The lovely little church, nestled among the trees and surrounded by a beautiful cemetery, is a perfect example of a very historic rural Georgia church that has been lovingly maintained over the years. When Clinton Methodist was founded, it was on the very edge of the Georgia frontier. Its parishioners were Revolutionary War soldiers and rugged individuals willing to carve out a life for themselves and their families out of the Georgia wilderness.
When Jones County was partitioned from Baldwin County in 1807, it lay on the far western border of Georgia. Clinton was established as the county seat and began to grow quickly. Since it was a frontier town, early settlers were pretty “rough” and for several years, Clinton and Jones County had no organized churches. In 1810, Inferior Court records show the appropriation of one acre to the use of the “Methodist connection”, but there is no record of what type of building may have been erected or any other type of use of the land by these Methodists. However, on July 14, 1821, a deed to the Clinton Methodist Episcopal Church was made by the Inferior Court to five individuals listed as trustees of the church. It has been assumed that the present structure was built that year, 1821. This makes Clinton Methodist one of the very oldest churches founded and built along Georgia’s western border in the early 1820’s.
In Carolyn Williams, History of Jones County – written in 1957, she writes the following: ‘It is thought that the present structure was erected at this period (1821). This church is a frame house of good dimensions with substantial stone steps from the native granite. A steeple is overhead. The windows large and wide and double doors form the main entrance. A large gallery which was reached by steps from the front extended over the front part of (the interior) of the church and was for the use of negro slaves. Years after the negroes became free (1896) the gallery was removed, the church cut down and remodeled until this present structure does not appear as the up-to-date church of 1821.’ Clinton Methodist may not look the same today, but it still admirably serves its initial and permanent mission!
Particular attention should be paid to the cemetery. It is filled with unique quarried stone work by Jacob P. Hutchings. Mr. Hutchings was a former slave with extraordinary skills as a granite mason and builder, as you will see in subsequent photographs. The cemetery is also the burial ground for many Civil War soldiers. Quite a place. Thank you for supporting Historic Rural Churches of Georgia and helping us spread the word. Please be sure to sign up to receive new postings on featured churches.
Though some material interior changes/modifications have been made over the past 193 years or so, the sanctuary, first floor layout is the same. Two wide, double front doors open to lead the congregation into the sanctuary via two wide, side aisles. The aisles lead down to the altar which surrounds the raised pulpit. Long benches/pews lay between the aisles with shorter pews located along the interior sides of the church. The slender, center columns provide roof support without obscuring the view of the parishioners. It is also believed that the columns provided a demarcation line to insure that the men remained divided from the women and children as was the custom of the day.
The 19th century pump organ remains in the sanctuary as a reminder of days gone by. It had to have been purchase between 1890 and 1910 since the D.S. Johnston Company was closed in 1910. It has accompanied the flock for over 100 years. The town of Clinton is now moribund, but Clinton Methodist remains a strong and active church. This church is one of the recurring manifestations we find throughout Georgia of community strength in spite of town/village decline.
Clinton Methodist has served as the social, political and religious nexus of this town since 1821. Its spirit remains and is there for you to enjoy. We like the fact that they say, ‘Our church prides itself in being a very friendly, informal (blue jeans just fine) congregation who enjoys a traditional, Methodist service each Sunday at 9:45 . We look forward to serving our community another two hundred or even more years.‘
Clinton Methodist is the site of one of the most memorable, historic and unique cemeteries in central Georgia. It is here where, looking at the many grand memorials, one can witness the material success of many citizens as well as recognize their piety and devotion to their church and religion. The huge granite stones you see above were carefully laid and lapped so as to be able to stand the tests of weather and time with no mortar! You will find examples of this design throughout this cemetery. How does one enter this enclosure to add family members? How does one enter to kneel at the graveside of their loved ones? Many have no gates! How and where does one quarry these ancient-looking, massive monoliths? Why is this a style almost unique to this area? The answers to the above questions all point to one man, Jacob P. Hutchings. “Jake”, as he was known, was a slave of the Hutchings family. Early on, he developed skills as a granite mason and burial site enclosure builder and even home builder! He also discovered a granite outcropping nearby which became known as “Jakes Woods”…. there he sourced and quarried the giant blocks you see above. Jake’s story is too long for our narrative, but you may want to look into learning more about this remarkable slave and graveyard architect. After he was emancipated , Jake became a prominent citizen of Clinton and served as Jones County’s first black member of the Georgia State Congress in the 1870’s. These cemeteries and old churches are full of stories.
Above is a sample of the eclectic monument styles and uncommonly old graves you will find at Clinton cemetery. In the foreground you see a simple, early-19th century style tablet stone. It marks the grave of a veteran of the War of 1812 who had been born in 1784 and died in 1837. To its left stands a large obelisk marker and behind that is a large false crypt. There are few cemeteries in Georgia where one can find and study so many different styles/periods of markers and presenting such a breadth of death dates and years represented. At Clinton, marked graves from 1822 to 2013 can be seen.
Here is the view from inside another Jake Hutchings enclosure. Within this one enclosure you see a Confederate Captain’s stone, one marking the 3rd wife of Peyton Pitts, a cradle-style grave of a child, an Obelisk, an early 19th century tablet and more. Oh if these walls could talk, so many stories in one place.
Clinton Methodist Cemetery is the home of some of the finest wire, wrought iron and cast iron grave enclosures you will see in any rural graveyard. It appears that the popular, early, monolithic granite enclosures simply whetted the Clintonians appetite for stylish enclosures. As the community became more sophisticated mid-century, the hulking,Hutchings-style enclosures began to give way to more modern, attractive and inviting metal structures. By the 1850’s, gated iron fencing such as the one above began to be used. And, as you can see in the background the monuments themselves had become more ornate and decorative as well… no more simple tablets and simple granite walls for the wealthier families. By the 1850’s, the relatively hard-to-work and decorate wrought iron or mild steel enclosures such as the one above began to be replaced by much more flamboyant and highly decorated cast iron enclosures. At Clinton, you will find cast iron enclosures as large as 40 feet by 20 feet with elaborate gates depicting bucolic scenes with sheep and weeping willows. The man who bought, paid for and had installed these enclosures for his family was proud of his success and wanted to display his stature for the ages to come. We think you will be impressed and see that these works of the iron monger’s art are a unique sight to behold.
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