There is some excellent church history written by Mr. William Neill in 1893. We thought we would just let Mr. Neill tell the story.
The memoirs of William Tatum Neill as told to him by Greenberry Neill. August the 12-1893
Our lot of two and one half acres was given by Guilford R. Otwell and Susan E. Otwell to L. C. Stewart, Josiah Neill, A. Thompson, Peter B. Terel and Samuel Neill as Trustees of the M. E. Church the 14th day of June 1839 and recorded in book H or K by B. H. Mitchel. Page 219 June 28, 1839. From recollections of uncle G. B. Neill, our church was organized in October 1838 by Rev. John Simmons, P. C. He was followed by Rev. Neice and Rev. Tignor. Rev. Celhorne Trussel, Rev. Wm. A. Smith and Rev. W. B. Smith came next followed by Rev. John Yarbro., Rev. Abraham Pennington, and Rev. Daniel Belsez, in 1861.
Our present House of worship was built in 1844. The first interment in our cemetery was a little child in March 1839. Josiah Neill was buried August the 8th 1839 and Josiah Stewart was buried the same year. Ely Baley was buried on the 7th day of August 1840. Brother G. B. Neill has an old Class Book which we find revised by Rev. W. H. Evans, P. C. in 1855 and again in 1857 by Rev. James Harris, P. C. The last revision being June 14, 1865. The roll of 1857 shows 89 male and 93 female members. The roll of 1864 shows 93 male and 108 female members. The oldest Minute we can find is not dated except Fourth Quarterly Meeting of Coweta circuit. R. B. Bridges, John D. Thurmond, Alston Bailey and Z. F. Turnupseed were appointed Trustees and the Church appointed Z. T. Turnupseed secretary.
Rev. John Renolds was the first man to preach at Bethel so far as I have been able to find. He preached here before the Church was organized. Rev. Stafford, Rev. Haram Camp, Rev. George E. Smith and Rev. W. N. Fambro are among the local Brethren who have labored here. W. N. Fambro’s monthly appointment continued about 16 years and he seldom missed an appointment during that time. He was our recording stewart for many years. It was G. E. Smith who received my hand when I joined the church in this House in September 1859.
How came there to be A Bethel [Church] here?
About the year 1836 Josiah Neill and wife settled in the wild woods not three hundred yards from where the Church now stands. They were Methodists from South Carolina. There was no preaching or religious service held within a reasonable distance; they invited Rev. John Renolds, a local Brother and blacksmith at Freeman’s crossroads to preach at their house. Preparing such convenience as they could for the occasion. Service was held there through the fall of 1837. In 1838 the neighbors assembled and built a brush arbor and Rev. John Bigly another local Brother came to help. It was decided to organize a Church and the first one to present himself for membership was Josiah Neill and his wife was the third. She remained in this Church until July 18, 1878, when she was removed by death. The second person was Martha Steward; she remained in this Church until her death, November 28, 1859. The Church being organized, it was decided to build a house of worship. The collection for this purpose amounted to 65 dollars and a log house was built in the year 1839. Note: This log building was used until 1844 when a much larger structure was built of hewn timber and dressed lumber. The building now in use was erected between 1895 and 1900.
Bethel Methodist is, and has always been, off the beaten track. Situated in sparsely settled southeast Coweta County, it was founded to serve and still does, the few families that reside nearby since larger settlements were quite distant. The fact that it remains an active church is a tribute to its congregations that have remained true to their roots. The sanctuary remains simple but well kept with the original late 19th Century pews and pulpit remaining in place. On this day, the church was decorated with flowers and clearly ready to welcome and serve its flock as it has for almost 180 years.
Unlike some of the churches constructed in the late 1900’s, Bethel was designed, finished and furnished in a traditional manner. The tray ceiling, modest pews, simple wood wainscot, horizontal narrow wall boards, heart pine flooring, the plain chancel, pulpit and apse can trace their design and architectural roots back to the early 19th century. The modest windows are a combination of colored and clear panes, no painted glass or decorated, dedicated windows. There are no architectural or decorative Victorian or Carpenter gothic influences seen here. Bethel Methodist is a lovely classic example of the rural Georgia church at the turn of the 20th century.
The multicolored window panes are typical of the era and bring some welcome light and color into the sanctuary. In this view we can also see that the ceiling treatment has been modified by the addition of acoustical tile. These tiles not only dampen the sound but also serve as insulation to make the sanctuary more comfortable. Changes like these are often seen in these older churches that have remained active. Making available in the old buildings some modern creature comforts such as heat, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, electricity… and even the padded pews as above… have kept loyal congregations coming to churches like Bethel in “modern” times.
The carpet has been added to provide insulation for these old, often airy buildings as well as to protect the heart pine flooring universally found in churches of this era. This view also provides evidence of the warm and welcoming atmosphere, created by light from the windows and transom, that is found inside the Bethel Methodist sanctuary.
According to Mr.Neill, the first interment in the cemetery was a little child who died in March 1839. Josiah Neill was buried in August of 1839 and Josiah Stewart was buried the same year. It is another way of illustrating the fact that these old burial grounds are full of unmarked graves that may have been recorded in the old minutes but have no visible headstones. The graves were marked with either small field stones or wooden markers that have disappeared over time. The above marker for John Neill is etched by hand from a large field stone and records his burial on July 28, 1862. Smaller field stones are visible in the background to further illustrate the point.
Henry Freeman was a veteran of the War of 1812 and served in Newnan’s Command, Georgia Volunteer Militia. He was born in Wilkes County and was married three times, having outlived his first two wives. He was member number 61 on the Bethel Church roles.
There are 474 recorded burials in the cemetery, 34 of these are from the founding family of the church – the Neill family.
Your tax-deductible donation to Historic Rural Churches will help keep history alive through digital and physical preservation efforts for Georgia’s rural churches, their history and the communities that support them.
Full Name *
Sign me up for the newsletter!
I’m pretty sure this is the church that was used in season 2 of the walking dead. I hate that there isn’t a picture of the facade. It’s a beautiful church!