mass. When the flames were extinguished, the Sisters’ house and the church were destroyed. But not all was lost. Several bold parishioners braved the flames and managed to save the altar, which had been imported from Germany by a parish member.
Subsequently, parishioner Oswald Joseph Miller was commissioned to design and erect a new church. Timber from the property was felled for construction. In nearby Bigelow, the Fourche (foosh) River Lumber Company milled the logs into lumber.
This is the first view you will have coming from the east.
Rebuilding with an Eye to Tradition
Oswald Joseph Miller, a Saint Boniface parishioner, was commissioned to design and build the new church. He carved the spiral work on the side altars to match the original high altar, which was saved from the blaze that destroyed the rest of the church. View from just inside the entrance to the sanctuary.
View from the Balcony
If you are sitting in the balcony, this is what you see.
The Saint Boniface steeple is 95-feet tall, which translates to about the height of a nine-story building. The original bells in the steeple belfry are still rung by hand ropes to call parishioners to worship every Sunday.
We met the rector as he was departing the premises to minister to yet another small parish. It appears that in rural areas, circuit-riding preachers still ply their divinely appointed profession. The hop is faster these days since a shiny black sedan is substantially faster than a horse and buggy.
Saint Boniface is alive and well in 2015 and is doing a good job of hanging on the those traditions established in 1906.
But Wait, There's More....
Down the road a piece at Houston
there’s another old church.
Further down the road is Bigelow,
a crooked house, and still yet further
a moon over Lake Maumelle.
See it all on our blog,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.
Click here and enjoy.