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.
After having just seen the first photo of this remarkably beautiful, well kept and revered almost 200 year old church, we are pleased to be able to show you this very old photo from the turn of the 20th century. Though things have changed a bit at Salem in the past 100 or so years, we can still make out the original lines of this lovely, single gabled church in the photo. We are looking from the cemetery at the entry way and the north west corner before a porch was added. Since then, the congregation has taken much loving and effective care of this treasure to insure it will remain functional for decades to come.
Here we see a recent photo of the church’s front porch, south west corner and the southern transept. Because of the angle of sunlight, the remarkably beautiful and complex decorative shingle work on the gable can be clearly seen and appreciated. There are several shingle styles in place and the way they curve into the vent is truly artistic. We can also see an entry-way door into the south transept. Perhaps most amazing it that we see a very old wooden church that is in excellent condition rather than moldering away as so many others are in Georgia.
In this photo we are looking at a portion of the almost 200 year old fieldstone foundations at Salem. Though they look a bit rugged, the foundations at Salem are carefully cared for and remain effective in carrying out their function for years to come.
We have now stepped up to and then through one of the two entry doors at Salem. Of course, the sanctuary has undergone many changes over the years but it still remains the inviting and worshipful church home for the congregation. We are looking to the east toward the chancel and apse. In keeping with Baptist tenants, the sanctuary is lovely but not ostentatious. Few decorative elements are seen.
Here we see the chancel, offertory, pulpit and apse flanked by two attractive large stained-glass windows. The proscenium entry is architecturally pleasing with pilasters and a decorative broken pediment. Few other decorative elements are seen. In keeping with Baptist traditions, a choir loft and piano are also seen to provide accompaniment for hymn singing.
In this view, we are looking from the main aisle and across several pews toward the south wall. We see another stained-glass window which floods the area with colorful, ambient light as do all the others at Salem.
In this black and white photo, we can see almost all of the Salem Sanctuary. We think it presents a quiet and comfortable sanctuary that is well loved by its congregants. Less is more.
Many sermons have been preached and many souls have been saved by the distinguished line of Baptist preachers that have stood at this spot for 115 years.
Now located at the Lincoln County Historical Park, Salem Academy is a one-room schoolhouse dating back to the early 1900s that was located at the Salem Church. The school is furnished with antique desks, old primers, and a pot-bellied stove. It was relocated to the park from Salem Baptist Church in July of 2006. The Lincoln County Historical Park was created to perpetuate the economic and cultural history of Lincoln County. It was created over the last 30 years by the Lincoln County Historical Society from a bare tract of land, using almost completely volunteer labor. Well worth a visit. Here is the link to the park…. https://www.lincolncountyhistoricalsocietyga.org/about
Dr. Benjamin Franklin Bentley was born February 1, 1828 and died January 5, 1892. He and his wife, Mary Thomas Davenport Bentley (1838-1906) are both buried at Salem Baptist Church Cemetery. There are 89 Bentley’s buried in this cemetery. The 1880 Lincoln County census shows his occupation as farmer and physician. The 1860 slave schedule shows him as owning 18 slaves. He served in company E, 9th Battalion Georgia Volunteer Infantry Army of Tennessee, CSA. He enlisted May 11, 1862 as a private.
Richard E. Roberts was born February 23, 1846 and died March 11, 1936. He was a retired farmer and 90 years old at the time of his death. He enlisted in January, 1865 and served in Company A, Cobb’s Legion, GA Cav CSA. He applied for a Confederate Pension in 1905 and stated he was in Hillsborough, N. C. at the surrender in April, 1865. He was married to Marbra M. Eubanks.
Robert Walton, Jr. was born in 1787 and died in 1848. His will was recorded July 10, 1848. He was married to Dorothy Bussey Walton (1791-1871). She is also buried at Salem Baptist Church Cemetery. An inventory of his property after his death showed he owned 60 head of cattle, 2 yoke of oxen, 50 sheep, 3 mules, 90 hogs, etc. He also owned 19 slaves. His tombstone lists the names of 10 children.
Peter Coleman Dill was born March 17, 1819 and died May 9, 1879. The 1864 census gives his occupation as millwright/woodcorder. The 1850 census shows his occupation as mechanic- miscellaneous repair services. He was married to Mary Ann Bentley (1822-1891) on May 29, 1841. They had three children. He operated a mill known as Dill’s Mill on the Little River. His plantation was called “Butter Milk Springs Place”. The newspapers reported he died of dropsy of the heart. Peter and his wife Mary are both buried at Salem Baptist Church Cemetery.
George W. Graves was born October 2, 1842 and died May 6, 1926. He elisted as a private July 15, 1861 in Company G, 15th Regiment, Georgia Infantry, CSA. He was captured at Gettysburg July 2, 1863 and released from Fort Delaware May 10, 1865. He lived near the Lincoln-Wilkes County line and had gone to Wilkes County to visit relatives when he died in Wilkes County.
William Bennett, Jr. was born in 1832 and died in 1879. His tombstone states “He enlisted March 4, 1862 ‘Pettus Volunteers’ Wilkes and Lincoln Counties as 2nd Lt. Co. E, 9th Battalion, GA Volunteers Infantry, served with the Army of Tennessee. Transferred to Co. H 37th Reg. of GA Infantry, May 6, 1863, elected 1st Lt. June 1, 1863, captured near Nashville, TENN Dec. 16, 1864. Released Johnson Island, Ohio, June 16, 1865. Son of William Bennett, Sr. and Margaret Bailey Bennett.” The 1870 census shows him with a wife and six children.
Elizabeth Walker Wright was born January 1, 1805 and died December 19, 1845. She was married to John Wright (1796-1863) in 1820. They had seven children. Their youngest son, Moses Wright, died May 30, 1862 at the age of 19 of Typhoid Fever in a military hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Elizabeth’s husband and other family members moved to Alabama after her death.
Your tax-deductible donation to Historic Rural Churches will help keep history alive through digital and physical preservation efforts for Georgia’s rural churches, their history and the communities that support them.
Full Name *
Sign me up for the newsletter!