New Hope United Methodist Church in Bulloch County was organized in 1804 and is the second oldest Methodist church in Bulloch County. Its mother church, Union United Methodist Church, also located in Bulloch County, was organized in 1790. As most old rural churches do, New Hope had humble beginnings. The first meetinghouse was described as a one room structure on hand-hewed sills. In 1825 the Trustees purchased a two-acre tract on the Milledgeville-Savannah Road “to build a meeting house on and to use and enjoy as may be agreeable to the rules and discipline” of the Methodist Episcopal Church. During the week, the one-room building was used for a school. It was replaced by a larger building in 1855 which served the congregation until 1907 when, at a cost of two thousand dollars, the current structure was raised. In 1900, the 1855 building was moved across the road onto a six-acre wooded lot so that the growing cemetery might be expanded. New Hope is a good example of the way the early churches served as social and cultural as well as religious centers. The Mill Ray community, close to the church, while it never developed into a village, was a cultural influence in that part of the county for many years. New Hope Methodist is the mother church of Statesboro First Methodist and Hubert Chapel, also known as Hubert United Methodist Church, in Brooklet, Georgia (Bulloch County).
New Hope Church is fortunate to have much of the recorded history of the church preserved. Early records were lost but lists of members were recovered from other sources. Lists exist of all members since 1842. During the years 1842-1845 there were 30 white members and 59 colored members. A few years after the war there were 59 white and 38 colored members. A section of the church was always set aside for the colored members during worship and a member of their own race was appointed class leader. After 1870 these colored members were assisted in providing their own house of worship. The class leader concept is interesting. In those years when a circuit rider had as many as twenty-odd places to visit each month, the class leader attended to the spiritual needs of the people regularly – supposedly each week. This could be important as there were no regular pastors during the war to provide spiritual support in those terrible times of loss and deprivation.
The route of one arm of Sherman’s XV Corps was more or less parallel to the course of the Ogeechee River which took it down River Road and past New Hope Church. According to the local history, one of Sherman’s hooligans stole a hymnal belonging to H. B. Hodges from the church but discarded it en route to Savannah at the old community of Ivanhoe. Quite amazingly, in August of 1865, the hymnal was returned to the church by Major George Cone, formerly of the Confederate States Army. The Cone estate was located about 17 miles from New Hope Church at Ivanhoe. Inside the hymnal was written “Stolen from New Hope Church Bulloch County by Sherman’s Raiders and left at Maj. George Cone’s and returned by him to the church. August 19, 1865.” There is a message inscribed “Tis hoped the poor creature that stole this book from New Hope Church will benefit by the lessons”.
Upon entering the sanctuary the visitor is struck by several features. The vaulted ceiling of heart pine was originally rubbed with warm linseed oil, which today, at over 100 years of age, accentuates the wood’s rich patina. The floor is pitched slightly but noticeably toward the pulpit. The interior is flooded with multi-colored light through the stain glass windows, the first in Bulloch County. The semi-circular communion rail and the railing around the choir loft were made locally and were installed during construction. An interesting feature of this church is the absence of windows in the sides of the sanctuary. Instead, the builders decided to use that space for Sunday Schools and rooms were incorporated into the building that are separated from the sanctuary by sets of large doors.
This close up view of the chancel, semicircular altar rail, carved balusters, pulpit, wainscot, pilasters and apse arch helps us better appreciate the talents of the local artisans, Tom and Jim Davis whose work Dr Lovett praised in his 1908 description of this "… best country church in Georgia or any other state"
As you can see, New Hope's sanctuary is airy, warm, inviting and comfortable. Its many, high, stained-glass, Gothic windows provide a great deal of colorful light within. This view also provides another look at the beautifully finished wood ceiling. To the left and right, we see the Sunday School and other rooms which sit behind the attractive, wooden sliding doors. In one of the side rooms, we found a primitive, small scale pew made of heart pine, deceptively heavy for its size. We suspect that at one time some of the rooms were furnished with these child sized pews. One of the pleasures in exploring these old churches is finding artifacts from earlier times.
Today one of what was originally a Sunday School room, has been re-purposed as a prayer room. The furnishings and the stained glass filtered light provide a serene atmosphere conducive to individual contemplation. This close-up of an alcove window illustrates the colorful decorative atmosphere created by the stained glass panes used throughout the sanctuary. It also displays the pristine condition of the interior. The care and loving maintenance and stewardship of the New Hope congregation over the past 100+ years is evident.
An ancient cedar tree shades the graves of members of the Dutton family in the old part of the New Hope Methodist Church Cemetery. The oldest marked grave is that of Mary Dutton, 1800-1843, whose remains rest next to those of her husband, William Henry Dutton, 1789-1851. Henry and Mary had eleven children, six of whom were buried at New Hope Cemetery. Three sons of Henry and Mary buried at New Hope were all soldiers in the service of the Confederate States. Among the grave markers are depressions that are likely graves and contain the remains of those whose stories will never be told.
There are 23 graves of Confederate States Army veterans in the New Hope Cemetery. Interestingly, of the 23 CSA veterans interred at New Hope, none died in the war. Even though the two CSA veterans whose headstones stand side by side were brothers, their family name is spelled differently on their headstones. James E. Hagans served with the Hardwick Mounted Rifles and Corporal Solomon Hagan with the 47th Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Old records often show multiple spellings of the same name. The graves of these brothers are among sixty-odd members of the Hagan family interred at New Hope Methodist Church.
Here lies baby W. O. Dutton (1861 - 1862). When documenting the cemeteries associated with Georgia’s rural churches we are often saddened by the number of infant graves we encounter. In the 1850s, the infant mortality rate in the United States was estimated at 216.8 per 1,000 babies born for whites and 340.0 per 1,000 for African Americans. The infant mortality rate in the U.S. had decreased to a historic low of 582 infant deaths per 100,000 live births by 2014. Historically infant deaths could be attributed to premature birth and congenital malformations, diarrhea and enteritis, diseases, and pneumonia and acute bronchitis. The germ theory of disease did not fully develop until the 1880’s, and before that time precautions were not taken to prevent the spread of disease.
Though remote, New Hope is still active and holds regular services. If one wishes to take a step back into the past, I am sure they will be welcomed at New Hope Methodist by the congregation and Pastor Williams.
Our major goal at HRCGA is to accurately photo-document each church posted to insure that its existence and appearance is available for study and enjoyment for the generations to come. An auxiliary goal is to provide views, descriptions and captions that breathe life into the photos we post. We want these to provide the viewer with a chance to know its history, significance and back-story. Armed with this information, one has an opportunity to assess and appreciate the church through their own eyes and mind. Finally, we hope to be able as often as possible, to present some photos or stories that provide a tangible link to its past. The photo above does just that. Please note that even at this relatively late date, the congregation still presents mostly separated... men on the left (several on the far right) and women and almost all of the youngest children on the right. As you get to know New Hope Methodist, just think about the fact that each person above… all long dead…was present in 1908 when this church was dedicated and Preacher Lovett declared it was. "...the best country church in this or any other state"! It must have been a memorable day for them all. Our thanks to New Hope's dedicated congregation that has saved this church for all to enjoy for the ages.
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