In 1827 Reverend Payton Wade conveyed to seven trustees a deed to two and three-quarter acres of land to build a Methodist Episcopal Church to be known as “Brick Church”. This beautiful church is both the oldest Methodist church and the oldest church building in Screven county. Continuous services have been held since 1827. Slave labor from Lebanon Forest Plantation built the structure and the remarkable workmanship is a testament to their skills. The original building, now one hundred and eighty nine years old, is still in great shape and continues to serve the congregation well.
Most churches of this era were “meeting houses constructed of hewn logs” or perhaps clapboard wooden siding. The brick construction actually gave the church its original name and still remains a part of the name today. Bethel Brick was located near many large plantations and, prior to the Civil War, there were more black members than white. The 1859 Annual Conference minutes showed 150 white members and 418 black members. The white members held Sunday morning worship services and the black members worshipped on Sunday afternoon.
Not a lot of history exists for this church. The first known record for the church being called “Bethel” was at a conference in Savannah in 1866. Behind the pulpit is a door that opens to the outside. Again no verified history on this unusual piece of architecture exists. The mystery of the original use just adds to the aura of the church. The setting for Bethel Brick Church is stately and serene. Huge trees with draping moss quickly give the eyes a sense of a history that is well preserved. A lake in the background adds to the peacefulness.
The cemetery is replete with massive headstones, and rusted wrought and cast iron burial lot fencing. These are evidence of the wealth of those families. Alongside are simple stones, many worn through years of weather. As with many old churches in the South, the cemetery is the final resting place for several Civil War soldiers. One interment is that of a local constable who was murdered in 1900 while serving an arrest warrant. Two historical markers stand side by side along the quiet country road next to this church, another sign that history resides in this brick monument to longevity, craftsmanship, and perseverance.
But the real story of Bethel Brick is the story of the Manor and Wade families, who were some of the most successful planters in a Post Revolutionary War Georgia. Sam Manor was a revolutionary war veteran who moved across the Savannah River from South Carolina in 1812. He bought 2, 523 acres from George and Mary Williamson in Screven County and built a new home and plantation. He named it Lebanon Forest.
Around 1816, Samuel Manor passed away and Sarah, his daughter, and her husband, Reverend John Crawford, inherited the Georgia plantation. John Crawford passed away a few years after this. He and Sarah did not have any children. Sarah then married another Methodist preacher, the Rev. Peyton Lisby Wade. Sarah passed away without having any children and the Rev. Wade married her niece, Elizabeth Robert, twenty two years his junior. Together they had eleven children and expanded their property to over 10,000 acres. At one time Rev. Wade owned over 500 slaves. The Wade family is well represented in the little cemetery beside the church. More of the family history is presented there.
Despite our efforts to add to the very little history of Bethel that we have at this time, much remains a mystery. We do have plans to bring answers to our many questions, but we feel the church, inside and out, and its longevity need to be shared with all and recognized at this time. Clearly, Bethel Brick has been well cared for and loved since its construction in 1827. Just as clearly, many modifications to the sanctuary have taken place during that time. However, as we see in this picture, the charming simplicity of its original design has been maintained. Yes, it is just a rectangular box but the many large windows allow ample ambient light to flow in. This fact and its hidden truss design allowed for creation of the tray shaped ceiling that rises well above the floor and creates an airy and cathedral-like atmosphere. This would have been a pretty special, sacred place in the woods during the early 19th century.
This is a close up of a lovely, semi-circular altar rail and balustrade and two-level chancel and pulpit area. This is a typical layout we see for many rural churches, but it would have been uncommon in the 1820’s. Behind the pulpit, we can see the original “back door” frame capped by dental moulding. This set up is charming, beautiful and functional today. We do hope to learn more about when these changes were made and what they replaced.
This view from the pulpit tells many tales and asks many questions. We see the wide double door entryway which is probably just as it was when the church was constructed. The high, ample windows are probably much as they were in 1827 though the elaborate wooden window frames and ornate stained glass windows were part of later alterations. The narrow but wide clerestory windows appear to have been part of the original design. Why they were sealed/closed and when is unknown and one of the mysteries which we hope to solve.
Bethel sanctuary is bright and inviting. The many colorful stained glass windows within have a lot to do with this. The “Life of Christ” windows seen above are fairly common in 19th century Georgia churches. But, the ones we see here are not of the early-19th century era and are later additions. The pews, on the other hand, are of a style that might have been found in the wealthy, planter churches of which Bethel is one. However, the aisle panels are a bit too precise for that era. Also, most of the planter churches contained closed door pews much like those found in Virginia/New England at that time. Such pews would have been “purchased” by individual families for their use only. In any case, the sanctuary interior at Bethel is inviting and “feels authentic” in a way many highly modified old churches do not.
This close up of a stained glass window reveals that, though engaging, colorful and attractive, it is not of the quality level of Tiffany, LaFarge or Lamb windows that it is imitating. Of course the expense of those iconic windows would most likely have been prohibitive during the late 19th century when these were probably installed.
Here lies Lt. Peyton Lisby Wade, the son of founder Reverend Peyton Lisby Wade, Jr. FAG has a wonderful of photo of him here in his uniform, along with some information that is somewhat confusing. Young Peyton joined the Confederate cause very early in the war, enlisting with the Georgia 1st Infantry as a 1st Lt. on March 21, 1860 at the age of twenty. This would be just after Georgia seceded, but well before any hostilities. Records show he then married Georgia Rogers in July of 1861 at Wade Plantation with his father, Reverend Wade performing the ceremony. The young soldier had a good start in life but fate was about to intervene, and he contracted some disease while in the service of the Army of Northern Virginia. He died either on his 21st birthday or the day thereafter. Part of the confusion is that the gravestone shows the date of death as Nov. 16 and his service record shows he “mustered out” on Nov. 17. There is further confusion in that the record shows his brother Robert was born on March 5, 1840 and Peyton was born on November 16, 1840. Time can be short between births in large families but there must be a mistake in one of those dates. Finally, one of the records shows that he died in Pennsylvania while a couple of others state that his death occurred in Richmond. Four of the Wade brothers served in the conflict. Brothers Robert and Ulysses survived but Edward was wounded at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek and died in a Union prison camp.
There are fourteen members of the Wade family interred at Bethel Brick. The earliest grave is that of Archibald Perkins Wade, who died in 1855 at the age of two. The latest is Elizabeth Jones Wade who died in 1952 at the age of 87. Her large headstone is visible above on the left. The Wade family legacy runs deep in Screven County and lives today at the Wade Plantation, which is still a very active agricultural enterprise.
This part of Georgia is rich with history from the earliest days of the Colony as Georgia began to assimilate massive amounts of land from the Creeks to the south and the Cherokees to the north. From the end of the Revolutionary War to the last expulsion of the Cherokees in 1838, the new “state” of Georgia acquired over 35 million acres from the native Americans. The land between the Savannah River and the Ogeechee, wherein Wade Plantation and Bethel Brick reside, was one of the first of these land cessations.
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I have visited Brick Church several times growing up. My mother’s family was connected and some buried there. Her father was CA Meads, mother was Ada Mobley Meads.
Thanks for sharing this Linda.
So enjoyed reading this..my grandparents & dad are buried there..such a beautuful structure,so full of history! When I was a little girl visiting cousins in the summer,I attended sunday school there! I try to stop by when I go to Savannah…I love old structures,& I can literally smell history in and around them!!
We know how you feel Carol. We feel the same way. Thanks for sharing your story.
There were never doors on the pews unless that was before the 1900/s. Neither my parents or grandparents ever mentioned doors.
The floors are heart pine boards. I remember when the carpet was put down that covered the floors.
The additional rooms on the side were built in the 1930s. My father always said there was concern that some graves had been covered by the building.
The top rail of the alter banister was brown when I was a child. My dad painted white when they repainted the inside in the 1960’s
The stain glass was installed in the late 70’s. Each family in the church bought a window. Cain family is the one on the left facing the pulpit, Sanders family is the one on the right. I don’t remember which families gave for the other windows. But the Olivers and Martins were two.
Mack, thanks for the personal additions to the history and knowledge of this great part of Georgia history. It is much appreciated and now will be added to the record.
The door behind the pulpit was an outside door up to the balcony. There were small windows around the top of the church for the balcony. The balcony was removed in the late 1940’s. and the windows sealed shut. My mom married in 1949 and said that the balcony was removed shortly after that.
It was refered to as the Slaves Balcony and they entered from outside behind the pulpit.
There was a massive brass chandelier with oil lamps that hung in the church until the summer of 1970 when it was stolen. It had been a gift from one of the early members of the church.
Are there any pictures of the church before now? My husband is the new pastor there and the history is fascinating.