Here is another sad entry into the AGBNF category of historic churches that will soon be lost to the ages. The origin of Travelers Rest Methodist dates back to the 1830’s when this part of Georgia was just getting settled. The property was then deeded to a local CME African American church in 1884, but was then abandoned sometime in the mid 20th century. Please note that, in addition to the church itself, there are two graveyards (one white and one black) that have been totally taken over by the vegetation. The church will soon disappear, but the graveyards are permanent legacies of our early pioneers and they deserve a better fate. We have given the graveyard more space in the gallery photos than we usually do because it deserves it. The local community, in our opinion, should be better stewards of the great Travelers Rest history. Please click and scroll the photos to read the brief stories of some of these prominent builders of our state.
Note the more detailed history below by one of our historians, Clay Ramsey. There will be a forthcoming article on Travelers Rest in the coming months in Georgia Backroads magazine by Mr. Ramsey.
For years, Native Americans used a path that ran from what would become Columbus to coastal St. Marys. This path crossed the Flint River, known to these native peoples as the Thronateeska, at a site later called Barnard’s Crossing, named for Timothy Barnard, the first white resident of Macon County, descendant of English nobility and Chief Counselor and Interpreter to Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins. The Crossing was an important site for travelers moving along the width of the state and for those traders who used the river to access the Gulf.
After the expulsion of many of the Creeks and their confederates in 1821 from the area, a state land lottery attracted a group of settlers from Orangeburg District in South Carolina. Legend records that some of these families, traveling west through the territory, paused on the eastern bank of the Flint because the river was swollen and prevented passage. They felt so comfortable there that they called it Travelers Rest.
By 1830 there was a stagecoach stop there. A settler from Newberry, South Carolina, David Jones, started buying land in the area that same year. A post office was established three years later. A year after that, a general merchandise store, a confectionery business, and a “doctor shop” emerged as indications of developing commerce. In 1836, the year of the Second Creek War in Alabama and the western part of the state, Jones gave some land from his extensive holdings for the establishment of a Methodist church and cemetery in Travelers Rest. Poplar Springs Baptist Church, established in September 1832, moved to become Travelers Rest Baptist. They shared the same sanctuary and cemetery on Twin Churches Road, until the Baptists built a new church in 1867 next to the site of the Methodist church, the two only yards from each other.
In 1838, the little community was incorporated as the “Town of Bristol.” That same year, the first interment occurred in the Methodist cemetery, that of Mary Mendenhall Jones, wife of David Jones, the benefactor of the church. Two years later, the Rev. Elias Jordan, arguably the first pastor of the church, was laid to rest nearby. The village grew, business expanded, and an academy was established. Even the Masons and Odd Fellows found meeting space in Travelers Rest. In 1844, the Methodist congregation became affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, following a split in the denomination over the issue of slavery.
Travelers Rest thrived until 1851, when the Central Railroad, Southwestern Branch, chose Oglethorpe, a little township on the other side of the Flint, as a rail stop, rather than Travelers Rest. In a small village named after the Aztec emperor, the Montezuma Methodist Church was organized in February 1867 a few miles north of Travelers Rest. Most of the members were from Travelers Rest who had moved for the business brought by the railroads. Later that same year, the congregation merged with another to become the Oglethorpe Methodist Church. The area was changing and Travelers Rest, once such an important site on the Flint, was being nudged from relevance.
On May 4, 1884, the Travelers Rest Methodist Episcopal Church, South, deeded the church building and property to the Travelers Rest Colored (later Christian) Methodist Episcopal Church, an act that was officially recorded on October 29, 1889. One history claims a new church was built after this date with materials from an earlier structure. Given that the double tower architecture was popular in South Georgia from the 1890s through the 1930s among African-American congregations, we can assume this was the case. The last services were held in June of 1994. The Mt. Pleasant C.M.E. Church in Montezuma would emerge later as members of the Travelers Rest congregation drifted away to join the other community.
The shell of the church, as well as marked and unmarked graves, still stands on property overrun with a thick bramble of underbrush. The brick First Salem Baptist Church is an active congregation a hundred yards from the site, maintaining the legacy of the Travelers Rest Baptists. The well-tended Champ Waters cemetery abuts a smaller graveyard next to First Salem. Unless you look carefully, you could easily miss the building and cemetery of the historic property nearby.
There is much we don’t know about the Travelers Rest Methodist congregation: specifics of its membership and financial records, its social impact, details of its transition. But what we do know should encourage us all. In a period of profound cultural change, when racial tension was high, white Methodists gave their African-American fellow believers their beloved place of worship and land to bury their departed faithful. If this is all we know, and in many ways it is, for now, then we know enough to find a measure of light in those dark days and a glimmer of hope for our own.
We are sure you noticed the twin towers in the introductory photo. In this view, we see the uppermost portion of the left tower, believed to be the bell tower. Though battered by over a century of exposure to the weather and who knows how many decades of absolute neglect, this tower remains standing and its pointed roof continues to reach for the sky. This is particularly noteworthy since its matching twin tower probably lost its cap decades ago. Clearly, this structure, given that its interior structure and support beams are exposed, is headed to a similar fate of its twin.
This is a photo taken from the entryway of Travelers Rest revealing the ruined sanctuary, pulpit area and a completely collapsed back wall. Since you have seen the exterior area and how it is completely blocked by bushes, weeds, large trees and debris, imagine how hard it was for our photographer, Steve Robinson, to fight his way into this spot. He is standing in the vestibule area in front of the cased opening into the sanctuary.
In this photo, Steve has advanced us into the sanctuary and was standing in the aisle area of the church taking us closer to the wrecked chancel, pulpit, apse and back wall. The church has been looted, pews stolen and anything useful… wallboards, windows, frames doors, . . has been ignominiously hauled off. Interestingly, the damage we see here appears to be totally related to the looting and not the weather, leaking roof , falling trees etc. that usually bring an old church down. There is an interesting story here which we hope to reveal with input from the locals.
This photo was taken from what was the chancel, pulpit and apse. Some of the mystery regarding destruction of the Travellers Rest interior destruction is revealed by the large amount of ripped out wooden lumber from the ceilings and walls. These materials would be useful and valuable to adults living nearby. The presence of a great deal of graffiti throughout the interior indicates that the sanctuary became a gathering place for younger people. The lack of an active congregation at rural locations like these invites this kind of vandalism.
We can only guess what catastrophe caused the entire structure of the apse area to collapse. What we often find is that the apse, as is usually the case, was a structural addition to the sanctuary at some point. Wind, foundation deterioration, a large tree falling could have brought this apse down.
In this photo, we see that the apse was an addition to the building. We see that it was a small, gabled structure whose wall appears to have collapsed. Whatever and when was the cause, severe damage such as this would have provided a reason for the congregation to walk away. We appreciate the opportunity to discover, document and preserve the Travelers Rest story for today’s and future generations.
When the foliage recedes in the winter, you can see this path that runs behind the church. The graves you see on the left are African American and are part of a larger cemetery, all located on the left of the path. There is also a graveyard located to the right of the path with mostly white graves and a few black ones. Findagrave had covered this part of the cemetery in years past and the earliest grave was dated 1838. The latest white grave is dated 1868. This is consistent with the decline of Travelers Rest as the railroad gave birth to Montezuma and the population shifted accordingly. The property was eventually deeded to the CME church who erected or repaired the church you see here.
Mary Mayo Houghton was born April 14, 1810 and died December 6, 1839. She was the first wife of William Michael Senaca Houghton 1800-1868. They had two children: William M. Houghton who served in Company D, 11th Regiment, Texas Infantry, CSA and Louisa Houghton born in 1837. She was the daughter of Harmon Mayo.
Daniel Shine Harrison was born September 25, 1809 in North Carolina and died August 14, 1862. He married Julia Ann Vaughn in Twiggs County, Georgia on July 31, 1834. They had six children. Four of them died young and are buried at Traveler’s Rest Cemetery: Daniel V. Harrison, died age 11; John Shine Harrison, died age 2 1/2; George Washington Harrison, died age almost 6, and Sarah Cassandra Harrison, died age 5. Their son James Martin Harrison served as First Sergeant in Company I, 4th Georgia Regiment. He was discharged October 2, 1861 when he furnished a substitute John H. Underwood. Their son William H. Harrison served as 1st Lieut. Company D, 3 GA Reserves. The Georgia Journal and Messenger, Macon, Georgia, September 3, 1862, page 3 states: “Died, at Traveler’s Rest, Dooly County,
John S. Culpepper was born August 27, 1806 in Wilkes County, Georgia and died March 6, 1849. He was married to Temperance Powell. His son, Ambrose Culpepper, born 1838, served in Company F, 12th Georgia Infantry, CSA.
Celia Hilliard was born January 16, 1783 in Wayne County, North Carolina and died September 13, 1855. She married James Powell March 26, 1801 in Washington County, Georgia. He was born August 10, 1780 in Robeson County, North Carolina and died November 20, 1843. The Macon Telegraph, December 26, 1843, page 4 had the following notice: Will be sold on the 31st day of January next, at the late residence of James Powell, deceased, in Dooly County,…,all the Perishable Property belonging to the Estate of said deceased, consisting of Horses, Cattle, Hogs, Wheat, Corn, Fodder, Household and Kitchen Furniture, Plantation Tools, etc….Ambrose Powell, Charles Powell Admr.
Dr. Terry Quinn was born December 31, 1811 in Edgefield County, South Carolina and died July 1, 1859 in Macon County, Georgia. In 1833 he married Claridia Nobles. He practiced medicine for ten years in Chambers County, Alabama and came back to Georgia in 1844. He later settled on a farm in the vicinity of Oglethorpe. His death was caused by chloroform used to relieve pain after the extraction of a tooth. The Edgefield, South Carolina Slave Records, 1774-1866 show he purchased a slave named Harriett and her two unnamed children from Mildred Nobles on December 18, 1854 for $1005.00.
Jas Adolph/Odolph, Sr. was born in 1850 and died in 1903. His wife was named Catherine/Katherine Bryant. They are shown in the 1880 Spalding, Macon County, Georgia census with children Mary, age 3; James, age 6 months; and Sallie, age 6 months. They also had a daughter Janie born December 12, 1891, died July 13, 1965. Janie married Alex McKenzie and they were the parents of Eva May/Mae McKenzie shown in the marker above. Janie McKenzie’s death certificate in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania shows she was born in Montezuma, Georgia. Her race on her death certificate is given as Negro, her parents are listed as Katherine and Jim Odolph.
This homemade headstone reads: Eva May McKenzie was born May the 9, 1903 died Unreadable. Eva Mae McKenzie is shown in the 1910 Macon County, Georgia census as the 7 year old daughter of Alex and Jennie McKenzie. She is listed as a black female, attended school, able to read but not able to write. She and her parents were all born in Georgia. In the same household is a boarder Andrew McKaskill, age 70.
Mary Mendenhall Jones was born in Wilkes County, Georgia January 25, 1785. She died October 26, 1838 at Travelers Rest. She was the daughter of Marmaduke and Alice Benson Mendenhall. In 1806 in Warren County, Georgia she married David Jones who was born in 1788 and died in 1846. They had nine or ten children.
Almost Gone But Not Forgotten
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There is a Methodist church just outside Gainesville, Florida, with very similar architectural look. Sadly, it too is dying of neglect.
My ancestor is buried at Travelers Rest. Please contact me.
I own the book, attend Dan Roper’s class at Berry, and know Virginia Chapman. Small world!