The Community of Wilderness
Wilderness is a wonderful community, but it is isolated. One would have to be going to Wilderness in order to find it. In my travels to Wilderness from my childhood home near St. Louis, we would approach Wilderness after leaving Van Buren in Carter County. Take highway J south off of Hwy 60. Turn right on K. When the pavement ends, you are in Wilderness! If there has been a lot of rain, however, you may not make it that far. Just before Wilderness is a low water bridge crossing Hwy K. If the water is up it will be several miles to Wilderness via another route.
During my earliest memories, there were two general stores. One being owned by my great uncle Clyde Simpson. The store was located next to their house and had the old style gas pumps out front. I'm sure there are many pictures of this store, someone will have to send me one! The second general store, which stayed open after Uncle Clyde's store closed, was the first building you saw as you came into the community of Wilderness. Before you would go down the hill where that low water bridge is on Hwy. K, you could see the store at the top of the opposite hill. I know there were several owners of the store, but in my memory, I only recall two: Walter Simpson and another great uncle of mine, Jesse Foster. (Jesse was married to my grandpa Irvin's sister Mildred.) As a kid, it made you feel special when a relative owned the store. I'm not sure if my mom felt that way or not when she was growing up and Uncle Clyde had the store. Eventually, the speed of transportation improved and the size of the community dictated that there was not enough business in town for a general store. It is sad, but that is progress I guess.
Even though the stores have not remained, two other staples of the community have: the old schoolhouse (community building) and the church.
Wilderness Community Building
The community building, as it is called now, is where my mother attended school through the eighth grade. Since closing as a school, the building has served the community in many ways. It is the gathering place after a funeral. (Wilderness cemetery lies up the hill behind the building as we look at it here.) My mother and other ladies in the community gathered here to quilt together for many, many years. Presently there is a pool table inside and basketball courts out front. There is even a soda machine!
Wilderness Freewill Baptist Church
I was shocked to see the church during my October 2004 visit to the community. They have a new sanctuary! It is beautiful. The church has grown over the years even though the community has done the opposite. That is truly a sign of God's blessing! I have many memories of this church growing up. During the summer I would spend a week or two at Grandma and Grandpa's house and often it would be during Vacation Bible School week. I loved going to church with my grandparents.
This church is a focal point in the Wilderness Community. The cemetery lies next to the church. The first Sunday of every June is Decoration Day. Following church, long tables are set up next to the cemetery fence. Wilderness residents present and past gather for food and fellowship. Growing up, I attended several of these with my parents and grandparents. It was a true potluck. The best cooking in the world! Everyone had favorites that they looked forward to - for me it was Great Aunt Laura Simpson's German Chocolate Cake! mmmmm!
Thinking back, I guess this really was my first introduction to genealogy. We always joined Grandma as she decorated the graves of family members in that cemetery. We were always full of questions about who was this person and who was that person.
In 1990, Wilderness Freewill Baptist Church celebrated 50 Years with the Cave Springs Freewill Baptist association. A booklet was created with a church history and photos. Read the church history HERE!
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