The Rev. Herman D. “Preacher” Dennis, who turned a Mississippi Delta grocery store into a folk-art castle that became a roadside attraction, has died. He was 96.

Jefferson Funeral Home in Vicksburg said he died Tuesday at Covenant Health and Rehab.

Margaret’s Grocery started as a modest store north of Vicksburg off U.S. 61, nicknamed the “blues highway.” Margaret Rogers Dennis had owned the store nearly 40 years when she married “Preacher” in 1984, and he said he’d build a monument to her and their faith in God.

The Vicksburg Post reports that during the 1980s and ’90s, the couple used red, white, pink and yellow painted concrete blocks, scrap-iron columns, foam balls, cardboard tubes and other common items to turn the building into a castle. Inside, surfaces were covered with Mardi Gras beads, plastic trinkets and Christmas lights.

Hand-painted signs displayed Bible verses and religious phrases welcoming Jews and Gentiles.

“God don’t have no white church, and he don’t have no black church,” one sign declared.

The building is still standing, though deteriorated. The inside has been closed to visitors for years.

“Margaret’s Grocery has been the cornerstone of folk art environments in our state and many have traveled far and wide to experience the vernacular architecture created by the Rev. Dennis and Miss Margaret, as well their one-of-a-kind personalities,” said Mary Margaret Miller, heritage director for the Mississippi Arts Commission.

Margaret Dennis was 94 when she died in 2009.

“Preacher” Dennis’ funeral is set for 11 a.m. Monday at Cool Springs Missionary Baptist Church, which is near the store. Congregation leaders said in 2009 that the Dennises had sold the grocery store to Cool Springs, and that the church intended to preserve it.

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