Renovation of Oxford’s Burns Belfry nearly complete

By Errol Castens/Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Restoration of the Burns Belfry Church structure may be completed late this summer, but fundraising for the next phase of the project is still in progress.
The building was built in the early 1900s as the new home of one of Oxford’s earliest black congregations. Author John Grisham donated the building to become a community center and museum of African-American heritage in 2002 after using it for his office.
Jim Pryor of the Oxford-Lafayette Heritage Association said Phase 1 of the restoration – a new roof and replacement of ruined walls, reinforcement of its towers and rough-in of plumbing – was completed in 2008 for $419,000 coming from federal, state and local grants as well as private donations.
“Phase 1 essentially saved the building from collapse,” he told Lafayette County supervisors on Monday.
Phase 2, which is within a few weeks of completion, includes new windows and doors, climate control, electrical, plumbing and brick repointing at a cost of $314,000.
“Phase 3 will finish the building inside and out; it will include landscaping and a 1,000-square-foot building that imitates the parsonage that used to be there,” Pryor said, noting that $264,000 of the estimated $464,000 cost has been raised.
When completed, the building will contain a main meeting space, space for permanent and rotating historical exhibits and a kitchen to accommodate special events.
Pryor asked the Board of Supervisors for a $25,000 contribution to the project, which would mirror one given early in the restoration.
Board President Jeff Busby said the board would take up the request during upcoming budget work sessions for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Supervisor Robert Blackmon expressed support for the request and appreciation for the progress already made in transforming the building into a heritage center.
“I attended church there a few times and know the building real well,” he said.
errol.castens@journalinc.com