Center Methodist Church was constituted in 1813. It was founded on the strategic ridge the separates the Broad and Oconee Rivers in Oglethorpe County (created 1793). The founders were David McLaughlin, David Patrick, George Williamson, George Moore and John Beasley, prominent early citizens of Oglethorpe. The county of Oglethorpe was known as ‘the Mother of Statesmen‘ because of the number of Georgia leaders coming from it prior to 1850.
The church site was near what would become the town of Stephens (after Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States and Governor of Georgia) but was originally known as Antioch or Antioch Depot. Center was originated as a non-denominational, shared, general meeting house for the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians.
Center was aptly named when it was first constructed. This church was the center of activity in this sparsely settled, pioneer community. Neighbors met here for fellowship with each other, couples courted in the church yard. The men and women separated as they entered the rough log cabin. The men were seated on one side of the church on puncheon benches placed on the hard-packed, earthen floor. Women sat on the other side. To break the intensity and boredom of the long sermons and hard, backless pews, parishioners often made use of the gourd dipper in the cedar bucket of water sitting to one side of the room.
The current sanctuary, above, is the third house of worship to be erected on the original site. The first had been the usual, hand-hewed log structure and it served the denomination(s) until 1852. During those first forty years, the denominations shared the log building until the Baptists removed themselves to the burgeoning community of Antioch and their Antioch Baptist Church only a mile or so away in 1820. Not much later, the Presbyterians drifted to Beth Salem/Lexington Presbyterian and Cherokee Corner churches by the mid-1820’s. The Methodists continued to occupy the original building until they decided to raise a new church on the site in 1852.
The beautiful frame structure that graces the one acre site today was constructed in 1914. This building is just a few miles from the historic location of China Grove, the home built by Ferdinand Phinizy near his businesses at Bowling Green. Bowling Green was the name of a famous race track he operated there. These days, a small group of dedicated worshipers still gather at Center Methodist each month to continue the practices of their predecessors. Thank you for preserving this important piece of Georgia history.
This view from the entry at Center Methodist toward the pulpit would have been quite similar to the view from the same spot in the 1852 church, minus the lush carpet, modern electric lighting and gas heating, ornate ceiling, stained glass, Gothic windows, comfortable pews, etc. above which reflects the prosperity and sophistication that had come to the church and community in the early 20th century. No one could have guessed the backward movement that was on the way thanks to the loss of prosperity flying in on the wings of the boll weevil, producing economic depression and rural flight for many years to come.
Unlike the Primitive Baptists, piano and organ music was an integral and vital part of the Methodist worship service. This old piano accompanied thousands of parishioners who joined their voices in song and praise during countless services for a hundred years…. and still do!
Elegant coffered ceiling treatments were popular as the congregations became more wealthy and built new sanctuaries replacing the older structures. Center’s early 20th century ceilings reflect that style, and they are beautiful examples.
These Gothic style windows were very popular in the late Victorian/ Edwardian era when the final sanctuary was constructed. They would have been much more ornate in an urban church, but these at Center project the simple dignity that the congregation of a rural church in Georgia would have embraced at that time.
This final structure for Center Methodist was constructed in 1914, and it was patterned along the plain style architecture that was most popular in the late Victorian, early Edwardian era. We have two steeples, with the right (usually east) larger than left. Where did this convention come from? See Philomath and Beth Salem as contemporary examples of other Oglethorpe County churches.
The beautiful frame structure that graces the one acre site today was constructed in 1914. It reflects the church’s and community’s development since its founding in 1813 and its desire to reflect their progress and posterity, yet it retains the historical character of the structure. Center Church is a perfect example of the double tower style that was embraced by builders of churches like these in the late 19th century. In the cities they were often brick. But in the prosperous communities and small towns, they were predominantly wood frame structures. We feel that it important to save these monuments documenting the past. We applaud the Center Methodist congregations and their stewardship over the last 200 years.
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When and how often to you have services? My regards Alice Wells
You would need to contact the church directly for the correct information. Good luck on your project.
I am so excited! I have only been looking for this church for at least 25 years! George Williamson was my 3 great grandfather.My grandmother was Agusta Pauline Williamson. Her grand father was Frank he had a son named John he changed his name to Jefferson Davis Williamson he married Hixey Lula Moody. She moved to Chipley Florida . My Grand mother married James Robert Jones. They had 4 girls and 2 Boys. My Dad Was Junie Wyatte (Bud) Jones they had 4 boys and two girls. I am the oldest. I am Alice Wells. I married RAleigh B Wright,Jr Dec.34,1959 he died Jan. 17, 1993. I remarried April 24, 2010 to Kessler Howard Wells. He died June, 16,2019Ihttps://www.facebook.com/100000151082723/posts/2914877461860595/f you want the the dates just send for them My regards Alice Wells
Thanks for sharing that family history Alice.