The Burns-Belfry Story
Burns Methodist Episcopal Church was organized by freed African Americans who settled in the area known as “Freedmen Town” after the Civil War. The current church building was erected in 1910 and played a major role in the lives of many African Americans until 1974, when the Burns congregation moved to its new location. Under new ownership, the historic building was called the Belfry and used for various offices until the last owner, John Grisham, donated the building to the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation (OLCHF) in 2002. He asked that the Heritage Foundation work with the Oxford Development Association (ODA) to insure the future of the historic property, now considered a Mississippi Landmark. The two nonprofit organizations joined hands in 2006 with the dream of creating Oxford/Lafayette County’s first community heritage center, a place to preserve the area’s rich and diverse cultural history.
With the building’s restoration completed in July 2013, we are now writing new chapters in the history of the historic Burns Church that include providing educational opportunities for area residents as well as visitors, a site for community meetings and events, and a home for the ODA and OLCHF.
This story comes with a high price tag. More than $400,000 of the construction costs for Phase 1 was raised through federal and state grants as well as local contributions. More than $500,000 for Phases 2 and 3 was secured also from government grants along with a contribution from the City of Oxford.
To give this story a happy ending, museum exhibits are being added, an office/storage building will be completed where the church’s former parsonage stood, and an endowment will be established. You can help write that happy ending with a contribution of any size.