Bethel United Methodist Church was founded in the days of the great Methodist expansion of the early 1800’s. The exact date is (at this time) unknown. New settlers and farmers entering the area realized the need for a place of worship and built a small log house located on Scull Shoals Road seven miles from Washington, GA. That structure was used for worship as well as a schoolhouse. The first Bethel church was located about a mile from where the present structure is located. Records of the church and class meetings were kept by George Smith and document the congregation’s growth. There are records of slave members as early as 1838.
By 1849, the church recognized the need to move to larger quarters. After receiving a gift of 3.7 acres nearby, a new church was built on that lot in a pine grove situated behind the present church’s location. This new church was a white frame building with large windows and green blinds and had a seating capacity of 300. There were two front doors, one for men and one for ladies. A partition three or four feet in height divided the center row of pews and not even husbands and wives sat together but, instead, sat across the partition from each other. Young men and ladies who came together did the same. The old men sat in the “amen corner” near the pulpit on the left and the old ladies sat on the right.
In 1912 discussions began concerning erection of a new building for Bethel. The present structure, sited closer to the front of the lot and to the road was opened and dedicated on July 23, 1916. The church with furnishings, piano, etc was completed and paid for at a cost of approximately $7,000. Today, the Bethel congregation enjoys a lovely historic church with arched doorways welcoming them into a 300 seat sanctuary with beautiful stained glass windows, pulpit furniture, oak pews and two, Civil War era , captains chairs from the old church placed near altar.
The interior of Bethel Methodist is lovely, inviting and in great condition. The congregation has shrunk but still provides loving care both inside and out. The present sanctuary was designed, constructed and furnished just before World War I. It is, therefore, quite in contrast to the much more spare sanctuaries at Friendship Baptist and other earlier-constructed Wilkes County churches. Though it is now pushing 100 years old, the original construction fit and finish, the elegantly designed, factory made pews, the double hung, stained glass windows and many of its other elements reflect a time when even the rural country church could take on an elegance and style unlike its earlier peers… if the congregation could pay for it.
An early Howard piano still remains at the ready in the Bethel sanctuary. Howard was established in 1895 and was sold in Baldwin Piano Stores as an alternative to the costlier Baldwin. This modal was made in the late 19th/early 20th century and has been in continuous at Bethel for almost a century. Though the company was closed in the 1960’s, used Howard’s are still sought after because of their high quality and sound. This instrument has accompanied countless hymns and provided enjoyment for its congregation. Regular Sunday services as well as special occasion celebrations still occur at Bethel Methodist. We are told that being in this sanctuary for the Christmas celebration provides an enriching and unique experience. All are invited.
A view from the pulpit at Bethel highlights the airy, natural illumination provided by the large windows. Since Bethel was electrified during construction, the attractive lanterns seen above have been in place and providing illumination in this sanctuary since the churches beginnings.
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Mary maternal grandmother belonged to this church. Mary Jane Tucker Cofer