We do not know a lot about Hopewell Baptist but Cemeteries and Churches of Quitman County, Georgia, by Jacquelyn M. Shepard tells us the congregation was organized in 1876 and that they met in a brush arbor for about ten years. The church you see above was completed in 1886 and, judging from the footings and the support joists underneath that you can see in the gallery photos below, this would be the original building. The history further tells us that the pulpit and pews were replaced in 1976, and that “The first pastor was the Reverend Dixon and the first Deacon was Croff Crumbley. About 1900 the Hopewell Music and Education Convention was established by Jordan Miller. Edward Miller, who is his grandson serves as the president of the convention now, as this organization continues with its work of training the young voices of Hopewell Church”.
The congregation is now inactive and has been so for a number of years. However, the structure is in remarkable condition, given the footings and underpinnings of the church have been there for 135 years. We are always amazed by these crude construction methods we find all across rural Georgia, and the fact that they have held up so well. These people were very poor but they were skilled in working with what they had….and what they had was trees and rocks. Georgia heart pine is a remarkable building material. If is kept water tight, it will endure for a very long time. You will note that the tin roof is relatively new and that the sanctuary is in good condition as a result. In our opinion, if tin had not emerged as an affordable roofing alternative in the late 19th century, very few of these structures would be left.
We think it is worthwhile to put these remarkable icons of our past into the historical context that created them. The location of Hopewell is very remote and we are struck by the fact that there are no houses anywhere near the church, given that the early congregants attended by foot and by horse. An African American congregation organized in 1876 makes it one of the older ones in Georgia. When the Civil War ended in 1865, chaos had descended upon the rural south and the reconstruction period had begun. Over the next few years African Americans, often with white assistance, slowly began to form their own churches which became the center of life for these newly freed slaves and their children. Hopewell is one of the churches that emerged from this environment. We are confident that there are many unmarked graves in the cemetery of people born into slavery who now began to create a life for themselves and their children the best way they could in this remote part of Georgia.
This meant still raising cotton for the most part since farm labor was all they knew. As America began to industrialize at the turn of the century, opportunities for a better life and better jobs emerged in the larger cities, especially in the North, resulting in declining rural populations. Georgia now has 159 counties and Quitman County ranks 158 in terms of population and 152 in per capita income. Hopewell remains as a testament to this period of our Georgia history. As we often remind ourselves, this is where we came from and this is how we got here.
Be sure to click and scroll the gallery photos below for more history and graveyard genealogy.
As you saw in the initial exterior photo, Hopewell is a classic single gable, wood frame rectangular structure with a tin roof and tin-sheathed bell tower astride the gable. It was built by a black congregation to serve their community. This design is common among rural churches, black and white, throughout Georgia in the 19th and into the 20th. Century. The photo above captures an image of the backside, south east corner and the shed roofed apse area tacked on to the rear of the building. We also can see entry steps into the church on each side of the apse allowing entrance to the interior from the north and south sides. This is an unusual feature in churches such as Hopewell.
This is a shot of the north west corner of the building. Notice that all of the footings are constructed of hand dug fieldstones. The fact that this building remains plumb and level after 135 years of resting, un-mortared on these rock pillars after 135 years is a tribute to the ingenuity and skillfulness of the former slaves that built the church.
This photo provides us with another example of the construction skills of Hopewell’s designers and builders. Note that debarked ancient long leaf pine trees make up much of the building’s underpinnings. The floor joists were also fashioned from pine logs at the building site. Note the length of the vertical joists supported by tree trunks and stones. Dead level after 135 years and a tribute to the skill of the builders.
Here we have entered the sanctuary and are looking toward the chancel area. Despite seeing some water damage in the ceiling, the sanctuary appears to be in remarkable condition and the interior is relatively clean, attractive and fairly well kept given the fact this church has been abandoned for years.
In this photo, we have moved forward from the back pews in the last shot. Here we are again totally surprised to find this abandoned structure to be relatively clean and ready to host a normal service. Though the flowers are plastic and one of the chancel chairs is out of place, the usual looting of pews, chairs, tables and other church furniture and decorative elements has not taken place.
Here we have moved to the front of the church and have a close up view of the chancel, pulpit area and apse. The unique theater-like drapes above the apse create a proscenium. We cannot help but think that someone is taking care of this sacred place. We want to find out who that might be because this old church is worthy of saving.
This shot was taken from the chancel toward the north wall. Here we can see the pulpit, offertory table and chancel chairs. Though there is some detritus and rug damage, we still see that this church is somehow avoiding getting trashed as is the normal case. We can also see that the north wall area is suffering from some water damage and needs repair. The most significant discovery is to find that the main entry to the church has been boarded up. The main entry is now at the northwest corner. Why has it been shifted? The mystery of Hopewell deepens.
Here at the pulpit, we are looking toward the original double door entryway. We see that the original ceiling, with the exception of the north corner area, appears to still be fairly stable. Though the pulpit is a mess, we still get the feeling that some congregational-related souls are looking out after this old church.
Looking from the “Amen corner” across the chancel and toward the southwest wall, we can’t help but think that someone needs to take on the project of saving this worthy, historical black church. Perhaps we, by discovering and presenting this historic relic to others, will tempt someone to step forward.
This touching fan was found on the floor at Hopewell. Although the building had power and ceiling fans, a three day reunion in August also needed the traditional hand fans. This one a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King.
The out house is bad condition. But it provides us a tangible relic of what life was like for the freed blacks that chose to build their own churches and struggle for their freedom. “Its been a long time comin’ “.
The church had a significant annual revival in August as a tradition. Here is the agenda for 2003. This was a three day affair and the program would indicate it was a substantial event. We would love to know more about the Hopewell story and its demise.
William Smith’s cemetery marker shows he was born February 15, 1858 and died December 11, 1915. He is shown in the 1880 Randolph County, Georgia census as the 22 year old son of Monroe and Margret Smith. There were 11 children in the household. Census records show both of his parents were born in Virginia. By the time of the 1900 census, William is living in Quitman County and is age 42. He is living with his wife, Fannie, age 34, his mother, Margret, age 70, and nine children. William and Fannie have been married 20 years. By 1910 Fannie is listed as having given birth to 18 children, 12 still living. William Smith and Fannie Neal were married December 25, 1879 in Stewart County, Georgia.
Fannie L. Neal Smith was born May 1, 1866 and died January 28, 1928. Her death certificate states she was born in Stewart County and that her occupation was farm life. In 1920 she is a widow, age 53, living in Randolph County, Georgia with three children ages 13 to 17. In 1880 she is in the household with her husband William Smith listed above. She is 16 years old and the daughter-in-law of Monroe Smith. The 1870 Stewart County census shows Fanny Neal, age 6 with her mother Sally Neal, age 32, working as a domestic servant in the household of Joseph Perkins.
This is an example of one of the really old markers at Hopewell that is completely unreadable. According to his death certificate, Richard White died August 22, 1926 and is buried in this cemetery but his marker has not been found. He was the son of Richard White, Sr. and Eliza Ricks. His wife was Pheriby White, daughter of William and Minnie Neal. The 1880 Clay County census shows Richard White, age 23, Pheriby White, age 20 and Lucy, age 7 months. The 1910 census shows them living in Georgetown, Quitman County, married 30 years, with 10 children, 4 still living. In the 1910 census Richard was 50 years old and Pheriba was 43. They could both read and write and owned their own home.
This photograph shows two tombstones that contain no readable name. Death certificates for Quitman County show several people buried at Hopewell between 1919 and 1929 with no findable marker. One of these people was Mary Bowlin who was born December 25, 1858 and died June 1, 1927. She was the daughter of Enos and Sabi Lawson. Her husband was Nick Bowlin and her occupation was farm life.
This is another view from the Hopewell Cemetery. The death certificate for Annie Crumbley whose death certificate shows she was born in 1855 and died February 27, 1920. She is buried at Hopewell but her gravesite has not been found. Her spouse was Crawford Crumbley and her father was Henry Miller. In the 1900 census she reported she had been married 27 years and had one child and he was still living. In 1900 and 1910 she is shown as living in Randolph County. In 1870 Henry Miller is shown in the Georgetown, Quitman County census as a Mulatto 45 years old working as a farm laborer.
This photograph shows several markers in the Hopewell Cemetery and they likely represent related family members. The names are not readable but here are some names of other people buried at Hopewell without known markers: Ada Smith, born in 1896 and died in 1926; Jim Chatman, son of Henry and Sofie Chatman, born 1867, died 1927; Andrew Lee, son of Silas and Francis Lee, born 1877, died 1927; Jesse Mae Lee, daughter of Jim Stanford and Mandy Bullard, born 1892, died 1922; Julia Lewis, daughter of George Kayler and Fannie Thomas, born 1883, died 1923.
This is another picture showing the condition of some of the older cemetery markers in Hopewell Cemetery. Dinah Smith was born in 1861 and died suddenly on July 13, 1927. She is buried in this cemetery at Hopewell in an unknown grave. Her father was Napoleon Dixon and her mother was Emily Rice, born in Virginia. Her spouse was Cornelius Smith. Cornelius and Dinah Smith are shown in the Quitman County 1900 census where they have been married 11 years and have six children. The 1870 Quitman County census shows Napoleon Dixon, age 41, his wife, Emily, age 38, daughter Dinah, age 8 and other children.
This sign indicates a congregation that was cognizant of their history and the traditional role of the church in this remote rural community. We believe this was a joyous place and that many souls were saved, Baptisms performed, hymns sung and souls laid to rest. She is an important part of Georgia's rural history.
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This is such a historically significant structure. It would be without a doubt eligible for nomination to the National Register, as well as the National Register Places In Peril. It’s construction and condition is amazing and the fact that it still has outbuildings intact makes it even more significant. Some descendants and/or historical societies could surely make this happen. What a wonderful part of our Ga history this is.
We agree. Many of the churches on the website would qualify for National Register status. It is a laborious process, however, and requires a lot of effort at the local level.