Salem Baptist

Lincoln County
Org 1827
Photography by John Kirkland

Salem, whose name means “peace” was founded on Friday, July 6, 1827 with 34 charter members from Lincoln, Wilkes, and Columbia Counties. The majority came from Greenwood Baptist, also in Lincoln County.  History tells us that people had been meeting for worship at the same location before Salem Baptist was founded. The meeting place was called Rock Hill, a very appropriate name for this elevated site.  There are no records of the date the original building of Salem Baptist was erected, but we do know that it burned in 1906.  Fortunately, the church records survived since they were located at the home of the church clerk, Dennis Bentley. These records tell us the original church had a substantial African American membership that was seated in a balcony at the rear of the church, a common practice of the day.  

The records also tell us that the black membership, at their request, were given letters of dismissal to found a church of their own in November of 1871. They then built a church on “the second hill to the north of Salem” less than half a mile away, and named it Mt Zion. This may have been the first black church established in Lincoln County. The date of November, 1871 is both significant and consistent with the founding of many black churches in Georgia after the Civil War.  The south had been ravaged and, in the post war chaos of reconstruction, it took some time for African American church members to decide they needed to have their own places of worship and community.  Many of the early black congregations were formed in this time period.

In October of 1906, the original building of Salem Baptist was totally destroyed by fire. All was destroyed except the church records kept in the home of the church clerk, and the communion silverware, which was kept in the home of a deacon.  The church members immediately resolved to have Sunday School and church services at Woodlawn school until the church could be rebuilt. Many other churches and individuals donated money, labor and materials, and in  February, 1907 the church held services in the new building. This building still houses the church, although it has gone through many updates, additions and improvements over the years such as the beautiful wooden shingles on the front and back eaves.

As with other churches in the area, in the early days the men sat on one side and the ladies sat on the other. In 1922 the church added eight classrooms to the sides of the building.  The church also built a baptistery building and the water used was carried in barrels on the back of a flatbed truck from a nearby river.  As you can see in the photo above, a dramatic front porch with fluted columns and wide stairs was added.  Quite a contrast to the 1907 photo in the newspaper article seen below.

The graveyard has some interesting areas. Several of the graves are re-interments that were moved when the dam was built and the Savannah River was flooded to form Clarks Hill reservoir.  There is also an area marked with graves moved from a plantation during this same flooding.  Today, Salem Baptist is still thriving and serving the local community, just as she has for 200 years. Be sure to click and scroll on the gallery photos below for more history and photos of Salem Baptist.

+ Read More