According to a local history, settlers began moving into what was then Murray County in 1831 in anticipation of the Cherokee removal act that would expel the last of the Cherokees from this part of Georgia and open it to settlement. The first church was known as Snake Creek since it was in that militia district. In 1842, the church had thirty members according to records from the Coosa Baptist Association. It was also the year that the name of the church was changed to New Providence Baptist. In 1868, Joseph Barrett deeded “4 acres and 35 rods to the New Providence Baptist Church” for a financial consideration of sixty dollars. And in 1870 it had a final name change to Sugar Valley Baptist. The congregation prospered and in 1879 money was raised for the new church that you see here.
The churches conference (business meeting) in the 1880’s was held on Saturday mornings. A look at some of the conference by-laws from the 1880’s will quickly show the role of the church in maintaining a strict social code of conduct. “(1) during conference no member shall be allowed to whisper while another brother is speaking, (2) no one shall leave the conference without permission, (3) it is the duty of each male member to attend conference conference and if he failed to do do , he must render a good excuse (4) any member guilty of the work of the flesh as recorded in Gal. 5:19, 21 shall be excluded from the fellowship of the church unless proper penitence be shown and finally (5) no woman could speak during the business meeting. Some times conference was almost like court trial.One such meeting charges of fighting among 2 men came to the church’s attention. Another charge by one of the male members said his wife mistreated him by neglecting him when he was sick and he had to leave home to find proper care. Fellowship withdrawn from the wife in 1879.“
As the Valley grew in wealth and population, some of the citizens agreed that the community needed a new schoolhouse. The role of the church was an important one in public education in the late 19th century and remained so for well into the 20th. “Mr. B. Abbott gave a half-acre land for the school, to be located just north of the church. The Sugar Valley Academy, as it was called was completed and ready for students before 1890. The school opened in January 1892 and accommodated 159 students. The seat of learning became a part of the Baptist system and schools and colleges and under the directions of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Students came from all over to attend the school , which was regarded as a leading high school and flourished for nine years. The school continued to operate until 1927. The buildings were later torn down and the lumber sold.“
In the fall of 2001 Sugar Valley Baptist Church voted to build a new sanctuary requiring more space, and it was decided that the old church had to be removed. Attempts were made to give or donate the building to other churches but the attempts were not successful and funds were set aside to demolish the building. However, we are told that Mrs. Zeta Brown wrote an article to the local paper in a plea to save the church building, pointing out that it stood as one of Sugar Valley’s cornerstones for 125 years. Apparently, the response to this article resulted in the decision to save it and move it just a quarter mile away where it stands now. We are so thankful that it was saved and preserved at the new location, where it will be used for a variety of special occasions.
The story of Sugar Valley Baptist, from the Cherokee removal until today, is quite a story and we are grateful to the congregations who have worshiped at this church now for over 175 years. Your stewardship is important to keep telling this story for generations to come. Thank you for your service.
This is a view from the back of the church. The chancel and altar are reached by a welcoming wide center aisle. We can’t help but admire the lovely pine wood floors and vertical ceiling boards. The old pews and stained glass, memorial windows are relics of the past and well worthy of preservation. The horizontal, wide wood wallboards rest atop a lovely, vertical wooden wainscot found throughout. Both being painted white provides a welcome, decorative contrast to the darker wood. It would have been a shame if the original plan to demolish the church had been executed. The loving care and maintenance given this sanctuary are evidence of the congregations devotion to keeping it in as good a condition as possible.
This photograph of the raised, heart pine chancel area gives us a chance to view, close up, the old, wide horizontal wallboards, the chair rail/wainscoting and the very plain and simple window frames of the memorial windows. An ornate and handsome wooden pulpit is flanked by two period tables adding an air of authenticity to the scene.
As noted earlier, Sugar Valley Baptist underwent extensive restoration just after WW2. The interior we see here is quite different from from the 1879 original. However, please remember that this building does rest on and encompass much of the original. It is quite probable that the heart pine floors, support beams, floor joists and other elements of this sanctuary were part of the 19th century building. In 1948, we are told that, among many other things, the ceiling was lowered. It is interesting to note that the “new” ceiling uses a suspended truss to provide for the traditional “tray-type” ceiling found in much older structures from the early 19th century. This would have been quite expensive to construct in the 1940’s. This costly “tip of the hat” to the past was probably a mid 20th century tribute to the old ways and days.
Other 1948 restoration improvements are seen in this photo of the interior front area of Sugar Valley. Aside from the very major ceiling reconstruction that year, we see above how they cleverly added four Sunday School classrooms. Look to the right background, through the cased entryway and you will be able to look through an open door and into one of the rooms. This was accomplished by adding a false wall beyond the entry doorway thus creating space for a foyer and small rooms. This was also the period when ten of the large stained glass windows were added, three of which are seen above.
Here lies Cora Bridges (1867 – 1904), the wife of Rev. W. B. Bridges who was a long time pastor at Sugar Creek. She died at the age of 37 leaving three small children. The Rev. W. B. never remarried and lived until June of 1949.
Here lies Pvt. James F. Long (1840 – 1925), who served in the 24th Ga Infantry……the unit known as Dabney’s Rifles. He enlisted in March of 1862 and surrendered with his unit at Appomattox. If you were born a white male in 1840, there was a very good chance you would serve in the war and also a very good chance you would not survive. James did survive and lived a long life until he died in the Atlanta Confederate Soldiers Home in 1925. The quality of his life may have been another matter. The federal census of 1900 shows him living with his wife, Francis, and five children in a rented house. He is listed as a farmer who could neither read nor write. An indigent Confederate Pension application in 1902 states he had no income and his only assets were ” a cow and household goods”
The 1879 building is seen above. Note the two doors, no porch but original facade. It has now been remodeled and moved about 1/4 mile from its original location. But, it remains an integral and much loved site to its congregation. This charming, 95+ year old picture is from the heyday of Sugar Valley Baptist. Over 100 parishioners are gathered at the front steps. From babes in arms to grown men and women, some fashionably dressed. This was a prosperous and growing town and this church was at that time the center of their life. We applaud the fact that Sugar Valley remains as a vigorous and cherished landmark today and wish it prosperity and relevance into the future.
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