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.