The Search for Jordan’s Chapel, A Vintage Vignette

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The Search for Jordan’s Chapel
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
March 7, 2008

Several years ago when I began to explore the grounds of Redstone Arsenal upon the request of the Army Office of Environmental Management, my mission was to photograph tombstones and research the history of the early landowners around the cemeteries. As the effort progressed and others learned of it, I was asked by non-military parties to watch for any evidence of Bartholomew Jordan’s grave, thought to be on the grounds Jordan’s Chapel. At the time, I had never before heard of either Bartholomew or Jordan’s Chapel.

As my investigations on the arsenal progressed, it became apparent that there was no known history or remaining evidence there of either the man or the chapel. Still, my curiosity drove me to dig into the records at the courthouse, the library, and the Hoole Special Collections at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It turned out that both the chapel and the man existed in the early 1800s. Bartholomew Jordan, born in Virginia and a Revolutionary War patriot, came here from North Carolina around 1810 and bought land along what is now Bob Wallace Avenue. Back then, the road was called Browns Ferry Road from Huntsville all the way across the county toward the west, whereas today another part of it is called Old Madison Pike.

Initial research showed that in the 1920s Pauline Gandrud and her sister Kathleen Jones had also explored the story of Bartholomew Jordan. They corresponded with a Dr. Jason Walter Jordan of Lexington, Mississippi, who was a great-grandson of Bartholomew. Dr. Jordan wrote that the pioneer was called “Batt” and that he was “buried on Mullens’ Flat at Jordans’ Chapel”, according to family stories. That led to another investigation, to learn the location of “Mullens’ Flat”. Nobody that I asked at the library or the courthouse had ever heard of it.

By checking hundreds of old land records and early newspapers, I found that Batt deeded land for a Methodist Episcopal Church in 1826, naming the trustees as Robert Lanford, William Blake, Henry Jordan, Jesse Jordan, Nicholas Hopson, William Ellison, William Bibb, and James Thompson. Unfortunately, the deed used rocks and trees as landmarks, but it also mentioned boundary lines with adjacent landowners. Jesse and Henry Jordan were sons of Batt, who also had a daughter named Temperance (married Isham J. Fennell Sr.) plus other sons, including Jason, the grandfather of Dr. J. W. Jordan of Mississippi.

Robert Lanford had deeded land for the same church in 1820, when the Huntsville Republican newspaper advertised Methodist Campground Meetings to be held “in the neighborhood of Batt Jordan.” This was following the first area Methodist Convention held in Huntsville in 1819. Lanford’s deed named the same trustees except that he included William Lanier (a Methodist preacher) and Batt Jordan and specified James Bibb instead of William Bibb. James Bibb, who died in early 1826, was father of William and also of James H. Bibb of Madison, who is buried in the Bibb Cemetery on Mill Road.

After many months of intensive research where all of the names became location clues, indications consistently pointed to mistakes in the Mississippi Jordan family descendants’ stories with respect to location details. The Chapel was apparently located just about where the Alabama Department of Transportation office and yard are located today, on the south side of Interstate 565 and Governor’s House Road, west of Jordan Lane, but north of Bob Wallace Avenue. It was one of the earliest Methodist Churches established in the state. Furthermore, it may well have had a cemetery, which appears to be located on the eastern edge of the grounds of Morris Elementary School, at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens. There is one stone marker there, which is possibly to denote the grave of Bartholomew Jordan, but there is no inscription. Mullens Flats was proven to be seven miles away, on the southern end of the arsenal, consisting of the relatively flat lands south of Martin Road and along both sides of Dodd Road, extending to Buxton Road near its junction with Patton Road.

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