In 1885, the arrival of the Augusta, Gibson & Sandersville Railroad brought new life to the town of Spread, Georgia. Previously known as Spread Oak, the town would later change its name to Stapleton in honor of Colonel James Stapleton, who was well known throughout the community and served on the Board of Directors of the A.G. & S. “narrow gauge” Railroad. Good farmland, cotton, lumber and the railroad all played a part in the continued growth of Stapleton, and that growth convinced the town’s leaders of the need for educational and religious opportunities for its citizens. A school was built by 1888, and on September 3, 1902, Spread Methodist Episcopal Church was organized and pastored by Rev. J. N. Peacock. The church’s name was changed to Stapleton Methodist Episcopal Church in 1917. The wooden sanctuary is the original building with additions made throughout the years, including a complete remodel in 1970. There is currently one central door to enter the sanctuary, but originally there were two doors; ladies entered and sat on the left side and men entered and sat on the right. After years of declining membership the church was closed and deconsecrated in 2017. However, in 2020, the building was purchased by the Stapleton Baptist Church. and is in the process of being reborn as the “Stapleton Care Pregnancy Center.”
The Stapleton Methodist and Baptist Churches are located just across the street from one another, and share a common cemetery. Many times while doing research in old rural cemeteries, we discover stories about the life and times of the settlers who are buried there. The cemetery in Stapleton is no exception. The Stapleton family has been a part of the area’s history for many years, and among the early settlers of this area was George Lawson Stapleton, Sr., who served in the Revolutionary War and relocated from Virginia in 1784. His son, Major George Stapleton, Jr., served under Gen. Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and in the Seminole Wars, and represented Jefferson County in the state legislature for thirty-two years, serving both as a Senator and a Representative. James, the son of George Jr., served in the Confederate Army and, like his father, was elected to the Georgia Legislature. For a period of fifty years, George Jr. and James were the Representatives from Jefferson County. Both George Jr. and James were ordained as Baptist ministers late in life at Reedy Creek Baptist Church, which was established in 1817 and is located in the panhandle area of nearby Warren County.
One of the most interesting events in the life of George Stapleton Jr. occurred in 1873, when Susan Eberhart was convicted of being an accomplice to a murder in distant Webster County and sentenced to be hanged for the crime. Many prominent Georgia citizens felt she had been wrongly convicted, and there was a movement underway to have her sentence commuted. Rev. Stapleton felt so strongly that he mounted his horse at the age of 78, and rode 200 miles to Webster County in the hope that he could somehow prevent what he considered a grievous miscarriage of justice.
He was unsuccessful and the sentence was carried out…..Susan being only the third white woman in Georgia history at the time to suffer that fate. Rev. Stapleton, having done his duty as he saw it, returned home and continued his ministry until he went to his final resting place the next year, in 1874. The hanging of Susan Eberhart is a remarkable story in Georgia history and Rev. Stapleton’s great-great granddaughter, Dr. Fay Stapleton Burnett, has written a book about it as well as an article in Georgia Backroads to be published in the Spring 2021 issue. Dr. Burnett’s book, The Hanging of Susan Eberhart, is available at Amazon.com.
The introductory history and photo of the church’s southwest corner presented a grand, classical church building looking handsome and proud after over 115 years of constant use. In this photo, we have a frontal exterior view which reveals more of the architectural detail of the Stapleton Methodist Church. We see a single gable, rectangular building with an elaborate open porch who’s corners are decorated by two pilasters. The porch roof itself is supported by two elaborate Ionic columns. Above the roof we see the tops of two lancet, stained glass windows resting beneath a cornice while the lovely gabled cornice returns catch our eye. Above, on the gable peak, we see a four level, spired bell tower reaching for the sky. This is certainly not just another country church. It is designed to reflect the prosperity and wealth of this congregation at the end of reconstruction and the beginning of the 20th century.
Here we have walked up the steps, beneath the porch roof, into a vestibule, stepped into the rear of the sanctuary and then walked up the aisle to the chancel area. We see that the interior is as grand and charming as was the exterior. There is a substantial semicircular balustrade and kneeling pads on the outside and inside we see the offertory, pulpit and apse with two handsome, stained glass windows that cheerfully, light up the entire area.
We are now standing on the chancel. We look into the apse beneath the cased opening and now have a full view of the apse window. It is quite attractive. Though we know that much of the present sanctuary underwent a full remodeling in the 1970’s, we are told that much of the furnishings and decorative elements that we see here are original or similar to what would have been found in the earlier sanctuary.
We were quite taken with the craftsmanship, quality and fit and finish within the sanctuary, all is top quality. Here we get a closer look at the floor molding, wall, window frames, crown mold and ceiling treatments. A real stand-out is the extremely wide crown molding. It is used throughout the sanctuary and gives a lift to the ceiling making the room feel larger. Also notable is the perfect, tight finish of the horizontal wall boards at Stapleton Methodist.
As we are sure you have noticed, all of the interior walls have lancet, gothic windows with stained glass. In this closeup we can appreciate not just the lovely glow from the colorful glass but the perfectly fitted and mounted wooden window frames. The frames are subtle yet lovely and reflect the artistry of the master carpenters who made and installed them.
In this view from the pulpit, we are looking out the entry door and for the first time seeing the large transom window over the door. The transom is filled with stained glass panes providing a colorful and striking illumination going out as well as going in the sanctuary. Above the transom we see two lancet windows above the door and they too add color and beauty to the entryway. This shot also gives us a chance to appreciate the visual impact we mentioned earlier of the wide crown molding used throughout this sanctuary. See how the wide angled molding seems to lift up the ceiling and provide a cathedral-like atmosphere in the room? Also note the immaculate and clean sanctuary we see despite the fact that the congregation has been absent for years now. The recent purchase of the building by the Stapleton Baptist Church has breathed new life into this lovely old landmark. The repurposing of the church into “Stapleton Care Pregnancy Center” means many more years of life and meaning to this wonderful building. We thank the local citizens and congregations for saving this old church and wish these local efforts well.
Nathan Green Pate was born in Warren County on October 13, 1845 and died September 14, 1901 in Jefferson County. He was married to Frances P. Perdue (1847-1921). Census records show they had a large family and he worked as a farm laborer.
John Glover was born about 1895. He served overseas in WWI. He was in Company H, 52nd Infantry, 6th Division. He enlisted May 3, 1918 and was honorably discharged June 19, 1919. His occupation was automobile mechanic. He died January 24, 1923.
Lawrence Kitchens was born October, 1837. He enlisted in Company B, 22d Georgia Infantry, CSA on September 3, 1861. There were 10 other men with the last name Kitchens in the same company. An application for a headstone shows he died October 30, 1925.
The name on this marker reads Mrs. M. C. Rooks. She was born Dempsey M. C. Roberson on September 28, 1860 and died January 1, 1899. She was the daughter of Dempsey D. Roberson 1831-1862 and Kiziah M. Stapleton 1829-1919. Dempsey D. Roberson served in Company I, 28th Georgia Regiment, CSA. He died of disease while in service on February 22, 1862. Mrs. M. C. Rooks was married to James H. Rooks on December 22, 1886 in Jefferson County. Her husband was a house carpenter and they had two children.
These markers are left to right: Robert Lee Stapleton (August 17, 1870 to March 7, 1873), George Stapleton (September 1, 1860 to September 8, 1868), Frances Eliza Stapleton (April 6, 1864 to May 19, 1864) and Willis Jeremiah Stapleton (October 12, 1856 to July 18, 1861). These first four markers are children of Rev. James Stapleton and his wife Lancey Howard Stapleton. Next in line is Rev. George Lawson Stapleton, Jr. (1794-1874) mentioned above, Laney Howard Stapleton (May 14, 1831 to January 11, 1872), and Rev. James Stapleton (1824-1888) also mentioned above.
Rev. George Lawson Stapleton was born November 1, 1794 and died April 12, 1874. He served in the Georgia State Legislature for 32 years. A tribute to him appeared in the Jefferson News and Farmer on April 23, 1874. Included were these words “The multitude of people who attended his funeral, attested how truly brother Stapleton was beloved by all who knew him. The rich and poor, the white and colored, came to take a last look, and to drop a tear for one whom they had known so long and known so well.” Just one year before he died at almost 80 years of age, he rode some 200 miles to southwest Georgia to try to stop the hanging of Susan Eberhart, the third white woman ever executed in Georgia. He was unsuccessful in stopping her hanging. Overwhelmingly, Georgians supported clemency for Susan Eberhart and her hanging was apparently a miscarriage of justice. The Thomasville Times, May 10, 1873 in a report about her hanging states “The venerable George Stapleton of Jefferson County, then offered up an eloquent and earnest prayer to the throne of grace in her behalf.” This was the final prayer for her on the gallows where she then thanked all who had comforted her and forgave all who had wronged
Rev. James Stapleton was born May 19, 1824 and died February 21, 1888. He served in several units during the Civil War and reached the rank of Colonel with Georgia State Troops. In 1877 he was ordained and served several churches. He also served in the legislature. The herald and Advertiser newspaper, (Newnan, Georgia), August 31, 1888, page 4 had a report about him written by an out of town visitor to his grave. The article states “He was a grand man – a high toned, Christian gentleman. He made life a success. He was loved by all – his heart, his purse, his hand, was ever ready to minister to the wants of the suffering poor and the afflicted. …”
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Far too beautiful an edifice for it not to be used for its intended purpose, especially after the restoration work to maintain the love and craftsmanship that went into it originally.