Sadly, in May of 2018, the historic Liberty Methodist church in Jasper County finally succumbed to the elements. Many of these historic treasures are at risk and doomed unless the local community gets involved in the preservation of it. Part our our mission at HRCGA is to research and document the history while we still can, but also to encourage the physical preservation of these irreplaceable reminders of where we came from and who we are. We call attention to those that are “Abandoned and Endangered” and we say farewell to those that are “Almost Gone But Not Forgotten”. The Liberty Methodist church was in the former category for the last couple of years and now she is gone.
There is not a lot of history available on Liberty Methodist, located in Jasper County. We do know it was founded prior to 1827. According to some history found in the Northern Conference Methodist Archives at Emory University, ‘By 1820 there were enough people to band together and organize a church, services being held in the homes whenever the preacher could get around. In 1827, one of the early pioneers deeded land for a church building.’ Another account also states the church was founded in 1827 by families ‘who had originally come from Delaware and then through the Carolinas to the Hancock County area and then to Jasper county’.
According to the history, the original church on this site served for 64 years, was then torn down and the present building erected. This would date the construction of the present sanctuary around 1891, which looks consistent with the construction techniques of the time. One of the records also states that Rev. Adeil Sherwood was instrumental in the formation of the Liberty Methodist church and the school that was located nearby and known as the Liberty School. Rev. Sherwood is a well-known educator and was the founder of ‘Sherwoods Gazeteer of Georgia‘. For more information on Rev. Sherwood click here. It should be noted that he was a staunch Baptist and therefore the role in establishing Liberty Methodist is not clear. We hope to find out more about the history as we go, but it is clear that this was an important rural church in its day.
The image you see before you is a classic example of what can and will happen when a church loses its congregation has no one to provide basic maintenance and water begins to penetrate the rafters and interior of the structure. Somewhere along the way, this church acquired a composition roof instead of the traditional tin roof. When you look at these old churches that have tin roofing, you really begin to understand what a remarkable building material this is. It has kept many of these old treasures relatively secure and free from the weather for long periods of time. Good old Georgia long leaf heart pine will survive for centuries but cannot escape the catastrophic effects of water once the sanctuary has been violated, as is the case above.
However, Liberty Methodist can be saved with some crisis intervention to repair the roof and some basic repair work. The structure is actually in remarkable shape given its age of at least 125 years and the recent invasion of water into the structure. This will be an ongoing story of restoration and redemption for a classic old rural church badly in need of some help before it is too late. Fortunately, we think we have gotten there in time to prevent further deterioration and hopefully begin the process to bring her back to life. We will keep you posted as the story progresses. Meanwhile, scroll through this collection of ‘Before’ images that follow and provide reminders of days gone by.
Shutters are unusual in these old boxes. These appear to be original and are in reasonable shape considering their age and recent lack of maintenance. Speaking of maintenance, it is interesting to note that the paint on the exterior wall above is in much better condition than the paint on the other three. This is a visual sign of the dramatic impact weather has on these old churches. This wall obviously sat on the lee side of the prevailing winds and weather in this location and has suffered less than the others and the roof.
This is a view of the foundation pillars and floor joists from the lee side of the building. It appears to be ‘high and dry’. You can see that the structure in this area is in remarkably good shape. We do not see here any signs of the water damage we will find in later photos.
This is a photograph of the view of the pillars and floor joists on the windward side of the church. The roof is leaking into the interior of the church just above this spot. Even though water penetration is clearly underway, the pillars are still sound and the floor is still level. On the other hand, if you look closely, you can see the blackening areas and some water spotting visible on the sides of the joists. This is an indication that the joists will soon begin to rot and the floor will fail if the leak is not quickly stopped and the roof repaired.
We are now in the interior of the church and looking from the pulpit toward the front door (west) and on your left is the lee side wall (south). This side of the roof remains sound and there is no sign of major water damage. The pews are not original to the church but they look entirely appropriate. The floor boards and raised chancel boards that we can see remain in relatively good shape. The windows are all still in place keeping the rain and wind at bay. The deer head above is an indication that the church had been used for some storage. Quite a finishing touch to an interior that needs some help and, hopefully, will soon get it.
What appeared to be a minor problem with a failing roof patch when viewed in photo #1 turns turns to be huge hole through which rain constantly flows. The roof rafters and ceiling are clearly in bad shape. Though significant damage has been done to date, the floor is probably repairable with no permanent damage. That status will not last much longer if this roof leak is not repaired soon.
The trees that have grown up in the front of the church give you an indication of how long is has been since the congregation would gather in the front yard. Red Cedars this big are probably 15-20 years old. This picture reveals the noble simplicity and elegance of the structure. Typical of this lost era, we see a single gable, rectangular, wood frame building with two plain, solid wood paneled front doors symmetrically placed beneath the extended diamond, decorative wooden vent. This will be an ongoing story as we attempt to work with the local community to save this old treasure that has served so many congregants well for over 120 years. Stay tuned.
Almost Gone But Not Forgotten
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My hUsband and I served this church and 5 others in 1981- 1985. I fell down the steep front steps one time when I was pregnant. It did not have a bathroom. Most of the congregation that came on Sundays were people from other areas in Georgia that were friends and family of those who were members. I played the piano and we would sometimes have to fight with or avoid the wasps that inhabited the building. One Sunday my husband preached a sermon about taking care of God’s house and the next time we drove by it we noticed that the building had been painted, or so we thought! It had only received a coat of paint on the front side facing the road! But there were good people there too!
I was pastor there from 1979 until 1981… I recall the strong support of the people and I even had Professor Gordon Thompson of Emory preach a series there.
Thank you for the personal connection that seems so recent. This is a sad end for a church that housed a congregation formed well over 200 years ago.
Breaks my heart to see Liberty Methodist crumble. It has fallen on Holy Ground where many Christian voices have been raised to praise our Lord. Hopefully It will spring up some where near with the knowledge given to them by the Christians of Liberty Methodist. What a blessing that would be. Praise God for sharing .
What caused the destruction?
Don, the roof of the church had been compromised for quite some time and water caused deterioration to the point that the entire roof collapsed.
I was fortunate enough to photograph this church not once but twice. I was able to photograph this church last year in October and knowing that it was about to be gone soon I wanted my father to also photograph this church since we both shared a passion for photographing these historical churches in Georgia. My father and I were able to photograph this church again in February 3 days before he became almost gone but not forgotten you my father and I were able to photograph this church again in February 2 days before he became almost gone but not forgotten. It is so sad when you see these beautiful structures succumb to abandonment and nature.
Thank you for sharing that with us Karen. It is disheartening when these churches fade from the physical landscape but the memories like those that you have keep them alive. It is special to hear that you and your father were able to bond over photographing Liberty. Great story!
A post made today (4-23-18) on a Facebook page called “Heart of Dixie Memories” says that this building recently fell in on itself. They posted pictures. Very sad.
If so, that is very sad indeed. We are rapidly losing these old treasures and the heritage that goes with it.