In 1915, members of Fork Chapel United Methodist Church erected a white frame building on three-fourths of an acre, in the small rural village of Greshamville – located northeast of Greensboro in the Oconee National Forest. More than a century later, this beautiful building still stands as a testament to the stewardship of a loving congregation. The history of Fork Chapel’s congregation, however, goes back much further.
So named because it lies in the fork created by the Oconee and Appalachee Rivers, Fork Chapel Methodist was originally the fruit of Reverend Hinton Crawford’s labor. Crawford, a local planter and Methodist preacher, was born in Greene County in 1798. In 1844, after the church had been functioning for some time, Crawford accepted a one-acre donation from Matthew Winfield and gave three acres of his own for a new building and a graveyard.
Fork Chapel is a lovely rural church in a bucolic little village setting. The cemetery, where the original church stood, is located about a mile away and is worth a visit. Many of Greshamville’s prominent early settlers are interred here. According to Georgia Places Names by Kenneth Krakow, Greshamville was named for an old fort built near the Davis Gresham settlement in 1786.
Sometime after the new church building was constructed, the old church building was demolished. In its place near the cemetery was erected a shelter, which attendees of the church’s annual homecoming made use of for quite some time. Now homecoming is celebrated every third Sunday in August, and it marks the beginning of the annual revival.
We know very little about the history of St. Paul AME. We will add to it as we are able to. The original structure is very old and we would guess that it was built around the turn of the century. The vestibule on the front end of the church was added at a later date. We are struck by the fact that the church has no cemetery and no parking lot. It looks abandoned but, in fact, it is still a functioning church that has periodical services. The interior photo reveals that the sanctuary is well kept and has an active life. The church also has the tag line “The Church That Would Not Die” on the sign by the road and attached to the structure. There is a story here and, hopefully, someone will come forth with it.
In 1785, shortly after the close of the American Revolution, there were only nine churches in the Georgia backcountry – three Lutheran, two Presbyterian, one Congregationalist, three Baptist, and no Methodist. However, the backcountry was about to begin a transformation which would rapidly change this “unchurched wilderness” in a remarkable way and the Baptists and the Methodists would lead this transformation. As one of the earliest backcounty churches, the Liberty Methodist church evolution followed the usual pattern of original Brush Arbor to a frame structure, which was built sometime prior to 1797 according to a church history ( It was then named Liberty Chapel). The original Brush Arbor was built on land owned by Reid Merrit within sight of the present church. ‘Great revivals were held in this crude establishment and out of them grew the first Methodist church in Greene county and one of the first in the state of Georgia.’ The original frame structure was replaced in the early 1800’s by a building that measured ‘forty feet by sixty feet and was located a short distance back from the original church’. This structure was dedicated in 1805 by Bishop Francis Asbury, one of the stalwarts of early Methodist history. He preached at Liberty on multiple occasions.
According to a local history, the name Liberty was derived from the fact that so many of the early settlers in the area were veterans of the Revolution and members of the “Sons of Liberty”. Later the Liberty area became known as “Crackers Neck” when tobacco was the money crop. Oxen pulled hogsheads loaded with tobacco to Augusta. The rawhide whips they used had long crackers on the end to urge on the oxen. Supposedly the little boys in the street would yell out “Here come the boys from Crackers Neck”. As the Methodists began to get organized, Liberty became part of the Appalachee Circuit. The site on which Liberty now stands was owned by Reuben Smith who deeded 7.14 acres to the Liberty trustees on July 27, 1827. According to church history, the church was active for the duration of the Civil War. The little church prospered over the years and construction on the present sanctuary began in 1900 – the building was dedicated in 1903. Liberty has a proud history and one of the longest in Georgia. Long may she live.
Shiloh Baptist was organized in 1795, one mile from Penfield and was first known as Towns Creek. It is one of the oldest churches in Georgia. Towns Creek was received into the Georgia Baptist Association at Phillip’s Mill in 1796. Georgia was still a dangerous place at that time and the early worshipers carried their guns to church and posted sentries. The Creeks held the land on the other side of the Oconee River and there were frequent clashes. We are told the law required every man to carry his gun and four to six men guarded the church during services.
In 1807 a more substantial building was erected and the name changed to Shiloh. This building was destroyed during a cyclone in the 1850’s. The church prospered in these early days and, at one time, membership totaled over 400. Early records show that members were turned out of the church periodically for the usual abuses of profanity, fighting, drunkenness and sexual misbehavior. The church was added to the National Register in 1994 and recently, the membership was able to raise funds and restore the church to some of its former glory.
Every church we document and introduce you to at HRCGA is special in some way. All are historic. Many of the present existing churches we photograph are quite old, some are unique and some are particularly pleasing to the eye. Many are the sites of significant, seminal events in local, state & national history, denominational history, social history and more. Others are architecturally significant in form, building materials, decoration, ornamentation, siting, the age of standing structure, etc.
Then there are the few that are “all of the above… and more”. Penfield Baptist is one of that rare breed. This striking Greek Revival building that it presently occupies sits regally, yet reverently, upon a hill on the site where it was built almost 170 years ago…… virtually unchanged from the day it was originally constructed by David Demorest to serve as Mercer University’s Chapel in 1845-46. Mercer had been established at Penfield, Georgia as a manual labor school in 1833. It prospered in the 1830’s-50’s and grew powerful as one of the most prominent learning institutions, and a seat of the Baptist movement in Georgia. Unfortunately, because of Penfield’s rural and isolated nature, and its steady demise during and after the Civil War, the Georgia Baptist Convention voted to move the University to Macon, Georgia in 1871.
The original congregation of Penfield Baptist was organized in 1839 after the destruction of Shiloh Baptist by a tornado. The original church was a wooden building and stood to the right of what would be constructed as Mercer Chapel about six years later. After Mercer University moved to Macon in 1871, the University gave the Mercer Chapel to Penfield Baptist and the congregation took immediate occupancy of their grand, new home and flourished there into the mid-1900’s.
During the 1970’s, the Penfield congregation could no longer support the upkeep of the Chapel, and it was returned to Mercer. The structure was placed in danger of loss. Providentially, there was a renaissance of appreciation for heritage and for such grand and important structures in the late 20th century. Mercer Chapel was a beneficiary of that movement. It was completely restored to its original condition and given back to the Penfield Baptist Church. This is a heart-warming example of a true ‘historic rural church of Georgia’ being saved for the enjoyment and use of generations to come.
The village of Penfield owes its origin to Mercer University that was located there in 1833. It was begun as a labor school under the supervision of the Baptist Church. The school prospered and attracted a number of prominent families, most of whom were connected with the Baptist Church. A few Presbyterian families, represented by the Boswell family and others, moved into Penfield in the mid 19th century and began to worship under the Presbyterian doctrine. The Penfield Presbyterians were served initially by the visiting pastor who preached on Sunday night in Penfield in private homes and sometimes in the Baptist sanctuary. Impelled by a desire to have preaching more often and to enable their children to worship in their own sanctuary, the Penfield Presbyterians determined to build their own house of worship.
The present church was erected in the spring of 1876 at a cost of $1,100. One is struck by the design and the architecture of the sanctuary……….a combination of brick, Gothic arches and elaborate steeple. Not very common for rural Georgia churches of the time. The church added some new pews and some chairs around the turn of the century but little else has been changed, other than two of windows have been dedicated to the memory of founder Johnson Boswell and Eliza Cheney Boswell. Still going strong for over 125 years.
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Bethany Presbyterian has a long and proud history. It was organized in 1786 with 50 members and is one of the oldest Presbyterian churches in the backcountry. The first church was a traditional brush arbor. This was replaced by a church built of hewn logs near the present building, each member contributing a few logs and joining in to erect the building. These were still dangerous days on the frontier and during services, members had to keep a guard outside to watch for hostile Indians while worshiping. A more comfortable church was built after the turn of the century and was considered the finest country church in the Presbytery at the time. In 1872, it was torn down and replaced by the present sanctuary. Many new members were added and by the year 1880, membership reached 180.
In 1886, a very historic trial took place in Bethany that preceded the famous Scopes monkey trials by four decades. It was here that Dr. James Woodrow, a favorite uncle of future president Woodrow Wilson, was brought before the Presbytery of Augusta at Bethany church on charges of heresy by one of his peers, Rev. Dr. William Adams. Presbyterian ministers were men of letters, even in the backcountry, and Dr. Woodrow was exceptional. He was the first professor in the state of Georgia with a Ph.D. and he went on to a life of service including the Presidency of the University of South Carolina. Dr. Woodrow, after much thought about the subject, taught a form of Darwinian doctrine of evolution in such a manner that it was in conflict with the orthodox teachings of the book of Genesis. During the trial Dr. Adams argued against evolution using logic and satire and at one point traced the progress of animal life until it reached a frog. He then declared that ‘In some way or another this frog got ashore and that, brethren of this assembly, was the landing of your first ancestor’. Dr. Woodrow defended himself and was found not guilty. For a detailed list of Dr. Woodrow’s accomplishments click here.
White Plains, previously called both Old Wall’s Fort and Fort Nell, has a white, sandy soil where the eventual town got its name. Settlement around the town and its church congregations predate the incorporation of the town by about thirty years. White Plains Methodist has been active since at least 1817 according to a partial history provided by Mrs. T.C. Moore in 1963. The compiler of Mrs. Moore’s history writes that there are no written records that give a date for the organization of the church, but that there is a Resolution passed by the church upon the death of a Mrs. Sarah Wright in 1817. Partial records exist from 1838 to the present.
According to Mrs. Moore, White Plains Methodist membership grew rapidly during the Civil War when the Methodist Church grounds at Liberty was taken over by soldiers being trained for war. The first Methodist building was built where Helean’s store was later built at the beginning of Broad Street and Sparta Road (now Main Street and GA-15/77), which was the same building used by the Grant family as a workshop for building and repairing wagons. The Grant shop turned out buggies and wagons for customers all over Greene County.
In a scene typical of the cooperation of early settlers, the Baptist Church used the Methodist Church building in 1848 when building their new building; in 1871 the favor was repaid when the Methodists used the Baptist church while building their new church. This church built in 1871 is the one that stands today. After the Civil War, African Americans continued to worship in the same building as the white Methodists although services became segregated. Evidence of the church’s progressive membership is show by being among the first in Georgia to receive permission to create a woman’s missionary society in 1888.
In 1893 Reverend James J. Ashley, pastor of the Greensboro Circuit, had the foresight to establish some historical facts of the Methodist denomination in Greene County from some of the older clergy. Rev. William J. Cotter, one of the former pastors of the Greensboro Circuit wrote a letter back to Brother Ashley and mentions the White Plains membership. He remembers the dark days of the Civil War and the generosity of White Plains families. Cotter talks about being supplied with chickens, hams, and receiving promises of at least 200 lbs of butter over the years! His letter goes on to relay the liberal sharing and kindness of the White Plains Methodists. These rich personal anecdotes are also mixed with his memories of some of the more influential members of the church.
The church is now privately owned by one of the White Plains residents who plans to use it in various ways, including that of a wedding chapel. We very much applaud this effort at preserving this historical treasure.
White Plains Baptist Church was organized in 1806, and pre-dates the town of White Plains, which was incorporated in 1834. According to church records there have been four buildings on this same site, with the current sanctuary being completed in 1887. The first church building was made of logs and was sold to a member. It was moved to her place in the country near White Plains and she used it as a kitchen and weaving room. The pulpit became her pantry. The second building is believed to have been built in 1848, and it was sold to the black community for $1,000.00 in 1872. This second structure was rolled on logs to its new location, and eventually became the Second Baptist Church. This building was used until it was destroyed by a tornado in 1992. The third building was completed in 1871 but it burned down in 1886 – according to church minutes, the church pastor stated the church burned down “because it was not dedicated to God.” During the fire, Mr. A.S. Parker was able to save the chandeliers which were hung in the fourth and final building which stands today. The church bell was also salvaged.
While the fourth church building was being built, the Baptists met for services in the new Methodist church, which had been completed in 1870. The church that stands today is a wood framed church with a central square tower on the front of the building. Eaves with decorative brackets and narrow arched Italianate windows add a sophisticated touch to this beautiful country church. Entrances flank the tower and are shaded by one-story hipped roof porticoes with slender posts. White Plains Baptist was blessed by having only twenty pastors since its organization in 1806. In large part, this is due to the long presence of James H. Kilpatrick, who was pastor from 1854 to 1908 – a tenure of over 50 years. From 1872 to 1878, Pastor Kilpatrick also presided over services at the Second Baptist Church. He was also instrumental in successfully requesting Andrew Carnegie to pay off the loan for the first public library at White Plains in 1899. Kilpatrick’s son, William, went on to become a professor at Columbia University in New York and is a revered and celebrated educator.
Siloam Baptist Church was originally organized as Smyrna Baptist and was constituted in December of 1828. The name was derived from the community known as Smyrna until 1870, the year a post office was first established. Since there was already a community by that name in Georgia the town was designated Siloam. The church was renamed Siloam Baptist in 1905. In early 1844 the membership had grown to over 100 with the church roll being reported in four columns e.g. white male, white female, colored male and colored female. After the Civil War, the black membership gradually moved their membership to other places. There have been three meeting houses with the present one being erected in 1896. Land was bought over the years and by 1878 the church owned five acres at a cost of $23.15. A portion of the land was used to start the Siloam Cemetery across the street and a lot was given to the Presbyterians to erect their church building when they moved it from Hastings to Siloam.