Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel.
Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Church With a Rock In It

Field review by the editors.

Mentone, Alabama

According to the Gospels, it takes someone divine to build a church on a rock.

Milford Howard.
Milford Howard.

In Alabama, that person was Milford Howard.

Milford was born in 1862. In his later years he was described as "colorful" and "a dreamer."

He had less than 12 months of formal education, but in 1894 he wrote a book, "If Christ Came to Congress," and used it to get himself elected as an Alabama representative to Washington. In 1908 he tried to be the Independence Party's candidate for President of the United States, but failed to win the nomination.

By 1923 he was in southern California, where he produced, wrote, and starred in a feature film, "The Bishop of the Ozarks." Its plot, summarized on IMDB, is, "A mad doctor uses his powers of telepathy to control a beautiful young girl." Howard played the bishop.

Milford's wife Sallie died shortly after the film's release, and Milford returned to Alabama and married a woman he called "Lady Vivian." The two traveled to Europe and met Mussolini; in 1928 Milford wrote a book praising fascism. He owned a lot of cheap Alabama mountain land, which he repeatedly tried to develop without success. Lady Vivian divorced him in 1936.

And then Milford built a church.

According to a free pamphlet available at the church, Milford had "secretly" wanted to build something like it ever since he buried his first wife in California's Forest Lawn Cemetery and saw its replica of the Wee Kirk O' the Heather chapel. Whether this is true or not, Milford also decided that simply building a replica of the replica wasn't enough. He searched his mountain property until he found a huge sandstone boulder that he could incorporate into his chapel, taking literally Jesus's non-literal statement, "upon this rock I will build my church."

Rock in the church.

Milford Howard plaque.
Milford Howard has the rock all to himself.

The chapel pamphlet paints a dramatic picture of Milford: "For six weeks he acted as foreman, standing on wet, sometimes frozen ground to direct the work of carpenters who needed wages badly enough to brave the weather." The church, a rustic structure with the giant boulder jutting into its pulpit, was dedicated on June 27, 1937. Six months later, back in California, Milford Howard was dead.

According to the pamphlet, the Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel was built as a tribute to Milford's first wife. A quote written on one of its interior beams, "God Has All Ways Been As Good To Me As I Would Let Him Be," was supposedly penned by Sallie in her last letter to Milford. But other than that, Sallie is absent; far away in southern California.

Milford, on the other hand, is always around. "His last request," the pamphlet reads, was to be cremated "so that his ashes would be placed inside the giant rock" (Lady Vivian obligingly did this in 1938). Visitors can view Milford's crypt. And near the ceiling, above the quote by Sallie, a single word, "Immortality." Milford added that.

Also see: The Rock in the House

Church With a Rock In It

Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Address:
CR 89, Mentone, AL
Directions:
Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel. Hwy 89/DeSoto Pkwy northeast of Fort Payne through DeSoto State Park, then turn right at the foot of the hill. The chapel is 100 feet on the right.
Hours:
Always open. Service Su 10 AM.
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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September 20, 2017

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