Tilley Bend Baptist

Fannin County
Org 1858
Photography by Tom Reed

The history below is contributed by Clay Ramsey, who frequently researches and writes interesting articles about various historic rural church stories across Georgia.  This synopsis is from an article that will be published in the Winter 2020 issue of Georgia Backroads magazine.  Be sure and read the full write up below to get a sense of the blood feud between the Stanleys and the Tilleys…… a tale of murder and witchcraft in the North Georgia mountains.

“According to courthouse records, on December 19, 1857, Martin Free offered a deed of gift on a three-acre lot in a gully near the Toccoa River to a group of believers who formed the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, the predecessor of Tilley Bend Baptist Church. By the next year, they had built a log church on the property from timber felled on the Isaac Davis farm across the road, and established a congregation, according to Missionary Baptist principles, just south of Morganton, then the Fannin county seat. A school was started in the church building by 1879. The school moved with the church once, then in 1903 built their own schoolhouse near the church. The teachers were dedicated and area lore preserves the memory of two who confronted moonshiners working a still nearby. The threat they posed to the virtue of the students was eliminated when the intrepid teachers chased them off. By 1926 the school was shuttered and its students were transferred to local alternatives.

On January 14, 1899, Benjamin M. Tilley provided a deed of gift to the Mount Pleasant Church. The members reorganized the congregation on January 17, 1921, according to church minutes. Between 1925 and 1931 the Toccoa Electric Power Company, a subsidiary of the Tennessee Electric Power Company, constructed a dam in the area and created Toccoa (later Blue Ridge) Lake. The meeting place for the original Tilley Church was submerged when the reservoir was created, forcing the congregation to move to Old Dial Road on higher ground. There they remain, though their building has gone through several iterations.

In 1950 there was a fire, and another in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Arson was proved, the latter one of three church fires in one 72-hour period. The pulpit Bible still has burn marks. But it, and the small band of believers, survived, and they rebuilt both times. The last time they used the occasion to add indoor plumbing. In the meantime, on September 28, 1958, they were reorganized as Tilley Bend Baptist Church, with the ordination of Paul Montgomery as pastor. In all likelihood, they had been known as the Tilley Bend Church for years, situated in a curve of the river on land deeded by a Tilley. In 1980 they came under the watch-care of the Morganton Association, and in two years they were accepted into full fellowship. They were affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention until 2006, when they became an independent Baptist congregation with no formal denominational affiliation. They continue to worship, meeting every Sunday and Wednesday, as a band of faithful few, a congregation of eight.

 Some of the most interesting legends about the region emerged from a perennial family feud and its consequences. On the other side of the ridge from Tilley Bend, the Stanley family, originally from western North Carolina, formed a Settlement. Over the years, friction developed and then violently erupted at the turn of the twentieth century when a group of Stanleys shot into the Tilley Church during services, killing the minister and several of the congregants, among them a daughter belonging to Elizabeth Jane Tilley Bradley. In retaliation, a band of Tilleys invaded the Stanley Settlement, murdering several of their number, including the husband of another of Elizabeth Bradley’s daughters. Elizabeth, of Creek ancestry, reportedly put a curse on both families.

For a full year, no babies survived in either settlement. Every child was miscarried, stillborn or died in early infancy. Only a witch could have that power, they believed. So a mob strung her up in a tree at the center of the Tilley cemetery. Before she died, she promised to return. They buried her at the foot of the tree where she fell. She was supposedly buried facing west, not accorded an eastern orientation by Christian tradition. Another year passed with the same degree of infant mortality, so the same mob killed her sister-in-law Mary, believing Elizabeth’s dark soul had found a haven in Mary’s body and continued her vindictive project from beyond the grave. Mary was considered an innocent vessel and was given the honor of a sacred burial. Eventually the two communities healed, but not before the murder of two sisters and the digging of many small graves that are marked, if at all, only by rough stones. Because of these unholy deaths, many believe the site to be haunted. Some travel to see the tainted ground and hear the echoes of an horrific past. And in this way the church and cemetery coexist, each attracting different visitors for very different reasons.”

Be sure to click and scroll the photos below for more information on Tilley Bend Baptist.  Also click HERE to read about the home church of the Stanley family located only a couple of miles away. 

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