Summertown is a small community of approximately 160 people, not much changed from a population of 168 in 1900. Originally named Summerville, it was settled by people who lived in nearby towns located near swamps. People came to Summertown to escape the deadly malaria associated with such low-lying areas. They sought out higher ground and built fine summer homes. Eventually Summertown had an academy, post office and a church. The Midville, Swainsboro and Red Bluff rail line that made a stop in Summertown made life there more convenient for travel and shopping. The railroad began operations around 1890. Many of the early settlers of the Summertown area came from Burke County, which was a prosperous county but plagued with malaria because of the swamps and marshes of the Ogeechee River. The town was quite active as early as 1856 when the General Assembly of Georgia approved the incorporation of the Summerville Male and Female Academies.
Summerville is mentioned several times in the diaries and records of Gen. William Sherman’s army, the southern (right) wing of which camped very near Summerville on November 29, 1864 while on their march to Savannah. Major General Osterhaus, commander of the 15th Corps of the right wing commented on the general area and noted that it “was a perfect wilderness where long leaf pines covered poor or sandy soil worthless for agricultural purposes”. He also noted that the land was interspersed with marshes and was sparsely settled. In his diary, Lt. Platter of the 81st Ohio wrote, “we passed through Summerville, a country town which presented a rather pleasing appearance.”
In a Thomas County deed dated March 5, 1881, Lewis B. Bouchelle sold to George Garbutt of Emanuel County for $120 “that parcel of tract of land lying and situated in Emanuel County, 57th District GM, joining land of said George Garbutt and others, 2 acres more or less whereon the Methodist Episcopal Church now stands.” In November of 1887, George Garbutt assigned the deed “for a valuable consideration” to the five trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Mr. Garbutt noted on the deed that the said premises shall be” used, kept, and maintained as a place of divine worship of the Methodist Episcopal Church” subject to the discipline and usage as declared by the general conference of the said church. The deed was recorded in Emanuel County on November 15, 1881. Lewis B. Bouchelle was a local physician, schoolteacher, and minister. He is listed as all three in various records. His child, James Duncan Bouchelle, is the first recorded burial in the Summertown Methodist Church – July 1879. George Garbutt was a leading citizen who was active in the lumber business. He founded the Garbuts Baptist Church (later known as Summertown Baptist Church) in 1798, not far from the Summertown Methodist. In the Summertown Methodist Cemetery, five of his grandchildren are buried, including the second recorded burial in 1882. There is a fenced enclosure around three of their graves. A sign on the fence says “Garbutt Family”.
In 1881 the Methodists established the Summertown Church. Early ministers were I. F. Carey and H. L. Pearson. By 1919 it was one of four churches on the Midville Circuit in the Dublin District, sometimes sharing a minister with Union Grove Methodist Church. By 1995, its congregation had become too small to support the church and it was discontinued by the Methodist Conference. Maintenance by the Conference ended in 2002. A few years later, the church was showing its age. It was no longer weather-tight and some of the woodwork needed replacing. The paint was peeling. Some of the windows were broken and covered in plastic to keep out the weather. Steve Head, originally from Millen GA, is now a commercial contractor in Alpharetta, GA. His company, as a service to communities around the state, has restored other old churches. On a visit to his mother in south Georgia, Head saw the church and decided to make it part of his company’s restoration project. Today, the church and its graveyard are owned by five trustees who bought it from the Methodist Conference in 2002. The cemetery is still active.