The story of Jewell Baptist church is really the story of Daniel Ashley Jewell and his extraordinary accomplishments in this remote corner of Hancock County. Daniel was born in 1822 and migrated south from New Hampshire in the 1840s to seek his fortune. He found it on the shoals of the Ogeechee River, when he founded a cotton mill in 1857 that would come to be known as Jewell Mills. The mill prospered mightily and, along with it, the self-sufficient community that furnished the workers for the mill, which also was named Jewell. Mr. Jewell married a local girl, Mary Shea and they had several children. One of his granddaughters, Ida Cason, would later marry Fuller Callaway in this church and become the matriarch of another great Georgia textile dynasty.
As the village grew, the need for a local Baptist church grew with it and, in 1869, Jewell Baptist was established out of the Long Creek Baptist conference. They met in the local schoolhouse initially but Mr. Jewell agreed to fund the building of what was then called, ‘The Missionary Baptist Church of Christ at Jewell’, and what a church it was. The church itself is a marvel of construction and especially so for a rural church. There are a few exceptions but almost all the rural churches of the time were the classic white frame churches in simple box layout with various embellishments, such as steeples added to the later ones.
The church was dedicated in 1870 and was made of handmade local bricks and was designed to be a replica of the church in Winchester New Hampshire, where Mr. Jewell was raised. The quality of the masonry is just extraordinary for the time and worth a close inspection. The interior of the church is also very unusual and the quality of the finish carpentry and trims is just stunning. What is very apparent is that this church was built by extraordinarily skilled craftsmen at a great expense. The textile industry of those days was self-sufficient and paternalistic in every aspect of workers lives i.e. housing, schools, company stores, churches etc. Mr. Jewell prospered but he shared that prosperity with his employees and they idolized him for it. The church is unusual in so many ways but none more so than the brick vestibule and belfry that was built into the design. Mr. Jewell died in 1896 and, in his memory, a bell was cast in England by the bell maker for the royal family. More information regarding the bell is presented in the supporting photo of it.
Fortunately, Jewell Mills was not burned when General Sherman paid his respects to this part of Georgia. The village continued to thrive until the entire elaborate complex burned to the ground in 1927. However, the legacy left by Daniel Ashley Jewell lives on in the form of Jewell Baptist Church. It is well maintained by its current congregation with loving care. Mr. Jewell is buried in the cemetery and Rock Mill Methodist church is located across the street. Rock Mill Methodist has been totally restored and is well worth seeing. It is located on the website with the other featured churches of Hancock County. The little village of Jewell is just that………a jewel among Georgia’s historic rural treasures.