New Hope Baptist Church at Natchez near Beatrice, AL (built ca. 1855; listed on the NRHP & ARLH; burial site of the “Bear Man”)

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The New Hope Baptist Church and its adjacent cemetery are listed on both the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage (ARLH). This church is located approximately four miles west of Beatrice in the community of Natchez. Dates on surviving church records indicate that the church congregation was established around 1855. On October 10, 1855, the church purchased two acres of land at $10.00 per acre. It’s thought that the church building was built soon afterward. However, some features of the building appear to be from a later period, probably around the 1870s. These could be replacements of original features (such as the front doors) or they could reflect a later construction date. The church building is constructed of heart pine, both its old foundation and its interior and exterior boards. The foundation consists of both logs and hand-hewn timbers serving as joists, resting on blocks of hewn logs.

Located beside the church is a cemetery where many of the past church members are buried. In the far corner of the cemetery there is a simple wooden cross with “The Bear Man” marked on it. According to local tradition, a Frenchman traveling through the area in 1891-1892 with his trained bear was killed when his bear turned on him. The bear was then shot and killed by observers, and both the man and bear were buried where “The Bear Man” marker is located.

Directions: From Beatrice, travel west approximately three miles on CR50 to the intersection of New Hope Church Road. Turn right on New Hope Church Road and the church is located 0.6 mile ahead on the right side of the road (GPS coordinates: 31.728377, -87.260948).

Sources: 1) NRHP “New Hope Baptist Church” Registration Form; 2) The Heritage of Monroe County, Alabama.

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