You are looking at one of the most remarkable rural churches in Georgia. Located in the little hamlet of Jewell, not far from the Ogeechee River Shoals, Jewell Baptist 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.
Please click and scan the photos below for a good look at the church interior and learn about some of the early congregants who live here.
Jewell Baptist has been extremely well maintained throughout its existence. Its connections to the mill, community and congregation have been excellent and ongoing. As an example of the love and money dedicated to this community treasure, we were told that the upper portion of the square, three story steeple was heavily damaged in the early 20th Century then carefully and expensively repaired. Yet as you study this view, you can see no evidence of that calamity. The bricks match, there are no obvious seams or cracks hinting of extensive repairs.
When you look at this photo of Jewell Baptist covered in snow back in the old days, study the steeple and compare it to the previous photo. We are not sure when the old photo was taken but we would guess in the 1920s or so. One thing is certain…..she has been well taken care of and we are grateful to the congregants who provided such good historical stewardship.
The pilasters between each window give the appearance of a recessed panel at each window. If looking closely, you will notice that every sixth brick course is turned inwards, which is called an American bond pattern. This was the most common bond used in brick load bearing masonry construction because it was the most simple to lay. The tops of the Gothic arched windows are accented with an eyebrow that mimics the window arch. Castellated corbels at the top of the walls add additional Gothic elements to this church, which was constructed during a time when Gothic Revival style architecture was popular.
Looking toward the altar we get a great view of the elaborate and intricate ceiling. In the Hancock County of 1869, it would take both wealth and availability of craftsmen like those at Jewell's mills to design and construct such a sanctuary. The wealth and sophistication found in Hancock in this era was legend. Sparta was often characterized as one of the wealthiest towns in the country.
Take a moment to focus on the church ceiling. The craftsmanship in this old jewel us just remarkable. We don’t know who built the church but it is highly unlikely that it was local craftsmen. The church was dedicated in 1870 and modeled after some of the New England churches that were prevalent in the northeast. To find this kind of skilled woodwork in a very small Hancock County mill town on the Ogeechee River, would require reaching out into some of the larger cities that could afford it.
This view from the loft reveals a church whose interior layout and design... incorporating wood ceilings and half-domed altar and apse flanked by four nine paneled doors, gothic windows, plush carpeting and factory-made, cushioned pews... was totally unique in the rural south of the late 1860s. You are looking at a church whose interior and exterior emulate churches Mr. Jewell had attended in his home town of Winchester, New Hampshire. Everything reflects the taste and money that Mr. Jewell brought to the construction of t;his church.
In this last interior shot, looking from the altar, we can see other examples of the highest-quality fit and finish that is the hallmark of this lovely church. The gallery wall is solid wood with applied moldings polished to a tee. The finished ceilings gleam. The frames of the Gothic windows are smooth and well joined. It is hard to believe this is a nearly 150 year old structure. Its present shape and remarkable condition, in and out, is a tribute to its congregations past and present.
Having a bell like this in rural Georgia in the 19th century was unheard of and a real tribute to the love of the community for Daniel Jewell. The inscription reads "In Grateful Remembrance of D.A. Jewell, Sr. Who Gave This Bell And Building To The Baptist Church At Jewells, Ga In 1896. It Was Recast By The Meenely Bell Co.. Troy, N.Y. 1896".
Daniel Ashley Jewell was born April 21, 1822 in Winston, New Hampshire and died September 25, 1896. His obituary in the Christian Index on December 3, 1896 states he moved to Milledgeville about 1849. About 1859 he established a prosperous business in cotton manufacturing and general merchandise in Jewell, Georgia which bore his name. There he built a house of worship for the Baptist church. He married Mary A. Shea (April 12, 1827-June 3, 1895) on January 11, 1849. The wedding was performed by John F. Dagg son of John Leadley Dagg who served as president of Mercer University 1844-1854.
Col. Wylde Lyde Latham Bowen was born October 22, 1838 in Grainger, Tennessee and died December 14, 1905 in Hancock County. Before the Civil War he was a newspaper editor and had an orange grove, Myrtlewood in Lake City, Florida. He served as colonel in the 4th Florida Infantry, CSA. After the war he was owner of Jewell-Jewell Cotton Mill. In 1877 in Jewell, Georgia he married Mary Emma Jewell (1858-1917), daughter of Daniel Ashley and Mary A. Shea Jewell.
Martha W. Cumming was born May 7, 1839 and died April 24, 1879 of consumption. She was the wife of Nathaniel Harris Cumming and her obituary states “May the great arms of Jehovah be about the four little ones bereft of a mother, and the grief stricken husband”. The1880 census lists her children as Alphus, Susan, Mark, and Howard. An infant, buried at Jewell Baptist Church Cemetery, Walter Cumming born June 4, 1878 and died March 12, 1879 may have also been her son.
Charlie Verdery Gilbert was born April 17, 1866 and died September 23, 1878. He was the son of Sgt. William M. Gilbert (1826-1901) and Candice H. Whitmire Gilbert (1833-1917). He is the only Gilbert with a marker at Jewell Baptist Church Cemetery. Both of his parents are buried at the Cassville Cemetery, Bartow County, Georgia. Sgt. Gilbert’s cemetery marker says he served in Company B, Roswell Cav BN. His obituary says he came to Bartow County from Jewell, Hancock County 23 years before his death and that he was a member of the Methodist Church.
John Perry Bowen was born December 17, 1827 in Grainger County, Tennessee and died December 21, 1906. He was the son of Reese Bowen and Mary Moody Bowen. He was a brother of Col. Wylde Bowen mentioned above. From 1881 to 1898 he was the post master of Bowen, Grainger County, Tennessee. In 1900, he sold his farm in Grainger County and moved to Jewell, Georgia. His wife, Margaret Virginia Jones was born December 6, 1835 and died May 17, 1905. In the 1900 census she is shown as having given birth to eight children with four still living at that time. Both of her parents are listed as born in Virginia.
William R. Davis was born January 8, 1850 and died August 31, 1907. In the 1900 Warren County, Georgia census he is listed as a carpenter. He married Susan Mary Dunn (1855-1925) on March 23, 1873. In the 1850 census he is listed as the youngest of five children of Elijah and Edith Davis.
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We celebrated 150 Years June 12, 2019
wish I had known, I was there for the last big homecoming celebration,(125) my aunt and uncle were Ray and Ruby Mitchell, and Uncle Lloyd Mitchell, my papa was their brother “Pal”, married to Jeanette Johnson sister of the late Martha Carr, so many memories of going to this church w Aunt Ruby and Uncle Ray,