Named for the family who contributed substantially to the early economic success of the community, Swords, a small rural community in Morgan County, has its roots in the entrepreneurial spirit of John Buchanon (Buck) Swords. The community developed in the proximity of Blue Springs, one of Morgan County’s earliest organized settlements. Blue Springs, deriving its namesake from its healthy natural water sources, played an essential role in the successes experienced by J.B. Swords’ Swords Distillery. A rival and contemporary to Jack Daniels Distillery, this whiskey maker put Swords on the map, literally. Formally incorporated by the Georgia Legislature on August 16, 1909, Swords boasted the necessities of a small rural town. The commercial center included a general supply store, grist mill, cotton gin, and blacksmith shop. However, by the 1920s, Prohibition brought about the slow demise of Swords. This decline culminated in the 1980s with fire destroying the entire commercial core. Though no longer incorporated, Swords is recognized as a significant part of Morgan County history. Not to mention, the beautiful 1912 Swords United Methodist Church still remains, with an active congregation.
The elegant two-towered, stain glass-filled Swords United Methodist still stands as a testament to the early twentieth-century success of Swords. Much of its history can be pieced together through The Madisonian newspaper clippings from 1912 and 1913. The construction and organization of Swords United Methodist derive from the desire and need for a house of worship within the community following the establishment of a Sunday School in the Swords school house in 1910. On September 6, 1912, The Madisonian noted, “A committee is now at work getting up subscriptions, and work will soon be begun. The people want a $2,000 church, and we feel sure with so many willing ones to help, the amount will soon be on hand.” A handwritten deed recorded the transferal of a one and one-tenth acre parcel on October 28, 1912. By June 27, 1913, The Madisonian had already begun circulating, “One of the most notable events of the county will be the dedication of the new Methodist church Sunday at Swords.” Described as, “[the] Beautiful New Church in a Growing Section of Morgan County,” and constructed at the cost of $2,532.96 Swords was ready for an official dedication. According to a Madisonian article, Swords United Methodist was dedicated on Sunday, July 14, 1913.
The awe and inspiration that filled the hearts of the twenty-five members as they entered their new church is something to ponder. The beautiful wood interior, reflecting the reverential stain glass light must have been (and still is) a sight to see. On that hot July 14 Sunday, the congregation, sitting attentively in their new cast iron theatre seating pews (equipped with under-the-seat hat racks) listened to a fine forty-five-minute sermon by Dr. Dickey, President of Emory College. That afternoon, “…an abundant dinner was served on tables erected under the trees…there was plenty of basket dinners, besides fine barbecue prepared by Mr. John Buck Swords.” Throughout the years following this July dedication, Swords members shuffled into their church to hear the sermons of Rev. W.C. Floyd and Rev. W.D. Amack two Sundays every month. Although the Swords community is no longer incorporated, the church remains intact with a congregation. As for the vaguely Gothic Revival structure, no significant changes have been made, only 16 years ago did Swords United Methodist receive central air and heat! Currently, weekly services still maintain a crowd of 15-20 dedicated members.
The history of Swords and Swords United Methodist mirror the familiar stories of rural life across the state, a community in which the church was at the center of daily experiences; a place where heritage and culture still loom large.
Without the guidance of John W. Wright’s John Buchanon (Buck) Swords “A Captain of Industry and Pioneer Builder and Developer,” and A History of Swords Community Church, this compilation of Swords and Swords United Methodist history would not have been possible. Also, a special thanks to the Morgan County Landmarks Society for their continued support and assistance with this project in Morgan County.
This church was built and thrived during the relatively prosperous, financially stable years of 1900 through 1927 in the state of Georgia. After Reconstruction’s end, many small communities flourished as they became centers of transportation, agriculture, textile mills, small factories, manufacturing and, in Swords’ case, the distillation of whiskey and spirits. That prosperous era is still reflected in the majesty of the building and the opulence of the interior, decorative elements and furnishings of the sanctuary of the town’s finest structure, Swords Methodist. It was built and furnished at a cost of $2,532… a fortune in those times. Though a late Victorian structure, it was very modern in many ways as witnessed by its inclusion of the latest in elaborate cast iron, theatre-style seats and electric lighting.
In this view we see that the interior fit, finish and decoration is of the highest quality. The ceiling with its typical, narrow heart pine ceiling boards, wainscot, elaborately framed windows filled with artful stained glass panes and the wide heart pine floors are proof of the congregation’s intent to build the very best possible sanctuary they could afford. The two entry doors into the church can be seen to the left and right of the window.
This view of the chancel and pulpit area provides us another opportunity to experience and enjoy, close up, the wainscot, turned balusters of the prayer rail and other elements that still today present just as they did over 100 years ago.
Two similar styles of theatre seating/pews are present at Swords. Earlier on, we had a look at the style of the seats found in the center section of the church. They were attractive but less ornate than those in the seating areas that flank the center section. We are not sure why, but it is clear that those two areas are populated by the much more complex and elaborate seats we see in this photograph.
We were impressed by the clever “hat racks” that are placed beneath the seats. In this era every man wore a fedora or other hat style, and these hiding places insured his hat would be stored safe and sound during the service.
The colored glass placed in the nearby gothic window casts a lovely green glow on the seats in this area of the sanctuary.
In this view we are looking left from the pulpit into the choir “loft”. As we would expect in a church that still holds regular services, we see that the seating is original but much else is modern… the electric organ, speakers and lighting. The fact that the congregation is still intact and carrying on with its spiritual mission as it has for over a century is quite reassuring.
This photo gives us a chance to see the two gothic windows near the choir loft together as a pair. It is their green glass windows that have been casting the charming green glow throughout this area of the church as we photographed Swords Methodist.
This cheerful view from the choir captures the beauty of the large, gothic triptych window that dominates the back wall at Swords.
We were quite pleased to find this old photo of Swords United Methodist Church. Keepsakes such as this are very scarce. One of our goals is to gather as many items such as this that we can and see that they are safely archived and available for examination, study and use far into the future. Here we see the tower at Swords between the two trees near the center. We can also make out many early cars (probably all Fords and surely a sign of prosperity) parked beside the church and on the road. It was taken in 1920, just seven years after the building was dedicated, still good times. Little could these folks at the church on that day imagine that in a decade or so, the boll weevil would destroy King Cotton and a World Wide depression would combine to end their way of life forever.
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My son and his wife, Rick and Mary Kate Riccardi,married there in October 2013 by the Rev. Anthony Gavalas. Our family is from the other Buckhead in Atlanta, but bought a second home on Lake Oconee in Buckhead, Ga. It was a beautiful wedding with the reception following at our Oconee home. All of our family came from Atlanta and Alabama and everyone loved the rural little country church. Special and wonderful!
Great memories Beverly. Thanks for sharing.
My friends and I, four of us, tried to attend your church this past Sunday for the ll o’clock service as was advertised in the paper the BREEZE. Unfortunately when we got there at 10:30 we saw no cars and then saw your sign for 9 o’clock service. We snooped around and took pictures and then drove on to Greensboro to the United Methodist Church there. You may want to update the newspaper and website. I will try again but because of other commitments it will be a while. Thank you,
My father Sanford Lewis Swords
This is such an quaint little church. It once was bubbly & full of families & children. My Granny Florene Goss lived in the house beside it for many years. As a little girl I would sit on the front row with my best friend Peggy Mitcham & we would sign The Old Rugged Cross as loud as possible. The cemetery on the hill holds many lifelong members from the church. I did not know until 10 years ago when my Mama’s burial service was held there that the wire under the seats were to hold gentlemen’s hats during the service.
Homecomings were held on the big concrete tables beside the church. There was always tons of delicious foods & afternoon signing later for those able to stay awake after eating so much!
What great memories. Thanks Darnelle.
Very nice to see this church recognized. I do have a couple of comments, there is a cemetery located on Blue Springs Rd, listed in the tax assessors records as Cemetery Swords containing 2.6 acres.
Also, as to the seating, I was told that they were theater seats from the old theater in downtown Buckhead. I believe the building is still there and was most recently used as a roller skating rink and events. The arrangement was revised to move the larger and more stable seats into the middle seating area.
Thanks Anne. We will take a look a the cemetery. Those seats were the most unusual we have seen. We wandered where they came from. Nice to connect the dots and thanks for your support.
There is no mention of a cemetary connected with the church. It is hard to imagine that a hub of the are didn’t have one. I do know that many of the families of the East Georgia had family plots on their farms, with some quite large and elaborate.
In addition to family plots and church cemeteries, there are many communities that have community burying grounds. This is probably the case with Swords.
I would love to visit this church. And I will. I’m sure my father and his family worshipped in this church as he grew up and lived just yards away from this church on a dairy still standing today in Swords owned by (I think) the Moon family. My grandfather was Will Watt Poole who is buried at Nail Creek Baptist Church in Banks County, GA.
Thank you for sharing some of your family history with us William. We love to hear about these interesting connections within these small rural communities like Swords.
My son, Rick Riccardi, from Atlanta, was married at Swords Church in October 2013 to Mary Kate Hinds, originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and The Rev. Dr. Anthony Gavalas performed the ceremony. It was a wonderful setting for a blessed event and Rev. Tony said the most appropriate and touching words to the newlyweds. A very special little church in rural middle Georgia with absolutely caring and special members of the parish. I just wish I lived in nearby Buckhead full-time to be able to attend services there.
Thanks for sharing that with us Beverly. What a wonderful setting for a wedding.