Smyrna Methodist

Hancock County
Org 1790
Photography by Scott Farrar

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 Though no longer active, the church is owned and maintained by the Jack Hill family, and we are grateful for the history provided by Mr.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.


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