The following history was provided by Daniel Bookhoop from the church files.
I want you to relax and in your mind imagine you are living in the 1840s, about 177 years ago. The United States under President Martin Van Buren was still expanding. It was a pioneer nation. There were no modern conveniences as we have them today. There were no automobiles. There were no airplanes. The Wright Brothers have not yet made their famous flight. There was no electricity, no light bulbs, no refrigerators, no air conditioning, no radios, no telephones, no television. This was before the Civil War. The majority of people during this time were farmers. The most common means of transportation was walking, horseback riding, or traveling in a horse-drawn cart. As you hitched the horse to the buggy, gathered your family, and started your journey to church you would be aware of the fact that you were going to the youngest church on the east side of the Long Cane River. The church was organized in 1830 and just four years ago on January 9, 1836, James R. Starr of Chambers County, Alabama sold Erasmus C. Alford land lot 102. But two acres of land were preserved for the Methodist Episcopal church where the meeting house then stood.
The first meeting house was built of logs and had a balcony to seat the slaves. It stood to the left of the present church, on the hill in the vicinity of the Wallace cemetery lot. In my own imagination I picture the log church to be similar to the log house in the stained glass window of our present sanctuary. We do know the church had a balcony. The slaves made their way to the balcony where they sat during the services. In the 1840s, a Christmas Methodist conference passed the ruling to “let men and women set apart in the congregation.” To insure obedience, the church probably had a partition that ran the length of the church. The men sat on one side and the women on the other. The pews that you sat on were probably slabs of wood without backs to them. The backs came later. According to the description of the traditional Methodist churches in the 1840s, the pulpit was probably high in the air, so high that sometimes as many as six steps were needed to enter it. It was so enclosed as to reach almost shoulder height of the average preacher.
This Sunday that you attended church, a new preacher was to speak. He was somewhat shorter than the average preacher. When he stood in the pulpit, the only thing that was visible was the top of his head. The preacher read his Scripture for his sermon and it was “Be not afraid, it is I.” After the minister preached a tremendous sermon, he was usually invited home to have lunch and fellowship with a family of the church. The first pastor we have remembrance of was the Rev. H.J. Ellis, who served the church in 1879. Right along with Bethel Church on almost on the same ground was the little one teacher school house. On December 26, 1887 John C. Davidson granted to the trustees of Bethel Academy a triangular parcel of land lying between roads leading to Bethel Church from south and east. It was stipulated that when the land ceased to be used for educational purposes, it should revert to his estate.
The church building in which we worship today was built in 1906 when W.F. Hogg presented one acre of land to the trustees of Bethel Church on November 8, 1906. The cornerstone states that the pastor at the time was W.C. Fox. Bethel was noted for its barbecues which were prepared by Mr. Abb Hardy. They were held under the trees and people came from miles around for that delicious dinner. They were always held on Wednesdays because businesses in the cities closed at noon on this day. And so Bethel Church has come down through the years. A people dedicated to the spreading of God’s word, who worship in a building dedicated to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Bethel – the house of God, a blessing to the community at large. Built to satisfy the need of pioneers and continues, as God’s given sunshine, to meet the same need of posterity. “There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood, no lovelier place in the dale: No spot is so dear to my childhood as that little white church in the vale.”
Note – We are grateful to the author of the above history whose love for the church and the community is self evident.
The introductory, exterior view presents Bethel Methodist as a particularly lovely early 20th Century Meeting House. Its enclosed entry porch mirrors the main building’s center gable design right down to the matching cornice returns and gothic, stained glass windows. Its modest size and decorative flourishes identifies it as a perfect example of a late Victorian, wood frame, rural church. This interior view from the pulpit area solidifies and confirms Bethel’s Victorian heritage. The lancet, stained glass windows bring the interior to life with their colorful, ambient light.
Here we see the main aisle flanked by slatted pews that came into style in the late 19th-early 20th century. The chancel with attractive prayer rail, pulpit and furnishings is also typical of the era. The interior’s suspended truss design allows the raising of the central portion of the ceiling to create a cathedral-like atmosphere within this simple sanctuary. What we are viewing provides us an authentic look back over a hundred and ten years in time.
In this close-up view we get a better look at the original pews at Bethel. They are factory-made, expensive and quite elaborate. They reflect the relative prosperity of Bethel’s, Troup County congregation in the 1900’s. Little did they know that they were heading into a future that would bring king cotton’s demise, a World War and an extended, economic depression. The fact that Bethel’s congregation has been able to bring their church into the 21st century in such great shape is a tribute to their love for and stewardship of this historic and lovely Meeting House.
It is remarkable to find stained glass windows of the quality and quantity of those in the sanctuary. There are a dozen at Bethel most of which are striking, wood framed, memorial lancet windows. The one above is dedicated to Reverend J. A. Palmer (1820-1892) who was a beloved pastor for decades. He is buried in the Bethel graveyard beneath a substantial marble monument.
Here is a close-up of another lancet window similar to Reverend Palmer’s. Both would have been considered expensive in this era. Though similar in design to Palmer’s , this one contains a large panel depicting the Mason’s Compass and Square emblem rather than the Holy Bible. The Masons were a significant and powerful Brotherhood which was growing in prominence and power at the beginning of the 20th century.
Rev. Jesse Alexander Palmer was born in Greene County, Georgia on February 8, 1820. He married Mariah A. Ogletree on December 26, 1839 and Emily G. Cotton on October 26, 1848. He was licensed to preach August 21, 1852. He was preaching monthly at Bethel right up until his sudden death November 2, 1892. His son, Matthew Asbury Palmer enlisted in Company K, 13th Georgia Regiment, CSA July 8, 1861. He died in service at Blue Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, Virginia October 23, 1861.
John Sylvester Burdette enlisted in Company K, 13th Georgia Regiment, CSA on September 26, 1861. He was captured at Cedar Creek, Virginia, October 18, 1864. He was released at Point Lookout, Maryland, May 12, 1865. Humphrey M. Burdette enlisted in the same company and on the same date as John Sylvester Burdette. Humphrey M. Burdette was shot at Chancellorsville, Virginia, May 3, 1863 and totally disabled.
Lawson Slaughter was born January 3, 1797 in Greene County, Georgia. He married first Martha Evans Culver and had nine children. He then married Caroline Missouri Cotton Alford and had one son. He applied for a pension for his service in the War of 1812.
William Gee Cotton was born April 11, 1790 in Prince George County, Virginia. He married Cynthia Smith on May 12, 1812 in Putnam County, Georgia. He died April 25, 1878 in Troup County, Georgia. His parents were Smith Cotton and Martha Gee Gary Cotton. They are buried at the Rehoboth Cemetery in Harris County, Georgia.
We are told that Bethel Methodist is one of the oldest, if not the oldest church in Troup County. She has been lovingly maintained by many congregants over the years and still serves the community.....just as she has for almost 200 years.
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Beautiful church and the history is so great.