Springhill Methodist is the oldest church in Thomas County and represents a successful effort of local county residents and the trustees of the church to save this wonderful piece of early Georgia history. The story is a familiar one in that the once thriving congregation slowly withers away (the last service was held in the 70’s), the building is left to the inevitable decline ending in total destruction unless someone intervenes. Fortunately for all of us, someone did and a total restoration was completed in 2011. The old church now has a service on the 5th Sunday of any month that has a 5th Sunday and is available for weddings and special events. Oft times, decent history of a church this old is hard to come by. We are fortunate to have good written history that was prepared by John Ferrell in 1924. We will just let Mr. Ferrell tell the tale of this wonderful part of early south Georgia history. It’s a bit long but worth the read. He really makes it come alive.
John Ferrell’s History of Spring Hill Methodist church prepared in 1924
On last Sunday, September 19, 1924, there was a homecoming celebration observed at Old Spring Hill Church, about ten miles south of Thomasville on the Spring Hill road. People came from far and wide to worship God in this sacred spot and enjoy the fellowship of dinner on the ground. Since I was one of the oldest natives and had spend my entire life in the this neighborhood, it fell to my lot to give the history of the church, which history I am forwarding to you in hopes that you will print it for posterity. I have searched every available source and have given the facts as accurately as possible, using inference in many cases to fill in the gaps.
Springhill Methodist was organized under a bush arbor during the summer of 1822 by three early Georgia pioneers, Peter McKinnon, Lockland Morrison, Angus Morrison and one other pioneer whose name is lost. During the fall following the Bush Arbor Meeting these pioneers built without nails or sawed lumber a log cabin (jokingly called Peter’s Chapel by the mischievous boys of the neighborhood). This chapel was called Spring Hill because of the many natural springs coming out of the high hills of the surrounding countryside. For many years the people who came here to worship drank from the cool spring below the church. Especially was this spring a mecca to the boys and girls who stayed for a baseball classic after Sunday School on
Sunday afternoons. (When a pasture fence was built and topped with barbed wire, the spring was no longer within bounds for the worshippers. Soon the spring filled up and was not fit for drinking water.)
Regular monthly services have been held here since 1826, according to my father, James Ferrell. My grandfather came to this county from North Carolina when his son James, (my father) was eight years old. My father was born on December 18, 1818, and always in telling of their arrival here in a covered wagon, he would indicate the date by his age. The church was there then and was judged to be about two years old from the fade of the white peeled pine logs. Also, my grandfather recollected that the Bush Arbor was then falling down. My ancestors attended this church, as it was the only one in Thomas County for several years after their arrival. Thus we can infer that the church was organized either in the summer of 1822 or 1823.
Within a decade the log church was too small to accommodate the growing congregation in a growing community. The new church at the present site was built in 1833, the land being donated by Lockland Morrison, the same person who had donated the land for the first church. Spring Hill neighborhood at that time was about thirty miles in diameter. As more people moved into the area, other churches sprung up. Ochlocknee at Beachton was first, Kindred Braswell being the leader; then Pisgah (in Leon County), Old Boston, Union,Indian Springs, Miccosukee, Tallahassee, and later Thomasville came in rapid succession, all drawing away from Spring Hill, until now the Old Mother Church is weak and poor. However, in the 1830’s and 1840’s it was the banner church of South Georgia and Middle Florida, its membership being about 500.
During the early 1820’s and 1830’s quarterly meetings were camp meetings comparable to the present homecomings except longer than one day. People came in covered wagons from as far as Morven in Brooks County, Georgia, and from all
over Leon and Jefferson counties, Florida, and camped out in order to attend services from Saturday at 11:00 until the following Thursday noon. These were great spiritual revivals when such preachers as Simon Peter Richardson, Ira Potter, Samuel Anthony and uncles Dick and Tommy Taylor, all young men at that time, brought the message from their hearts. Services were held at 11:00 in the morning and again at night. Conversions ran into the hundreds in these crusades for Christ, as these pioneers were in full conscience with all the principles and precepts of religion and were washed in the blood of the Lamb. The services had a great spriritual significance as the congregation lifted their voices in praise with the old-fashioned hymns.
John Wesley?? spoke of it as “The Witness of the Spirit”, quoting Romans 8:16. Not all the people who attended these camp meetings belonged to Spring Hill Church, but in those days people looked forward to these camp meetings from year to year. If they did not attend the quarterly meeting, they would come to the Fourth of July barbecue for the annual celebration and muster call, when all able-bodied men answered the roll call on Muster Day. Since Spring Hill was centrally located, it was designated as the muster place, people coming by the hundreds from four to six counties. Here they camped for the great reunion and barbecue in the morning and the celebration and muster in the afternoon. Everybody knew everybody, and this neighborhood was at the zenith of it’s glory in its love of God, country, church and fellow countryman.
Thus we see the fleeting history of a grand old mother church which fostered all the churches in this countryside for forty years. Spring Hill was then in the Florida conference. After the Civil War, the old church could not hold the lead anymore, but such shouting, singing, and preaching as was once heard in these hallowed walls has no equal anywhere except at Pisgah in Leon County, in the early 1830’s and 1840’s.
Thank you Mr. Ferrell and thank you citizens of Thomas county for your wonderful preservation efforts. We salute you.
This wonderful old, primitive building was so important to the Springhill Church Trustees that they decided to mount a restoration and preservation program in 2010. Originally raised by the congregation in 1833, it had fallen on hard times and was in danger. As you can see, the Trustees oversaw a thorough overhaul of the building. Today it sits on its original foundation looking virtually as it did over 180 years ago. Because of these efforts, Springhill should be standing tall for generations to come serving as a useful memorial and physical link to the heritage and history of the families that nurtured it throughout the years.
As you can see, the Trustees treated this project not as a remodeling but as a preservation of their old sanctuary. We marvel at the inclusion of the large, finished log standing on its end at the altar. We wish we knew the story of that relic! From the foundation to the floors, walls, ceiling, roof and furnishings they wanted to insure that a faithful renovation of their 180+ year old home was the final result. They have succeeded. If you want to take a 150 year trip back in time to experience the rural south Georgia atmosphere, architecture and heritage, a visit to Springhill will provide that opportunity.
This view of the church interior from the pulpit accentuates the plain simplicity of the sanctuary. The lovely, 4 inch wide heart pine floors support hand made pews with double back boards. These pews may look uncomfortable to today’s parishioner, but they were a vast improvement on the footed, half-log, rough benches with no back that they replaced. The six over six sashed windows keep out the weather, still operate as designed and can be raised to let in some fresh air when appropriate. The altar balusters and posts are of simple, functional design. The only ornamentation evident in this view is a small picture over the front door. All is plain and simple and perfect.
Music, hymns, congregational singing… were all significant elements in rural churches. It was an activity in which all could participate and brought the congregation together. The earliest convenient music-making instrument after the personal fiddles and guitars of congregants was the piano. The one above certainly shows signs of great use and no doubt facilitated the singing of many favorite Methodist hymns such as Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross and Blessed Assurance.
There are 40 documented interments in the cemetery. However, we suspect that there are more than a few unmarked graves that melted away over time. There are also some crudely marked graves at the original church location a short distance away on private land. Pictured below is a cluster of interesting monuments of differing styles and materials that were popular during the period mid-1800’s to 1910. The leaning one in the left foreground is made of marble (as are most of the ones pictured) and is described by most as a “Pulpit” monument. In the center foreground we see a Pillar monument. Behind and flanking the Pillar are two, shorter monuments in the “slot and tab style. They would be the oldest of the grouping(probably pre-1850) since they are of an earlier style that faded in the mid-1800’s. Across the back we see a row of matching “Vaulted Pedestal” markers probably all memorializing members of same family.The most unique of these markers is in the right foreground. Notice that the inscriptions are still razor-sharp even though the monument has been in place for 120 years while the other markers of similar age are almost illegible and encrusted by lichen. See the “Bouquet” of flowers (symbolizing Grief/Condolences) and the finely etched oak leaves(symbolizing Strength) along the upper margins. This memorial to Nexie Howard is a rare example of a ‘white bronze’ (so called for marketing purposes), metal memorial that was popular for only 40 years or so in the 1870’s-1910’s. It is actually sand cast Zinc. The makers sold these monuments as, ‘… more durable than marble, yet about 1/3 less expensive while being progressive’. Their durability is evident in the photo. However, they proved to be brittle and often broke into pieces, so dropped out of vogue. One of the legends concerning this type of gravestone centers around the fact that it was made of screw-together panels and was hollow inside. It is said that outlaws sometimes took advantage of this fact and hid stolen goods inside the tall, hollow monuments. During prohibition times, bootleggers reputedly removed one of the panels to leave liquor inside for pickup by their customers. The truth of these speculations is not known, but they certainly make for a good story!
J. W. and Amanda Carroll had five children born between 1882 and 1893. Of these five offspring, only one lived to be an adult. Here are the four graves of the Carroll siblings who died before the age of three. A sad, but familiar story in the Georgia back country in the 19th century.
A visit to the Springhill graveyard will provide you the opportunity to see and enjoy a variety of gravestones and memorials typical of the mid/late 19th and early 20th Century. Many of these were mail-order specials from Sears or Montgomery Ward that can be found in cemeteries from coast to coast… all with personalized data but exactly the same otherwise. Other popular styles were offered by local craftsmen as well who then added their own artistic signature. The one above at Springfield caught our eye as unique for its location. We see a handsome vaulted false crypt made of large, cut dimension stone topped by an urn with flame that signifies “Undying remembrance”. This was most likely a custom order/creation and a sincere tribute to someone much loved and much lost. There is a story here that we need to pursue. The inscription reads ‘This tomb was erected to the memory of Isabella Morrison consort of Angus Morrison Who died in the triumphs of a gospel faith June the 9th 1843 aged 30 years Leaving a husband, children, numerous relatives to mourn to loss of an affectionate companion, a fond dutiful mother, and faithful friend who always made it her motto in life to live the life of the righteous that her latter end might be as his’. Rest in peace.
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The pin in the map shown for the location of the church is incorrect. The location is in Thomas county Georgia near the intersection of Springhill road and Beachton-Metcalf road.
Thanks Alan. Fixed now.