Ways Baptist is in Jefferson County about three miles east of Wrens. It was organized in the Fall of 1817 in a log cabin with a membership that had been dismissed from Brushy Creek Baptist Church. The original congregation consisted of thirteen males, thirty three females and “eighteen unidentified blacks”. The church was named Ways meeting house in honor of Bill Way, who donated the land for the church. The closest community is named Stellaville, named after Stella Brinson, the daughter of John Brinson. The church you see above is the third church at this location. The original log church, which also served a school, was replaced with a frame structure that served for several years. It was replaced by the current one in 1851 and a large baptismal pool was added in 1877.
The history tells us that Ways Baptist has almost always had an associated school and as a consequence “its membership has been distinguished for liberality and intelligence. Also the cause of temperance has ever been dear to its leading spirits”. It also tells us that “the church suffered very severely by the war as a large company of soldiers was enlisted in the immediate vicinity and from its membership and but few of the members lived to return”. Eight deaths of congregants was recorded in 1862 alone. At the close of the war there were thirty five negro members who were granted letters to constitute the present Ways Grove Baptist church located nearby. Ways Grove was formally organized in 1867 with the assistance of several of the white members of Ways Baptist. A school was organized in Stellaville in 1868 by Ways Church as a two room schoolhouse and, at the time, was the only high school in Jefferson County outside of Louisville. The school burned in 1879 but was soon replaced by a new one with three rooms and an auditorium.
Stellaville had been a thriving community, judging from the size of the cemetery (678 recorded interments) but it is little more than a crossroads now. This is not unusual….all across Georgia, early villages disappeared leaving nothing but the churches and the cemeteries to remind us of days gone by. The July issue of the Sandersville Mercury tells us that Stellaville, “in 1884 had a principal street running through the town, which was very wide and in the center was a line of oaks of the original forest, giving the street a park-like appearance both beautiful and inviting”. The history further tells us that Stellaville prided itself on its baseball team and a festival in which young ladies participated. Further, “it enjoyed the being the only incorporated town of its size in Georgia whose Marshall never had to make an arrest”…..an interesting commentary on the peaceful village for sure.
When Ways needed room for their youth the membership came up with a novel idea to add space and yet preserve the historic appearance of the beautiful building. They dug a basement under the church for their Youth Department. This innovative idea allowed them to keep the original church appearance, but add the needed space. Ways will celebrate their 200 year anniversary in 2017. What a great tribute to perseverance and commitment by the many who made the history of this church.
Ways Baptist is a handsome meeting house both inside and out. As you saw in the previous photo, though of simple design as a basic, center gable, rectangular church, its striking cornice returns and molded corner pilasters seem to lift the entire structure and it presents as an ancient temple. When you enter the sanctuary through an entry vestibule, the temple-like atmosphere again prevails created by the very high ceiling, white paint and the ample ambient light that flows in through the large decorative windows. This is one of Georgia’s historic churches that is thriving despite its extremely rural and sparsely populated location. It is hard to believe this church has been standing and serving its congregation for over 165 years now.
It is clear that the sanctuary has undergone many changes through its many decades. In this photo, however, we can see the the basic interior remains very much as it would have been in 1851. We see that the original, horizontal wide wall boards are still in place. Looking up at the ceiling, we see that it too is still covered by the same narrow gage pine boards first nailed up in the 1850’s. Yes, modern conveniences such as air conditioning and heating have been installed. 20th century stained glass windows, decorative wall moldings, electric lighting, carpet and many other creature comforts have been added. Of course, one of the main reasons this old church is still standing tall and the congregation active is because these amenities are available within an authentic, 19th century sanctuary.
Here we are at the pulpit and looking back at the two aisle entries that lead from the vestibule. Though somewhat distracted by the chandeliers and fans hanging from the ceiling, we can still see and feel the old, authentic ambience present within this sanctuary. We can also experience the vibrance and enthusiasm of the existing congregation that wants to keep this place alive and comfortable for generations to come. There is clearly great pride and historic reverence among today’s stewards of Ways Baptist.
Of course, every Baptist Church/Meeting House must have or be near a source of water. Baptism by immersion is a cornerstone of this religious sect. The congregation of Ways Baptist constructed this large, inviting rock lined pool 140 years ago. Who can imagine how many souls have been saved and lives set on the proper path at this spot over the past 140 years. It is a lovely, sacred spot.
Here lies John E. Dye. Findagrave shows that John’s birth date and death date are unknown. Here at HRCGA we try to feature a few graves in each cemetery that tell us something about these early Georgians and the lives they led. Sometimes it is difficult in that there is little information, and this is one of them. However, we did manage to find a 1909 Confederate pension application that fills in some of the blanks. John was born in 1848 in Banks County and “enlisted” in July of 1864 in Macon in the 2nd Ga State Troops. This, in itself, is significant in that the war had already ravaged the south with more to come. The Battle of Atlanta was just about to take place and John E. Dye was sixteen years old. This was a desperate time when young boys and older men were being pressed into service to defend the homeland. At the time of the application in 1909, he would have been 61 years old. His application states that he is unable to work and has no assets or income, yet it also states he has a wife and six children at home. He further applied for an increase in his pension in 1927 due to total blindness and he died in 1937 “without sufficient funds to cover his funeral expenses of $322.85”.
Here lies Benjamin Franklin Taylor (1830 – 1864), another example of confusing genealogy. Findagrave has a photo of the above headstone with a Confederate flag marking the site, indicating that Mr. Taylor had served in the war. However, we can find no record of his service, even though a birth date of 1830 would certainly have made him a likely candidate. We were able to find a copy of his will, made on April 9, 1864. Since Mr. Taylor was only thirty four at the time, he may have been ill (or even wounded) and sensed his time was coming. He left an estate of 500 acres of land and “all my slaves, thirteen in number”. No one could envision the sweeping changes that were descending upon the land just twelve short months away.
Here lies John W. Brinson (1837 – 1896), who served with the 38th Ga Inf. He enlisted in October of 1861, was commissioned as a Lieutenant, then promoted to Captain in September of 1862. He was cited for gallantry at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862, but then resigned in January of 1863 under charges of “Straggling and frequent neglect of duty” by the commanding officer of the 38th Ga.. His letter of resignation then states that he is “compelled to admit my incompetency in many respects”. Apparently he returned to Stellaville and got on with life. The Federal Census of 1880 shows him as a farmer living with his wife Sarah and seven children. There is more to the story between Captain Brinson and his CO – we will update it as we go. Stay tuned.
In this photo, the simplicity and beauty of Ways Baptist is reflected. How do some of these churches survive and thrive when so many others become derelict and abandoned? The answer lies in the church’s ongoing ability to maintain and adequately serve the spiritual and social needs of its congregation. If the congregation disappears, it is rare for the building to survive unless repurposed. Ways Baptist provides us with an example of what a dedicated congregation can accomplish, even in the midst of this sparsely populated section of Georgia. Just look at the immaculate and attractive grounds surrounding its sanctuary. Notice the attention to upkeep and maintenance that the pristine, 165 year sanctuary reflects. We salute the congregation and their accomplishments to date. Here’s hoping for another 160 years, or more, of service.
Your tax-deductible donation to Historic Rural Churches will help keep history alive through digital and physical preservation efforts for Georgia’s rural churches, their history and the communities that support them.
Full Name *
Sign me up for the newsletter!
I drove through Stellaville on Monday July 26th on my way back to North Carolina after visiting Vidalia Georgia. I stopped and made pictures of the church and cemetery. Oh, if those walls and monuments could talk!!! Love scenes like this but they make me sad at the same time. Sad because I hate to see our history and culture so rapidly disappearing.
Ways Baptist is one of the best profiles out of the more than 340 churches here on HRCGA.org. Thanks to Gene Powell for giving me a guided tour just recently !
The church is stunningly beautiful and bigger than one would expect for such a small county and really tiny community, Stellaville.
The history here is deep and wide and tells a much bigger story when the Ways Grove history is included.
Great write up by HRCGA although they need to correct information about the founder, who was John Way. The church’s oldest member says she has never heard mention of any ‘Bill Way’ in her 83 years of attending Ways Baptist.
I was taken aback by the grounds of the church and it’s cemetery across the street which itself is massive (600+ graves). This entire property is in pristine condition and it’s a historic treasure.
The spring fed Baptism Pool is just remarkable, I’ve not seen anything like it.
HRCGA has put these historic churches back on the map in a way that Facebook can’t.
Many small churches don’t have any website at all. Some use Facebook for that purpose since it’s free. But, some small churches, like Ways Baptist, don’t even have a Facebook page – or even a phone or a monthly bulletin for the members.
So, there is simply no way to communicate with their congregation – or receive communication from others who are interested in Ways Baptist or maybe interested in attending the church. They do have church services and Sunday School every week.
HRCGA is the only way for some people to see Ways Baptist. I think this is true for many churches here on HRCGA.
Awareness has always been a key reason for the existence of HRCGA, hoping that awareness will save some very important history and physical buildings. Many old country churches are in disrepair and need work ASAP.
No one viewing Ways Baptist in person would see anything to worry about. It is flawless and dreamy, in fact. It’s difficult to believe Ways Baptist even exists, it’s so perfectly maintained (and in such a remote area) – and it is so incredibly gorgeous !
But … Ways Baptist lacks people. They survived the Civil War, but they will not survive going forward without a new influx of members.
Lack of money is not a problem here – it’s a shortage of human capital that will be this church’s downfall.
As in many Christian churches in this country, the average age of the Ways congregation is way up there.
There doesn’t appear to be any effort to change that unfortunately. It will be too late real soon.
My Great Grandmother is Caroline Way (Carrie). She married my great Grandfather and became Carrie Way Swann. (Originally Swan) and they lived in Stellaville, Ga.
I grew up always hearing about Ways Baptist Church. My grandmothers maiden name was Way. She grew up in Wrens Ga and would always tell us the story of how it started and the families in the area. She was always so proud of the church and that town. I look forward to making a very long over due trip this weekend.
My husband’s grandparents are buried there, G. Absalom & Bell Smith. Also his grandfather’s footprints are in the cement of the baptismal pool. His father, George H. Smith attended Ways as often as he could as an adult. They loved going to Homecoming there.
Great history. Thanks for sharing.
Wonderful photographs of beautiful old Way’s Baptist Church, resting place of my great grandmother and great grandmother, Isaac Jackson Gay and Ellen Ponder Davis Gay and Ellen Ponder Davis Gay. My great great grandmother Mary Stewart Barrow And great grandmother Arminta (Mintie) Barrow Wright were residents of Stellaville.