The little church you see above occupies a prominent place in both Georgia and Methodist history. You might be surprised to learn that Smyrna Methodist church is the second oldest Methodist Church in Georgia. Organized sometime prior to 1790, before Hancock County was formed in 1793 out of Greene and Washington Counties. It was originally known as the Piney Woods meeting house.
The bones of the structure were put in place in 1800, one year into the presidency of George Washington. These bones are still there as you will see in the photos below. Though no longer active, the church is owned and maintained by the Jack Hill family, and we are grateful for the history provided by Mr. Hill in preparation for inclusion on the National Register. That history tells us the church was “remodeled” in 1878 but the frame and the foundations of the church were found to be “in such good condition that they were retained”. Nontraditional elements, such as the brick steps, were added in 1950 and the steeple was added in 1985
The date of the original 1800 church was first documented in a journal by Bishop Francis Asbury, the first Methodist Bishop to be ordained in America. Asbury traveled thousands of miles on horseback through the colonies as an “exhorter” who carried the message of Methodism across the colonies during the critical years immediately after the Revolutionary War. His journal contains an entry pertaining to the Piney Woods meeting house in 1800. “I crossed the Ogeechee River, came on the village of Powelton, found there a Baptist Church presided over by a man by the name of Mercer. Came on from Powelton in Hancock County to a place where some men were tearing down the old building to erect a new Methodist Church building in its place”.
Powelton is located only seven miles away. The Baptist church he speaks of was the home church of Silas Mercer and his son, Jesse, the founder of Mercer University. It is the second oldest Baptist church in Georgia with quite a history of its own. The Georgia Baptist Convention was formed there in 1822 and it is still there with an active, though very small, congregation.
The history provided also contains a remarkable entry regarding a camp meeting that was held at the Piney Woods church in 1806. These camp meetings were part of a significant religious revival in America, known as the Second Great Awakening. In the History of Methodism in Georgia, Jesse Lee is quoted “In 1806, I attended a camp meeting in Hancock County at what was called the ‘Piney Woods House’, seven miles from Sparta. There was the largest encampment I ever saw (176 tents), and the congregation on the Sabbath was estimated at 10,000”.
This is hard to imagine, given the remote rural location of today. However, the history also tells us, in a quote by Bishop H. N. Mctyeire, “about a great camp meeting held at Smyrna, about six miles from Sparta, at which an immense crowd estimated at 10,000 were present and where Dr. Lovick Pierce, then preaching in Georgia in the first year of his appointment, and being only 24 years of age, delivered a sermon of such power that more than 100 persons were converted in one day.”
These little chapels on the side of the roads in Georgia’s back country were the center of everything in the lives of the first settlers who moved into Georgia after the war. The history that they hold in these unassuming sanctuaries are vital to understanding how our nation was built. We are so indebted to the Hill family for their stewardship of this historical treasure. Be sure to click and scroll the gallery photos below for more history of old Smyrna Methodist.
The church cemetery has a good variety of Headstones, Iron Work and Masonry. This was obviously a prosperous congregation who buried their deceased with grace and dignity. The earliest marked grave is 1857 but early churches had many graves that are unmarked or have fieldstone markers. Many of the original markers were made of wood. Most of these have disappeared over time.
Welcome to the second oldest Methodist church in Georgia. Sacred ground for sure.
The Smyrna congregations have always respected their history and we are grateful for that. Here is an example of some of that historical pride hanging on the church wall.
The interior of the church is just as remarkable and solid as the exterior. Marks and curves on the pews help prove that these are probably the handmade pews of the 'remodeled' church in 1878. Sadly, the last church service was held on the 200 year anniversary of the church in 1990.
On the altar is a bible gifted to the church nearly 100 years ago. How many souls have been saved, marriages and eulogies performed from this sacred spot.
A relic from the past. Not too many of these old outhouses left. Certainly a reminder from days gone by that we all can identify with.
The present church structure, once known as the Piney Woods Meeting House, was built in 1800 and remodeled in 1878 on the original foundation. If you kneel down in the dust and take a peek at the foundation, you will see giant hand hewn timbers that have supported this church faithfully for over two hundred years.
Lucy T. Pearson was born in September, 1874 and died August 27, 1918. Her husband, Stephen Edward
Pearson, Jr. (1864-1911) is also buried in this cemetery. Stephen, age 46, and Lucy, age 36, are shown in
the 1910 Hancock County census with two sons, Samuel, age 17 and Duncan, age 7. Lucy Lary and
Stephen Pearson, Jr. were married December 21, 1891 in Hancock County.
James H. Newsome was born March 30, 1840 and died January 4, 1900. He married Martha Ann Waller
on December 21, 1865 in Troup County. He was a private and promoted to Corporal in Company E, 41 st
Georgia Infantry, CSA. The 1880, Hancock County census, shows James, age 40, farmer; Martha, age 37;
and three daughters ages 9 years, 8 years, and 6 months.
Janie Penelope Waller Little was born March 11, 1853 and died April 4, 1916. She was the wife of Rev.
John Henry Little (1851-1939). As a Methodist preacher, they moved frequently. In 1910 they were living
in Fulton County. In 1900 they were living in Pickens County. The 1880 census shows Penelope and her
husband, John, living in Hancock County with one child, Irwin, age 6. Rev. John H. Little is buried next to
his wife, Penelope.
Harriet Addie Jernigan was born April 15, 1864 and died June 12, 1892. Addie was the daughter of James
Russell Whaley and Susan Johnson Whaley. Hattie married Algernon Eugene Jernigan in 1886 in Hancock
County. Algie Eugene Jernigan (1866-1938) is also buried at New Smyrna Cemetery. Addie is listed as 5
years old in the 1870 Hancock County census.
Willie A. Lary was born March 31, 1869 and died October 5, 1873. Willie was the daughter of Samuel
Madison Lary (1834-1911) and Elizabeth Warren Lary (1841-1910) who married February 16, 1861.
Samuel and Elizabeth are also buried at New Smyrna Cemetery. Samuel served in Company I, 59 th
Georgia Regiment, CSA. Willie is listed as two years old in the 1870 Hancock County census. A
September 1, 1870 newspaper article reported that Samuel Lary owned the place formerly owned by
John Hillsman, near Powelton, in Hancock County.
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