Bethany Presbyterian

Greene County
Org 1786
Photography by Gail des Jardin

Bethany Presbyterian has a long and proud history. It was organized in 1786 with 50 members and is one of the oldest Presbyterian churches in the backcountry. The first church was a traditional brush arbor. This was replaced by a church built of hewn logs near the present building, each member contributing a few logs and joining in to erect the building. These were still dangerous days on the frontier and during services, members had to keep a guard outside to watch for hostile Indians while worshiping. A more comfortable church was built after the turn of the century and was considered the finest country church in the Presbytery at the time. In 1872, it was torn down and replaced by the present sanctuary. Many new members were added and by the year 1880, membership reached 180.

In 1886, a very historic trial took place in Bethany that preceded the famous Scopes monkey trials by four decades. It was here that Dr. James Woodrow, a favorite uncle of future president Woodrow Wilson, was brought before the Presbytery of Augusta at Bethany church on charges of heresy by one of his peers, Rev. Dr. William Adams. Presbyterian ministers were men of letters, even in the backcountry, and Dr. Woodrow was exceptional. He was the first professor in the state of Georgia with a Ph.D. and he went on to a life of service including the Presidency of the University of South Carolina. Dr. Woodrow, after much thought about the subject, taught a form of Darwinian doctrine of evolution in such a manner that it was in conflict with the orthodox teachings of the book of Genesis. During the trial Dr. Adams argued against evolution using logic and satire and at one point traced the progress of animal life until it reached a frog. He then declared that ‘In some way or another this frog got ashore and that, brethren of this assembly, was the landing of your first ancestor’. Dr. Woodrow defended himself and was found not guilty. For a detailed list of Dr. Woodrow’s accomplishments click here.

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