Whitesville United Methodist is another example of a once vibrant rural community that has virtually disappeared, leaving only the old churches behind – such as the beautiful structure you see above and an African American church, Jehovah Baptist, that was formed in 1867 right after the war. The town was founded just after 1827 as a main stop on the stagecoach road which ran from Columbus all the way to Rome in the north. According to the history, the town once had a 32 room hotel, general store, tanneries, wagon and buggy factories, doctors and dentists as well as saloons and male and female academies. The church was founded about the same time as the town, in an earlier church located at the same location. The present church was completed in 1854 and the size of it reflects the prosperity of Whitesville in the pre-Civil War years. The church and the cemetery were both placed on the National Register in 2001.
We are fortunate in that some of the original minutes of the church from 1855 to 1883 have survived and tell us a bit about life in this part of rural Georgia in a crucial part of our state and our country’s history. In the early and mid 19th century, the church performed its central role as the provider of stability and justice to the community in addition to spiritual comfort. “We do charge Sister E G Cotton with telling a falsehood by telling Bro Jas. G Cotton that a certain note held by her last husband Smith Cotton dec. against one Mr Geo Hamilton had been taken up or paid. When it could be proved that it never had been paid. It was order that Sister E G Cotton should be notified to appear before the church for trial.”
It is also interesting to note that the war years and the aftermath were usually not a prominent feature of the minutes, and are sometimes almost ignored. However a careful reading exposes a notation here and there such as this in June of 1861, “Sunday Brother Rush preached to the Volunteer Company……….Brother J G Cotton concluded with a full and very appropriate exortation & we all bade them farewell. May He keep them in the day of danger & be near by on the battle feild to preserve them from harm & God grant that they may all come back when the War ends unhurt & unharmed.” Or this quote from 1861, “This service closed up the conference year which on account of the excitement of the times and the Distracted Condition of the Government has been a year Hardness the peoples minds having him to much Shserlud with Politics & War but amid it all the Lord has Preserved us as a church & a Nation. Let every knee bow to him & every life Prais him.” The lack of Civil War veterans in the old cemetery will attest to the fact that many Whitesville citizens were called but either failed to come back at all or moved on after the war. Prior to 1865, services at the church were conducted separately for the whites and blacks. “Service for the colored people in the evening…….Preaching to the whites at 11 and service to the colored at 5”. “27 Persons as joined the church on Probation…..15 Whits and 12 colored”.
Nonetheless, the old church continued to prosper and significant architectural elements such as the twin towers and fish scale shingles were added at the turn of the century. Electricity was added in the 1930’s and the old wood burning stoves on either side of the chancel were replaced in the 1940’s. A fellowship area and kitchen were also added underneath the church and these improvements have kept the rural congregation together to the present time. We are grateful to the congregation for keeping the old church maintained with such historical integrity, so that she may continue to serve for generations to come.
We are also grateful to Joe Talley for transcribing the original minutes and making them available. There are seventeen Talley interments in the old graveyard, with the oldest from 1864. Mr. Talley and his ancestors have been stewards of this church for over 150 years. Interestingly, Mr. Talley’s great aunt shows up in some of the disciplinary hearings at the church. “Case of Sister Susan Talley was mentioned and it was again postponed in hope she might soon show a repinstory spirit before next meeting…..Susan F. Talley – Expelled Dec. 1875”. According to Mr. Talley, it turns out that Sister Talley was spotted dancing at the girl’s school located across the street. She apparently did not show the required “repinstory spirit” and paid the price.
The sanctuary has undergone multiple modifications over the years. But, we see in this picture that the original trussed rafter roof and ceiling, with its lovely and not often seen double break as it joins the ceiling, is still beautiful and quite imposing. Aside from the cathedral-like ceiling, we see very few architectural decorative elements other than the window frames, chair rail and wainscoting. Still, the simplicity and purity of this site creates an atmosphere of tranquility and peace that is quite impressive and moving.
In this view we see a chancel, altar and pulpit area that has undergone many changes since the building's construction. However, much of what we see hews to the original and simple style and tastes of the congregation. The altar rail, balusters, communion table, pulpit, chairs and other elements are of the 20th century. We do get to see and appreciate the narrow gage, horizontal heart pine boards of the original old wall.
In this view from the pulpit we see the doors into two small rooms beneath each of Whitesville's striking towers. The door to the left is under a large room which also provides access to the bell tower. On the right is a smaller room. The interior walls of these rooms provide a smaller, vestibule-type space into which the congregation step as they enter the church. Many of these old churches had two front doors, one for men another for women and children. This church always has had a single, double door entrance through which all comers, men, women and children entered.
This close up, black and white shot reveals the simple nature and high quality of the building's construction as well as the pews at Whitesville. The pews resting on the old pine floors are not original but are certainly attractive and authentic looking. And, they do accurately represent the style and quality materials that its congregation wished to reflect when they had to replace the originals. They are complimentary to and in harmony with the sanctuary. Looking beyond the pews to the wall, we see a moulded chair rail sitting upon wainscot-like, two wide board, horizontal sheathing. The wooden window frames and sills are made up from plain flat boards. As earlier noted, the walls of the sanctuary are constructed of narrow, heart pine boards. The present 4 over 4 sashed windows are also unostentatious but work well and provide a soft light filtering through the semi-opaque panes.
Clifford Talley, the son of Francis Marion Talley, died at the age of two in 1891. As previously mentioned there are seventeen Talley interments in the cemetery. The Talley roots run deep in this part of Harris County.
The graveyard at Whitesville does contain later, 20th century monuments and memorials. We find its earlier graves the most interesting and reflective of the town's history. Above in the foreground, we have two ancient "cairns", simply field stones dry stacked to cover a grave and protect its contacts from animals and erosion. These were usually laid down in less prosperous and less civilized times. In the background we see a receding procession of more sophisticated memorials and finally begin to site white marble and granite headstones and markers.
Reuben B. Mobley (1791 - 1844), was one of the original settlers in Harris County and one of the church founders. He lies here in this false crypt made up of dry stacked field stones upon which a marble top, a "ledger" stone, was laid and upon which the inscription was carved. It is important to note that the various types of markers and memorials present at Whitesville Cemetery are random and intermixed. The richer may bear more elaborate headstones than the poorer, but they all lie together, next to each other forever.
Here we see collapsing brick, false crypts next to some old cairns. The brick structures were likely markers for more prosperous families while the cairns more than likely mark the graves of less prosperous families. In both cases, nature seems to now have the upper hand.
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My husbands’ great great Grandfather, Reuben Rabb Mobley, born June 12, 1794 in South Carolina, died August 19, 1844 in Whitesville, Harris County Georgia. He married Grissella Comer Burford, She died on September 19, 1851. Both are buried in the church cemetary. Mr. Mobley served in the War of 1812 in the Georgia Militia. After the war he married Grissella and moved to Harris County. In 1837, the Whitesville Methodist Church was organized in the home of Reuben Mobley. He was known as the first class leader. The church he founded still exists. The church and its cemetery where Reuben and his wife are buried as well as other relatives, was placed on the National Registry in 2001. ( Georgia Historical Marker, Highway 219, Whitesville, Ga.)
Thank you Donna. Great history from the old cemetery.
Reuben Rabb and Grisella Mobley were my great (x4) grandparents. His son Dr William G. Mobley was my great (x3) grandfather. I’d love to connect with other family researchers and share info.
How do you feel about the building being repurposed to bring something new to the community, like a business?
So exciting to learn of this site!
Thanks Carol. Spread the word.