Salem Church was built in 1889 on an old Indian pathway, the Kinnaird Trail, considered the oldest public road in Wiregrass Georgia. It later became a stagecoach relay station when the stagecoach route followed the old Kinnaird Trail. The route was used by Indians and traders traveling from St. Mary’s to an Indian trading post on the Flint River operated by Jack Kinnaird. Martin S. Corbitt, the founder of the church, was born here in 1840 and married his cousin, Leonora Wealtha Pafford in 1867. Their home was just south of the cemetery. Mr. Corbitt donated materials and 2 acres of land for the Salem Church and Cemetery, and it was built by him, Waver Roberts, and other family members. According to family history, the pews and benches were built by two of their sons – William and Martin. The church was used as both a church and a school, with some of the Corbett children and grandchildren serving as teachers.
The Corbitt roots run deep at Salem Methodist. In 1861 Martin, along with brothers William and Manning, enlisted with the 50th Georgia Volunteer Infantry early in the war in 1861. Manning was wounded and captured at Antietem. He died two months later of infection and is buried in Maryland. William was shot in the head at Fredericksburg and died of his wounds several days later. He is buried in Richmond. Only Martin survived and returned home to the Georgia pineywoods to begin his life anew in a ravished land. He married his cousin, Wealtha Pafford in 1867, and carved out a life in a troubled time. Mr. Corbitt lived here all but the last 11 years of his life, when he moved to Pearson and became its Mayor. Wealtha was the first person buried in the Salem Church Cemetery in 1896. Martin died on July 1, 1913, and was buried with full Masonic Rites in the Salem Church Cemetery beside Wealtha.
On the last Sunday in September each year, the Corbitt descendants have reunion services in Salem Church to pay tribute to the memory of their ancestors. Two of the Corbitt descendants, Joe and Donnetta Wilkinson, still live nearby and are responsible for the loving maintenance and care of this backroads jewel. Thank you, Joe and Donetta, for your stewardship of this sweet little church in the rural wiregrass pineywoods.
Salem presents as the quintessential example of a 19th Century, rural meeting house in the wiregrass, pineywoods region of Georgia. You see no frills, ornamentation or other embellishments within the sanctuary. Clearly, the entire church and interior was reverently raised by members of the Corbitt family and others in the congregation. The sanctuary is entirely constructed of Georgia heart pine lumber harvested and milled within the community. There are no apparent "store-bought" materials in evidence. The pews were hand crafted by Corbitt brothers with both seats and backs made from single, long, wide planks.
The chancel, altar and pulpit are true to the keep-it-simple principals of these rural, wire grass Christians. The closest thing to decorative touches are the slightly angled, balusters and their pointed support posts. The amen corner's short pews nestled up close to the pulpit and chancel provided seats for the most enthusiastic and loyal parishioners. The worship experience in churches like these was up front, personal and intimate.
The view from the pulpit reveals how airy and bright Salem's sanctuary actually is despite the presence of only the darker and earth-toned interior finishes of the floors, and even darker, pews. This happens because of the use of the large, clear glass windows which allow sunlight to flood into the sanctuary from all four walls. The Corbitt family obviously embraced some very practical principals in creating this welcoming design over a hundred years ago. Backcounty architecture at its best.
The graveyard at Salem is quite simple and well kept, with only seventeen interments. One of these is the founder of the church, Martin Corbitt, and his first wife Wealtha. It looks peaceful enough but these old Georgia cemeteries often tell a tale of trial and tribulation. Such is the case with Martin Corbitt who, along with his two brothers William and Manning, enlisted in 1861 with Company G (Clinch Volunteers), 50th Georgia Volunteer Infantry. All were in their early 20' s and eager to join the conflict that was sweeping the land. Manning had a thumb shot off at Antietam in September of 1862 and was captured. He was hospitalized at Fredrick Hospital #1 and died two months later of infection. He was buried in Mt. Olivette Cemetery at Fredrick, Maryland. William suffered a head wound at Fredricksburg in December of 1862 and was hospitalized at Chimborazo Hospital. His brother Martin was allowed to go to the hospital to be with his brother but had to return to his duty station four days before his brother died. William Brinkley Corbitt is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. Martin comes home to a ravished land, marries Wealtha and begins his life anew in a different world.
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