Mt. Enon Baptist Church was organized in 1856 in the Gum Pond community of Mitchell County, south of Albany and a few miles east of present day Baconton. It was built next to Stage Coach Road, which runs from Albany to Thomasville. There were seven charter members and, other than the Rev. Curtis Nelms, all were ladies. The congregation grew quickly and within a few months there were 30 members, four of whom were black servants of Rev. Nelms. Both the white and black congregations quickly expanded. By 1863 there were 113 black worshipers, enough that the pastor preached to the white congregation on Sunday mornings and to the blacks on Sunday afternoons. After the Civil War, Mt. Enon gave its black congregation an acre of adjoining land for a church building and another acre for a cemetery, and the Salem Missionary Baptist Church for Blacks was built.
The original Mt. Enon (it was later replaced by the larger building that stands today) was a one-room structure made of unpeeled logs. It served as church, meeting house, and as a theater for plays and tableaux . And, because it was the only place of worship in the area, it was used by several denominations. In 1864 Dr. Shaler Hillyer, a noted educator and minister, established an academy at the church named Ravenwood with 50 students. The curriculum for the little school was extensive. It included rhetoric, Latin, Greek, higher mathematics, and elocution. There was also botany, French, and history. There were piano lessons and, not unexpectedly, students studied the Blue Back Speller and McGuffey’s Reader.
The present day structure came to be in 1889. In 1928, after many of the older members had died and others had moved out of the area, the congregation voted to disband. But Mt. Enon was not ready to die. In 1950, Baconton participated in the Georgia Power Company’s annual Better Hometown Contest, an effort to enhance the identity and heritage and stabilize the economy of small towns. Baconton’s first focus was on Mt. Enon. The decision was made because of the age of the church, the fact that Ravenwood Academy had been located there and because of the church’s central location on Stage Coach Road. Much needed repairs were made and the church enjoyed a brief revival. Sadly, however, the new life was not long lasting and in 1967 the congregation again voted to close, though the decision was that the pulpit, heaters, fans, hymnals, and piano were to remain in the building…and they remain there today.
Alongside Mt. Enon is a cemetery that has served as the burial ground for the town of Baconton since the 1860s. Like the church, over time it fell into disrepair and, as many of the markers on the oldest graves were lost, grave diggers often struck an unexpected coffin and had to change locations. However, in 1956 on its 100th birthday, the church set up a savings account for the perpetual care of the cemetery. Several other improvements were also made such as a new fence, donated iron work and brick masonry. For additional information about Mt. Enon read From Stage Coaches to Train Whistles: History of Gum Pond, Mt. Enon, Baconton in Mitchell County, Georgia; 1856-1976; Including Biographical Sketches and Genealogies of Pioneer Families by Mildred Jackson Cole. Her book was the basis for the brief historical summary above.
This view from the pulpit reveals Mount Enon is a typical, rectangular box design whose interior is spare and devoid of any structural decoration or unnecessary refinements. The pine pews are very old and authentic, and we are told that they were the same that were handmade for the original, 1856, sanctuary. Under the pulpit are the 24 hymnals that were bought in the 1950s and that the congregation voted to keep in the church when the group disbanded in 1967.
The upright piano was donated to the church in 1955. In 1967 when the members voted to close, the piano, along with the hymnals and pulpit, remained. This old church is still in remarkably good shape and could perhaps be revived as a church or repurposed for some other use. After all, it comes with hymnals, ancient pews, a piano and a perfectly good pulpit!
In this close-up photo, we can see and appreciate better the solid and attractive interior walls, pine floors, pews, moulded window frames and tall, clear glass six over six sashed windows. The pews were originally hand hewn from heart pine and joined using wooden pegs, not nails, then used in the original church and this one from 1856 until today, a 150+ year run. They don’t make them like these any more.
A side view of the pulpit and pews. In the 1800s when the church was built, mothers with small children sat in the first pew and placed pallets on the floor in front of them for their babies to sleep on.
Over time, markers to many of the oldest graves in the church cemetery were lost. As years passed, grave diggers often came across an unexpected coffin and had to change locations.
In the 1950s, the church made an effort to restore the cemetery, and in 1956 at Mt. Enon’s 100th birthday, the congregation set up a savings account for the perpetual care of the cemetery. That is good since we would hate to lose one as historic as this one. It is a virtual museum of memorial styles popular at different times over the past century and a half. Above we have quite an array starting with the foreground where we have mid-19th century false crypt adorned with a tablet-type marker. Behind it are four slot and tablet ledger markers from the same era. In the distance on the left is a tall tablet. Just above the center of the false crypt we can see a white, 20th century marble head-stone. Next, to the right is a tall obelisk capped by an urn and at least three other obelisks. Quite a collection in one spot.
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I am sure my direct ancestor Rev. Curtis Nelms, wife, son, and their Free friends’ from North Carolina would be Proud. I am also part of the large Miller family that attended in later years. Several generations of my Ancestors have worshipped here. The grounds and Church are wonderful. We all thank you. I plan to attend the next re-union.
In researching my genealogy, it appears that Curtis Nelms is my 3rd or 4th great grandfather. I would appreciate receiving the newsletter. I hope to attend a future homecoming.
Was that comment by Marlon Nelms?