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.
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.
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 1860's. 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 "his" church.
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".
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.
The cemetery is full of Jewell citizens who lived and died here including Daniel and Mary Jewell. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Thank you for your legacy to this church and to Georgia history. Well done thou good and faithful servant. For a full documentation of Jewell Baptist interments click here.
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.'
Jewell Baptist has been extremely well maintained throughout its existence. Its connections to the mill, community and congregation have been excellent and on going. 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. The castellated corbels decorating the tops of each level match perfectly. Or do they?? ? Someone did a great… and expensive… repair job. What do we now know about this mystery concerning a damage incident and repair? When you look at the next, final photo of Jewell Baptist covered in snow back in the "old days", study the steeple and compare it to the one above.
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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,