On July 4, 1791, a resident of what would become Elbert County, Absalom Stinchcomb, received 200 acres of property on the North Fork of Dove’s Creek, locating him in the area of the church that still bears his name. A short three years later, on December 30, 1794, Middleton Wood granted to Absalom Stinchcomb and two others, John Gatewood and John Ham, “…[the] privilege to erect a Meeting House on his land on waters of Dove’s Creek.” Written accounts of Stinchcomb United Methodist Church history indicate that it was established from a brush arbor meeting and located one mile outside Dewy Rose, Georgia. Although no legal records exist supporting the 1794 organization date, several sources prove otherwise. In 1894, The Elberton Star circulated an article celebrating the 100th anniversary of Stinchcomb, with another appearing in 1984, announcing the 190th year of the Methodist church.
The present structure, the oldest building in Elbert County, was built in 1876. A 1956 presentation for the Georgia Historical Commission described aspects of the 1876 structure noting, “…the sills of the building, supported by stone pillars, are hand-hewn timbers, measuring 14 inches square. Two trees were made to make each sill. The joists are logs lying parallel on the large sills. The recessed, columned porch, with its floor at ground level, was used by the women of the congregation for shelter while dismounting from their horses during the days when people used this mode of transportation.” This type of detailed architectural description highlights the rural craftsmanship of its builders and church family. Not only does the church remain in good condition, but it also stands as an architecturally significant building for the surrounding community. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Stinchcomb experienced the pains of sending young men off to war. The cemetery includes veterans of the Civil War, WWII, Korean War, and Revolutionary War. Located near the entrance of the church itself are two markers locating Revolutionary War soldiers Dionysius Oliver and his son, Peter.
During the first half of the twentieth century, Stinchcomb Methodist experienced steady growth, adding members to its congregation and updating its house of worship. The 1950s witnessed the installation of gas heating, with an additional renovation of the sanctuary area. That year, the cost of electricity was $12.24. By the 1970s, the church was outfitted with central heat and air. It was decided that the old cardboard fans would be kept. Throughout these changing times, an important tradition remained consistent and constant as ever. Started in July of 1939, the tradition of the church’s “Birthday Box” is unlike anything else in the state. A beloved tradition, the “Birthday Box” is a miniature replica of the church building, put together by Mr. John W. Roberts. Each Sunday, members are invited to put their “birthday money” into the box while the church sings a hymn. Following the hymn, the church joins in song again, this time to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” Often, the congregation will try and guess the age of the individual depositing money. The traditions of the congregation combined with the historic integrity of the building create an atmosphere of nostalgia and storied past at Stinchcomb. This Methodist church epitomizes the southern rural church and its tightly knit family of congregants.
A church history booklet completed by John N. and Susan Rousey to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Stinchcomb in 1994 provided the information above.
One of the most significant traditions at Stinchcomb Church is the Birthday Box. The one you see here was created as a miniature replica of the church made by congregant John W. Roberts to replace the original which was stolen in 2004. The original box was first introduced in 1939. The story goes that, “Each Sunday, members would be invited to put their birthday money in the Birthday Box while the congregation sang a hymn. At hymn’s end, all sang Happy Birthday to the person(s) that put money in the box. Even though the original may not be here today, no one can take away the delicious memories of each of us depositing our money.” It is beloved traditions such as this one that provide the congregational “glue” that keeps these old churches together and thriving decade after decade.
In this view from the rear of the church we see that, though much renovation and redecoration has been undertaken in this sanctuary over the past 115 years, the rectangular interior with its supporting columns still remains in place as built in 1876. The ceiling is flat rather than presenting a “tray or curved vault” which is more commonly seen in sanctuaries of this vintage. Of course, all the modern touches we see, carpeting, pew cushions, tiled ceiling with electrical fixtures/speakers were installed in the late 1900’s and early 21st century. These improvements do not diminish the authenticity of this old church sanctuary. Rather, they reflect the vitality of the congregation today and in past years and the appropriate responses needed to provide the congregants with modern creature comforts and keep the flock coming!
This is a close up view of the proscenium, chancel, pulpit and apse areas. Much of what we see was put into place during the church restoration projects in the 1980’s. This sacred site within the sanctuary is where the beloved John Sexton served as pastor from 2003 until his retirement in 2017. We are told that much of the churches significant restoration took place during his tenure.
This is a view from the vestibule, through the open, front door and into the old cemetery. There, many stories and tales are available for discovery and they are told by the grave stones and monuments. So much of the real history of rural churches and communities rests within cemeteries like this one. That is why we always include these sacred sites in our Historic Rural Church narratives. The cemetery is very old and very historic. In it repose some of the earliest settlers in Georgia.
Charles H. Sanders was born in Elbert County in 1836. He enlisted as a private in the 38th Ga Infantry and was wounded on July 3rd in the fighting at Gettysburg. His pension application of 1879 states that he was struck in the leg just below the knee and the leg was amputated the next day. He was awarded a pension of seventy five dollars.
Here lies Mitchell Gaines Rousey (1826 - 1863), who enlisted in Co. H of the 38th Ga Infantry on September 10, 1862 at the age of 36. He was wounded at Fredericksburg, VA on December 13 of that year. He then returned to service, but contracted typhoid fever and died on October 23, 1863 in a hospital in Lynchburg, VA. His body was then shipped to Lexington, GA where he was picked up by his wife, Emily, who drove the wagon herself that transported him to his final resting place in the Stinchcomb cemetery. Mitchell and Emily were married in 1854, and had two children.
Dionysius Oliver was a Revolutionary War veteran who acquired several land grants from the state for his wartime participation. One of the grants included the land between the forks of the Savannah and Broad rivers. Once Georgia's third largest town, Petersburg, located in the forks of the Broad and Savannah rivers in Elbert County, is now submerged under the waters of Clarks Hill Lake. During prolonged droughts, or when lake levels are down it is possible to walk along the site and see the remnants of what was, from the 1780s to the 1820s, a thriving frontier community. His son Peter lies beside him. Here is his death notice from the Wesleyan Jounal - Died in Elbert Co., Ga., Mr. Peter Oliver, aged nearly 62 years....born in Va, 10 November 1764, and moved to the state of Georgia when quite young... toward the close of the revolution, he served in served in several expeditions against the Indians....died 11th march 1826. (April 8, 1826)
Here lies Mirissie Bond who died at the age of two on Nov. 7, 1884. She lies beside her older brother Frank who was three. Frank died on Nov. 1, 1884. We think it is safe to say that both died of some disease that periodically visited these rural children. A high infant mortality rate was a fact that is well documented in these old cemeteries.
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Another beautiful old church building and thanks to those keeping it in good shape, and thanks to you for featuring it.
Did I read that wrong that this is the oldest building in the county?
That is what the church history said.