According to The Heritage of Carroll County, Ga 1826 – 2001, Smith Chapel Methodist was founded by Rev. John Thurman in 1851 on land that he owned near Bowdon in Carroll County. We are told that Rev. Thurman had preached the first sermon in Marthasville, now known as Atlanta, shortly after it was founded but moved his family to Carroll County around 1850. The Thurman roots are deep in this part of Georgia and the cemetery next to the little church contains 47 Thurmans and their descendants. The original name of the church was Mount Pleasant. It was built as a log structure with two doors and a large fireplace. Twenty eight years later, a new church was built that also served as a school. The history then states that the Methodist Conference “replaced” Rev. Thurman with Rev. Seaborn Smith, and the church members decided to rename the church Smith Chapel in honor of the new pastor. Rev. Thurman then sold the church and the cemetery to the church trustees for five dollars on September 10, 1892. This is the third church at this location as the present structure was built in 1896.
Below is a history of Smith Chapel Methodist Church from “The Heritage of Carroll County, Georgia 1826-2001” published in 2002:
Around 1850, John Thurman bought land and erected a church where the road from the Thurman house crossed Buchanan Road. It had a rock chimney and logs covered with hand hewn boards. Logs for the floor, which was leveled with an adz, had holes in each end for hickory pins. No nails were used. Posts on each side of the pulpit held tallow candles. Admitted to the Methodist Protestant Conference in 1852, it was named “Mount Pleasant” by Rev. Thurman’s wife, Martha Ann McDaniel Thurman. Membership included: Thurmans, Parkers, Gambles, Davenports, Jeters, Stamps, Holmes, Alexanders, Moons, McCrays, Robinson, Brown, Ragans, Crawfords, McBurnetts, Thompsons, Upchurches.
In 1875 a more modern structure using iron nails replaced the original. Pastor Anderson Smith renamed it “Smith Chapel” honoring his deceased son, Rev. Seaborn Smith. It also became a school. Nannie Thurman, wife of John Nance was a teacher. Eventually, people attending other churches reduced membership. Descendants of early members comprise the present Memorial Association. James L. Thurman, son of Rev. John Thurman, directed construction of the existing structure in 1896.
Rev. Anderson Smith, pioneer of Christianity in Western Georgia, and Rev. John Thurman, distinguished early Georgia Methodist minister who organized Methodist Protestant churches across Georgia, are buried here. Rev. Thurman preached the first sermon in Marthasville, now Atlanta. Reportedly, he moved to Carroll County to avoid rearing his family near the railroad’s negative influences. Emory and Wilma Marlow purchased and restored Smith Chapel in 1988.” Mr. Marlow cited sources for the article as the papers of Dr. J.C. Griffies, Rev. Seaborn D. Campbell, tradition, and memories of older citizens.
Smith Chapel is a wonderful tribute to the vibrant community that was established here over 150 years ago. We are grateful to the Marlows and their children for their loving restoration and care of the sanctuary and the cemetery. It is another good example of Georgia’s rural history that can be passed on to future generations.
On January 4, 2021, Carroll County Sherriff’s responded to a call about a fire at Smith’s Chapel. They worked with Carroll County Fire Rescue to put out the blaze that had completely engulfed the sanctuary. Unfortunately, the structure was burned too badly to be saved and was deemed a total loss. Investigators surmised that the fire had been set by vandals, and within a month, suspects had been arrested, but the damage to Smith’s Chapel can never be undone.
Carroll County Fire Rescue works throughout the day to stop the blaze at Smith Chapel on January 4, 2021
Carroll County Fire Rescue works to put out the blaze at Smith's Chapel on January 4, 2021
All that remained of the Smith's Chapel structure after the fire and smoke subsided
The Marlow’s did a wonderful job in restoring this old church. It is quite authentic with the exception of the bent-plywood backed “pews” which appear to be mid-20th century. They were probably taken from a 1930’s-50’s theatre, school auditorium, court house or other such venue. Otherwise, Smith Chapel appears today much like it was when constructed in 1896. Rural wooden churches built in that period were almost always simple, wooden, single gable rectangular structures… just like the one seen here. Wall boards were horizontal, 3-4” wide, floorboards of long leaf pine normally were wider and the interior seldom was gussied up by molding. Architectural decorative elements, if present, were few like the unobtrusive chair rail and wainscot seen in this photo.
To the right of the large, handsome pulpit made of long leaf pine sits a vintage upright piano. Congregational singing is an important element of any Methodist service. The makers name, manufacturing date and model are unknown to us. But, this piano’s design places it in the late 19th or early 20th century. With a church construction date of 1896, this antique piano is an appropriate one for the Marlow’s to have chosen to insure authenticity when restoring and refurnishing this sanctuary in 1988.
In this close-up photo, we can now see that the pew ends bear a decorative element very common in the Art-Deco era (1930 to end of WW11 in the United States). In fact, seats such as these can be purchased in the market place today but are now expensive since they have become sought after. The Smith Chapel seats were more likely purchased for a song in 1988 or just given to the Marlows.
This view from behind the pulpit reveals the no-frills, Spartan nature of the Smith Chapel sanctuary. There is not one decorative architectural element, banner, photo, urn, etc. to disturb the calm, unadorned worshipful atmosphere… less is more.
In this warm and inviting photo, we see that the Smith Chapel interior, despite its lack of stained glass windows, architectural ornamentation and other decorative features, can present as the charming and authentic 19th century church sanctuary that it is. Note that the glow of the striking heart pine pulpit causes it to stand out against the darker walnut chairs, window frames and door frames while the white walls and ceilings provide a pleasant contrast to the scene. We also see in this photo that the room contains two, antique upright pianos. These can provide the needed accompaniment for a church service, wedding or an event hall. This flexibility and multiple use opportunity make the restored building much more likely to be used.
This rough but original nine over nine, sashed window has overlooked the beautiful and historic cemetery for over 120 years now. Under the stewardship of Emory and Wilma Marlow along with their children and others in the community, the window and its view has been rescued and the chapel restored as an historic reminder while providing enjoyment for others for many more years to come.
Caroline Pitts Gamble was born December 22, 1836. She was the wife of James A. Gamble who died March 10, 1863 at Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was in Company G, 56th Georgia Infantry. Caroline never remarried and died December 3, 1901. She is shown in the 1870 Carroll County census as a widow with five children ages 7 to 16.
Richard Franklin Thurman was born December 22, 1844 in Dekalb County, Georgia. He served in the 41st Georgia Infantry, Company H, CSA. He was captured at Resaca, Georgia on May 16, 1864 and taken to Alto Prison in Illinois where he died of pneumonia on January 4, 1865. The names of his sisters, Sarah Adeline Thurman, 1844-1854 and Martha Ann Thurman Alexander, 1854-1894 (spouse of Samuel Winslow Alexander, 1851-1920) are also on his tombstone. His father, Rev. John Thurman, 1810-1894, and Mother, Martha Ann McDaniel Thurman, 1815-1859, grandfather, Richard Thurman, 1787-1857 and grandmother Nancy Little Thurman, 1789-1860 are all buried at Smith Chapel. His great grandparents, Benjamin Thurman, 1755-1840 and Julia Shumate Thurman, 1760-1846 are buried at Chesterfield County, South Carolina.
John McDaniel Thurman was born January 2, 1840 in DeKalb County, Georgia. He was a private in Company H, 41st Georgia Infantry, CSA. He was discharged for disability at Chattanooga, Tennessee August 13, 1863. He was married to Elizabeth Antoinette Bryan and they had six children. His father, Rev. John Thurman, 1810-1894 helped clear the land and build the church on his land. Upon the death of Rev. John Thurman, The Carroll Free Press, March 15, 1895, page 1 reported: As a minister he was a power for good, … learned in Bible lore,… he stamped himself on more people perhaps than any other man in Western Georgia.
John Robert Garrett was born May 5, 1824. He served as a private in Company C, 1st Georgia Reserves during the Civil War. He married Martha Ann Garrett March 8, 1847 in Muskogee County. She was born September 27, 1830. By 1900 they have had 12 children, 10 still living. He lists his occupation as landlord. He died August 11, 1904 and she died February 20, 1917.
William Henry McCray was born January 10, 1841 in Coweta County, Georgia. He enlisted as a private in Company H, 41st Georgia Infantry on March 4, 1862. He was captured at Vicksburg July 4, 1863 and paroled July 6, 1863. He was wounded and disabled July 10, 1864 near Atlanta. This caused him to lose his sight in his left eye. He married Louisiana Elizabeth Gammon December 23, 1864. They had 12 children, 6 were still living by 1900. She died June 10, 1908 and he died April 19, 1911 His grandfather John McCray was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1777.
David Jonathan Alexander was born November 20, 1816 in North Carolina and died August 16, 1891 in Carroll County, Georgia. He was married to Martha C. Robinson and they had nine children. He was known as Uncle Dave and was described in the Carroll Free Press, October 23, 1891, page 2 as having a jovial, fun loving disposition His character was stainless, and for honesty and veracity, none excelled him.
Gone But Not Forgotten
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Like many others in my community, I was sad to learn that this lovely historic church was totally destroyed by arsonists. I’m grateful that your beautiful pictures will help to preserve the memory of this chapel .
My great great grandfather was the Reverend John Thurman. So heartbreaking that the church was destroyed.
Very Interesting. In my Thurman Family Tree research I found that Rev. John Thurman and his family owned my family and brought them to Bowdon, GA where I was born and raised. I was so sorry to learn of Smith Chapel burning.
I am so saddened to see this beautiful part of history burnt down today. I like be very close and loved to ride my horses by and around the church to just see part of the past. It breaks my heart!
I am so sad to say that the church burnt down today 1/4/2021 around noon. So thankful for the pictures shared on here.
Oh that is terrible. Just a tragedy. Can you possibly send a photo or two of the aftermath to [email protected]. That will be a sad part of the documentation.
The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office has photos of the aftermath. You probably need to ask their permission to use them. The story is at https://www.facebook.com/CarrollCountySheriffGA/posts/4244585628889952
The story is at https://www.facebook.com/CarrollCountySheriffGA/posts/4244585628889952
Photos sent. Let me know if you didn’t receive them.
Some of my McCray ancestors are buried there– Great-great-Grandfather Stephen Gardner McCray and his wife, Mary Hawk, along with my great-grandfather William Henry McCray and his wife, Lousianna Gammon. I was very sad to read about the church vandalism. We need to have laws on the books to put people behind bars for 50 years for such crimes. Treating such vandals nicely has not deterred such desecration.
My husband (Fuller Smith, Jr.) is a direct ancestor (6th generation) from Anderson Smith and we live in Alabama. Much of the family moved to Alabama and we are part of the John Colbert Smith family. I have all the ancestors from Anderson Smith till now. However I am looking for more information on Anderson Smith as I know he came from Pickens, SC area but do not know his father or mother’s name. I do have information on the material Smith/Gosden/Lane family. This includes ancestors all the way back to 1200’s. The Smith/Lane family included Tidence Fuller Lane a prominent Baptist Minister who was instrumental in starting the Baptist church in Tn. If anyone has information on Anderson Smith’s father or mother, we would appreciate this
I was in Bowdon this weekend seeing my father’s grave at Antioch Baptist Church along with other relatives and decided to ride over to Smith Chapel and visit. The grounds were beautiful along with the Church but I was sad to see that someone had vandalized an exterior window and broke into the rear door. My sister and I were sad to see this. It a beautiful church that brought back great memories of the few McCray Family Reunions I attended there with my father Eldred H. McCray.
That is indeed sad news. It is hard to understand how some people’s minds work. Great history that should be respected.
Would like to know if I have any relatives. My Smith family is from Coweta County. My grandmother was a Richards from Carroll and her people are buried at St. Pauls.
My great grandfather Reverend Seaborn Campbell was the son-in-law of John Thurman and I have family buried at the church. Would like to connect with the Marlow family. Please reply with any information. Thank you.
Hello! We do own the book and it is wonderful! We are the Smiths and are related to the Smiths of Smithfield Road from several generations back, now in Haralson County. I would like to contact the owners and others who live near there….perhaps Rev. Smith was related? We are also related to Davenports from the Buchanan area. Thanks for your help.
Another beautiful old House of God. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Hurry up with that new book, folks. I’m not getting any younger! The first book was so great, I can’t wait for the second.