LUCEDALE, Miss. (WKRG) — A Sunday school class without walls. That’s how Don Bradley describes the experience at Palestine Gardens, where people can see a replica of the Holy Land during the life of Jesus.
“This is a visual aid of the Bible story,” said Bradley, who owns and operates Palestine Gardens.
Just off the beaten path, visitors will want to wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes, as Bradley takes them on a guided tour along a peaceful, ¼ a-mile trail lined with replicas of biblical cities and landmarks.
“You begin the tour down at the Jordan River, and I tell people about Moses, how he viewed the land from here,” said Bradley.
Construction of the replicas began in the 1950s under the founder, Reverend Walter Harvell Jackson. Jackson wanted to provide a place where everyone could experience the Holy Land, locally. Palestine Gardens officially opened in 1960. Bradley was passed the torch and took over operations in 1994.
As a child, he and his family visited the gardens from Hattiesburg. He remembers loving the garden’s folk art style, but a deeper reason would lead him back as an adult.
“I realized God cast all that sin as far as the East from the West. I wanted to do something to pay Him back. In my prayer, I said, ‘I know I can never pay You back, but let me try,’” said Bradley.
He’s been maintaining the land and telling stories ever since.
“We come up here to some of the, you know, the Jericho, Jericho Road, even up to the Aronian, which was a massive complex that Herod the Great built,” Bradley narrates. “But then you go to Jerusalem and then, of course, all the events taking place in Jerusalem. That’s what’s behind me here.”
To understand the distance between the Holy Land cities, each model is scaled so that one yard equals one mile. That’s just one of the many intricate details to keep in mind. If you look closely at Jerusalem, you can see details such as figurines added to represent the Three Wise Men and ovens with bread baking inside. Each element helps bring the cities to life.
Bradley saID he’s expanded upon some of Mr. Jackson’s pieces but kept the garden’s original folk-art style intact.
“I wanted to keep this same type of style that he did. But you see a little more detail now,” said Bradley.
Some pieces still stand the way they did decades ago.
“I’ve never touched Bethlehem,” said Bradley. “I want to paint it, you know, do a little bit of work to it.”
If he does make changes to Bethlehem, they’d be only for restoration purposes.
“I can close my eyes and remember seeing Bethlehem when I was a little boy and, you know, eight years old, and I want to restore that [to] exactly what he had,” Bradley recalled.
Except for Mondays, Palestine Gardens is open daily between March and November. Tours are estimated to take about an hour but once Bradley begins to captivate you with each story, it may take a little longer. Reservations are not needed and admission is free.
“I’m always ready for somebody to come. Now I might have to combine a tour or something if you come with somebody else, but you know 30 years I’ve been doing this, it all works out,” said Bradley.