Historic Hebron Presbyterian Church is quite a story and it has three components i.e. the church, the schoolhouse and an extraordinary cemetery. It all began in 1797 with a log cabin as the original church structure. At that point in time, the Cherokees had recently ceded the land that became Banks county in the Long Swamp Treaty of 1783. However, the Indians were immediate neighbors to the west of Hebron’s area and, there being no obvious border between Cherokee and Georgia property, hostilities were still frequent in the Georgia back country. Everyone brought rifles to the services and sentries were posted.
The little church prospered and by 1800, the congregation needed a new church building. A new church was erected where the old one stood and in 1805, the owner of the property donated seven acres to the church for a total of ten cents. It was a simple frame structure with open windows and shutters. Glass windows and ceiling were not added until 1860. The church continued to grow and in 1884, the second structure was replaced with the one that stands today. However, some artifacts from the older church are still being used today.
To a great extent, the current church owes its long existence to the Rev. Groves Harrison Cartledge, whose portrait still hangs in the sanctuary. During the early 1800’s membership had started to decline as many of the original settlers joined the western migration into Alabama and beyond. In 1851 the membership had dwindled to 43 congregants. Enter the Rev. Cartledge. His legacy is twofold i.e. he opened a school and he reversed the decline in membership. The school was his first accomplishment. It opened in 1855 and soon had 70 pupils of all ages, including some adults. His second achievement was increasing the church enrollment, starting just after the Civil War. This is even more noteworthy when coupled with the fact that the Hebron Community lost 19 young men during the conflict. Rev. Cartledge went on to serve as Hebron’s minister for 47 years and during that time added 134 members to the church roles. He died in 1899 and is buried in the center of the cemetery.
As was typical in the Georgia back country, the church served many purposes and one of these was conflict resolution. In a land with no courthouses and few lawyers, the church was the primary purveyor of justice. For example, church minutes of 1884 show that a member was brought before his peer group having been accused of ‘unchristian conduct’. Allegedly he let a tenant farmer run, beat and dog my hog to death. A trial was held at the church and the verdict was guilty, although the consensus was the tenant probably did not intend to kill the hog. Another dispute in 1893 was far more serious. A member was accused of hosting a Christmas party where the guests allegedly danced. The host as well as seven gentlemen dancers were tried, found guilty and suspended……until they demonstrated repentance. Three lady dancers also admitted to the transgression but were forgiven without a trial. We see this particular form of sin frequently. Dancing was hard to stamp out in the back country.
It was also during Rev. Cartledge’s ministry that the current church was built in 1884, ‘of pine logs so big it took four oxen to drag them to the mill’. Over the years the church changed very little and it wasn’t until the 1940’s that electricity arrived. And it wasn’t until 1951 that the wood stove was replaced with gas heat. The road to the church was not paved until 1962, and in 1969 indoor restrooms were installed. Hebron Presbyterian remains a glorious reminder of our past and the sturdy Scottish Highlanders who lived and died here.
There is a wonderful book on the history of Hebron that was the source for much of the above brief history…Hebron Presbyterian Church: God’s Pilgrim People 1796-1996. Thank you for supporting Historic Rural Churches of Georgia and helping us spread the word.