New Harmony Methodist is an absolute jewel of a rural Georgia church that has somehow survived, but we know very little about it. It is located in a remote part of Hart County that is not far from the shores of Lake Hartwell. It is significant in its architecture and interior furnishings, which are almost a time warp for a mid to late 19th century rural Georgia church. It has been well cared for as you will see, but the history of it seems to be a mystery and we have not been able to find much. Unfortunately this is an all too common occurrence with these old churches, and we lose more of it with each passing generation.
The cemetery at New Harmony is particularly interesting, as the oldest graves are actually re-interments from another church which was inundated by the creation of Lake Hartwell dam, concluded in 1963. Mt. Zion Methodist was organized in 1820 in what was then Franklin County. Franklin County, created out of Cherokee land ceded in 1783, was the first county in Georgia established after the Revolutionary War. It was one of the first land cessations that ultimately created the state of Georgia as we know it. Mt. Zion was one of the oldest churches in the state, and its cemetery contained many prominent early Georgia settlers. There were 254 graves in the Mount Zion Cemetery that had to be re-interred, and some of them are now in the Mount Harmony cemetery.
One of these is the Reverend Henry Tyler, the son of Reuben Tyler, one of Georgia’s earliest settlers who donated the original land for the Mt. Zion church and cemetery in 1820. Other prominent Revolutionary War veterans are Angus McCurry who was re-interred along with David Carter, the patriarch of a distinguished East Georgia family. Mr. Carter was captured at the Battle of Camden, where the patriots were soundly defeated by Lord Cornwallis. He was then imprisoned in a British warship in Charleston Harbor for many months.
These old churches and the hardy pioneers who organized them are such a big part of our history, and yet so much of it is remote and obscure…just like the little church here in the woods. We honor these structures. They are the true reminders of who we are and where we came from.
No history has emerged yet to tell us the date the church was organized or built. We would guess the construction date to be 1890's but that is just a guess. The cemetery is impressive in the significance of the age of the graves and some with distinguished Revolutionary War service. However, almost all of those graves are re-interments from the Mt. Zion church that has now been underwater for over half a century. Nonetheless, New Harmony is a sweet reminder of the past in remote Hart County.
This photo, as the others that preceded, are again filled with clues of the building’s old age. Aside from some carpeting, electrical lights and ceiling fans, we are presented with view of a mid to late 19th century Methodist sanctuary. The pews are old, but certainly not the originals and most of them appear to date from the 1880’s or 90’s. It is our assessment that the horizontal wall boards and matching ceiling boards are replacements installed during a renovation. Since they are tongue and groove, not available before 1885, we can suggest they date from the late 19th century. We expect the floor, now carpeted, is also made of heart pine. As we would expect, the lack of any moldings or other architectural flourishes are indication that this is an authentic, 100+ year old interior.
Here we see the chancel, altar rail and pulpit. These elements most likely date from the late 1800’s but are still what one would expect in a church like New Harmony. On the other hand, as we look into the choir or “amen corner” section, we can see that these pews at New Harmony appear to date from an earlier period than most others in the sanctuary. The backs are all clearly hand finished and the arms and feet are more primitively shaped, joined and finished than the others we saw earlier.
Looking from the altar to the back of the sanctuary, this view could easily be the same as it was a hundred years ago. The ceiling flue we see for a potbellied wood stove was probably in service then as well. Now, remove the fans, electric lights and gas heater, later doors, wall and ceiling sheathing and we are looking at a scene from 150 years ago or perhaps more. It is a pleasure to be able to photo-document such a scene. We feel fortunate to be able to add this sanctuary to our web site where it will be available for view and study and enjoyment by historians and others for generations to come.
We would love to know when the last service was held and the last offering passed among the few remaining congregants. The old register looks sad, but it is easy to imagine happy times with a full church, a robust offering and the sounds of Amazing Grace drifting through the trees.
In this view, we are looking through the clear glass panes of one of the 9 over 9 windows. The view is from the church into its very historic cemetery. The cemetery contains New Harmony congregants as well as bodies exhumed from a nearby church, Mount Zion Methodist, which was inundated by the building of Lake Hartwell dam in 1963. Mount Zion has been under water for over 50 years and is gone forever. But, much of the history we wish to save and reveal can be teased out by examining New Harmony’s cemetery residents. The next photos feature views and insights gained from a closer look at the grave stones and markers. Saving these tales from the crypt is one of the more fulfilling missions of Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.
Reverend Henry Tyler (1812 - 1876) was married to Patience Reeves (1812 - 1888) in 1837. Her headstone can be seen in the right background. Both of them were re interred from Mt. Zion along with two of their children, James A. B. Tyler (1845 - 1863) and Francis (1839 - 1916). Apparently Mt. Zion was located in Franklin County at the time of the re-interments in 1961 as a result of the rise of Lake Hartwell. The Mt. Zion Methodist graves were re-interred at a number of other cemeteries in the area in addition to New Harmony.
Here lies Andrew J. Stephens (1827 - 1917) who died at the age of 90. In 1907 his indigent Confederate pension was disapproved. He enlisted in the 13th Ga Inf in 1861 but apparently was assigned to work at the Flint River Cotton Mills for most of the duration of the war. From his headstone, you can see he was a Mason.
This is the grave of Angus McCurry, Sr. (1743 - 1840) who served in the Revolutionary War. The federal census of 1820 shows him living in Elbert County in a household consisting of four people, two of them slaves. A Sons of the American Revolution membership application by his great grandson shows that he was born in Scotland, served as a private in the NC Militia and received a land grand in Elbert County for his service. He was married to a lady named Catherine and they had four children. He was originally buried in the Mount Zion cemetery.
David Carter, Sr. (1752 - 1849) had a long and distinguished military career that began in 1777 in what is now West Virginia. In 1778 he moved to North Carolina and joined the militia. In 1780, he participated in the American defeat by Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Camden. He was taken prisoner and confined to a British prison ship in Charleston for many months. After the war, he followed his sons, David and Micajah to his home in Hart County. He was originally interred at Mt. Zion.
Lodwick Alford was born in 1802 and was buried at Mt. Zion in 1877. His wife, Alsie, was born in 1821 and died in 1909. According to Findagrave, Lodwick and Alsie had eight children. The 1860 federal census shows he and Alsie living at Dooley's in Hart County with six of those children. It also shows he was a farmer, but the census of 1970 shows that he is now a post master living with Alsie and two of their youngest children. The CSA flag at his headstone is misplaced. He never served and would have been 60 years old at the beginning of the conflict. The next photo is one posted on Findagrave of a family reunion or similar gathering at an unknown location. The elderly lady in the center of the photo is identified as Alsey "Little Granny" Snipes Alford. Happy days.
We do not know where this photo was taken or when, but the elderly lady in the center is identified as Alsey "Little Granny" Snipes Alford who was re-interred in the New Harmony cemetery. She died in 1909 so the photo obviously predates that.
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I had the honor of pastoring this church in the mid-1990’s. New Harmony was on a four -church circuit with Bowman, Stinchcomb and Vanna We had three very faithful members, all family,during my pastorate. They were very proud of their church. They built a new outhouse while I was there. At one time this building was a one-room schoolhouse.
Thanks Gary. This helps a bit with the history.