Tag Archives: Churches of Brantley County GA
From the congregational history: In the year 1900 a church was organized at the old Sawgrass School outside of Hortense GA. The “Sawgrass” Church was started as a response to a revival held in the area by Rev. J J Williams.
In 1904 property across the street from the school was donated to the church. The first building, and still current worship area, is pictured to the left. Although the nickname “Sawgrass” is how many still know the church, from 1904 on the official name of the church was Philadelphia Wesleyan Methodist Church.
For a period of time Philadelphia was part of a “circuit”, a group of four churches that were pastored by one person. In this case, Philadelphia was on a circuit with Browntown Wesleyan Methodist, Hortense Wesleyan Methodist, and Oak Grove Wesleyan Methodist.
In 1968 the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness denominations merged. As a result, the name of the church became Philadelphia Wesleyan Church.
The following pastors have led Philadelphia Wesleyan through the years: F L Thornton, W B Lee, M M Strickland, J D Patterson, A G Cornelison, J C Clubb, W B Clubb, F H Harris, H R Gumby, W T Brinson, G H Doty, C M Payne, W L Snellgrove, E L Elford, Rev. Alexander, W G Wagnon, W V Hartley, R C Mathis, Henry Sapp, Thomas Lentz, David Horne, and Ron Stayman. In 2016 the Lord brought our current Pastor, Tim and Karen Johnson, to Philadelphia.
Originating on a high bluff of the Satilla River near Raybon in 1819, this congregation is one of the oldest and most historic in Brantley County. Mrs. Martha Mizell Puckett’s history of the church highlights much more information. There is no consensus as to why these early settlers left Raybon, but Judge Folks Huxford, South Georgia’s best-known genealogist, suggested they came to the Schlatterville area around 1822 to escape a cholera outbreak.
For a time, the congregation was known as Big Creek, but restored the name of High Bluff Church between 1878-80.
Still active, High Bluff is the largest congregation in the Alabaha Primitive Baptist Church Association.
Seat cushions and funeral home fans are the only “modern conveniences” to be found at High Bluff.
What moved me the most at this location was the magnificent cemetery, one of the largest in the area and the final resting place of many pioneers of South Georgia. I think of it as a sort of rural Bonaventure and could spend countless hours wandering its historic lots. A comprehensive guide to interments has been compiled for researchers and those with an interest in locating ancestors.
In a lot near the front of the church can be found the burial place of Lydia A. Stone, who was known as the Queen of the Okefenokee for her vast land holdings and business successes. Also buried here is her first husband, D. G. Stone (19 October 1878 – 18 August 1926), her second husband and heir, John Melton Crews (17 August 1906 – 7 January 1970), as well as his second wife, Kissie (8 September 1913 – 15 November 1947), and Mrs. Stone’s parents.
Adjacent to the Stone plot are two picketed enclosures retaining what appears to be the original woodwork, quite a rarity in the coastal climate of Brantley County.
This headstone, placed by the Sons of the American Revolution, is of great significance to genealogists and students of the American Revolution for its connection to General Francis Marion, better known as the Swamp Fox.
The cemetery at Oak Grove would suggest that this congregation is a bit younger than other Hardshell churches in the area. The earliest headstones date to the turn of the last century.
The architecture is the board-and-batten vernacular style emblematic of the Crawfordite meeting houses.
The beautiful interior is smaller than most but equally awe-inspiring.
The pulpit, or “the stand’ as it’s known by these congregations, is always oriented at the side of the meeting house.
An infant burial of 1901 is the earliest I could located in the cemetery, but there are many Brantley county pioneer families represented here.
This church was founded in 1842 and joined the Alabaha Association (Crawfordite) in 1905. They joined the Satilla River Association in 1969. The congregation disbanded in 1991. I’m not sure when the present structure was built.
Below is a good representation of the old-style shuttered windows.
The interiors of all of the Hardshell churches are beautiful testaments to faith and good carpentry.
Bethlehem Cemetery is large and well-maintained, as are all of the Hardshell cemeteries, but is unique in that it contains a pair of grave houses, a real rarity in South Georgia.
Adult Grave House
Child’s Grave House
Note the gopher hole at the edge of this lot. Gopher holes are a sure sign of rattlesnakes, too.
For cemetery and genealogical information:
Some references list this church’s address as Bethlehem Road in Hickox, but if you attempt to take that road from U. S. Highway 301, you will find an overgrown field road that leads to an inaccessible bridge. Since I had to access it from Bachlott, and due to the fact that it’s closer to that settlement, I listed Bachlott as its location.
I will post information on the history of this church when I can locate it.
Like other “Hardshell” churches in the region, the interior is as plain as the exterior.
The entrance gate (unique among these churches) is dedicated to the memory of James O., Sr., and N. Gertrude Jacobs Smith.
The cemetery is relatively small with burials dating to the early 20th century.
Smyrna Primitive Baptist is among the oldest congregations in the area, having been constituted at a nearby location in 1824. The present church is the third and final location of Smyrna, which disbanded around 1990.
The lack of paint and other modern conveniences was an aesthetic of the Alabaha/Crawfordite congregations most prevalent in Brantley County.
This primitive design is even more evident inside, with exposed roof beams, bare walls, shuttered windows, and a haphazard floor plan. A good history of Smyrna Primitive Baptist Church is presently available online.
There is no piano, as “hardshell” folk don’t believe in musical accompaniment. It’s interesting, as well, that the pulpit is located on the side of the church, and not in the rear, as is the custom. There’s also no form of insulation or electricity.
In the cemetery at Smyrna Primitive Baptist Church are many of the pioneer settlers of Brantley County, including a large number of Confederate veterans.