History of The Houston Circuit
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Until 1821 the Ocmulgee River had been the western boundary of the State of Georgia as well as the boundary of Pulaski County. There were no white settlements west of the Ocmulgee prior to this date, because the territory between the Ocmulgee and Flint Rivers belonged to the Lower Creek Indians and was used by them as hunting grounds. On January 8, 1821, a treaty was made between the whites and Indians at Indian Springs which opened this section to white settlers. The new territory attracted home seekers and enterprising planters. At once the South Carolina Conference took cognizance of the new country, and created the Houston Circuit in January 1825, and Rev. McCarroll Purifoy was appointed as preacher for that year.
The Houston Circuit was exceedingly large. All Methodist circuits were very much larger then than now. It is known to have included the present counties of Houston, Dooly, West Pulaski, Wilcox, and Crisp. Some of the regularly established appointments for 1825 were Hawkinsville, Vienna, Drayton, and probably Snow. The First Methodist Church in Hawkinsville is to be dated from the establishing of this regular appointment of Rev. McCarroll Purifoy in the above-named year.
There were no church buildings within the bounds of the Houston Mission when it was organized, yet this did not deter the coming of the Methodist preacher. He was on the ground before the settlers could get their homes built or their lands ready for cultivation.
Those Methodist missionaries preached in the homes of the people until the congregation grew strong enough to build a church. It was thus that Methodism began here in Hawkinsville. It is unfortunate that we do not have documents giving the names of the first Methodist congregation in Hawkinsville, but tradition says that it was organized with only five members. Of this number two of the names seem hopelessly lost and three have been handed down. The three names are: Mrs. John Rawls, Mrs. Jacob Watson, and Rev. Wiley F. Holder.
Notwithstanding the fact that there were only five charter members when the First Methodist Church was organized, the membership grew at such a rapid rate that a church building soon became a necessity. A period of financial depression in the latter part of the decade of the twenties made it a difficult undertaking. But the campaign was launched about the close of the year 1829. The construction was under way as soon after that date as possible, using as a building site land donated by Mr. John Rawls and others. On December 26, 1831, the Georgia legislature incorporated the Methodist Church of Hawkinsville, naming John Bozeman, Samuel B. Webb, Abraham F. Bird, Washington Lancaster, John McColl and their successors in office as trustees of the same. This was done in order to get titles to the property upon which they had built their house of worship. On July 22, 1832, Messrs. John Rawls, James A. Everett, Seaton Grantland, and Farrish Carter conveyed to the above-named trustees “one acre of land in the town of Hawkinsville whereon the edifice for said church is now built, yet to be laid off in such manner as to include said edifice and graveyard.” For some reason Messrs. Abraham F. Bird and John McColl were not then trustees, so the deed names three others as trustees in their place, viz.: Miles Harrell, George Williams, and Chas. T. Patiulo. Here in its first house of worship at the corner of North Dooly and First Streets the Methodist people continued to worship for nearly thirty years. The church house was large enough to accommodate any crowd that gathered in those days and was frequently used by the Masons and others who occasionally needed a convention hall. After the new church in 1857 was built the old building was given to the Negroes, who used it as a house of worship until in the seventies. The bodies of those in the cemetery were removed to Orange Hill after the city had acquired that property.
The Second Building
The unfitness of the first church site became more apparent to the congregation as the years went by. At the time it was donated it was accepted with gratitude because the help that came from having a piece of real estate given the congregation without cost was a valuable contribution. There was a very large pond that covered much of the block between First and Commerce Streets and Dooly and Lumpkin. In the rainy season this pond would extend almost wholly across North Dooly above Commerce, making it very difficult, sometimes impossible, for pedestrians to reach the church, so it was determined to move the church site. A deed was secured from Mr. Simon Merritt on August 7, 1857, to the present site, one of the most desirable building sites in the entire city, located on the northwest corner of South Dooly and Merritt Streets. Messrs. John Humphries, Thom. D. L. Ryan, Joseph Lowry, James W. Fetts, C. W. M. Wynne, Wm. Wynne, Washington Lancaster, and John Stokes are the trustees named in the deed.
The new building was large, well constructed, and as comfortable as any village church of those days. This building was used for nearly forty years, and when the present brick church was erected the old building was sold to the city council, who adapted it to a schoolhouse for the Negroes. It burned in 1922.
The Present Building
For several years during the eighties the congregation felt that a new church was needed. In about 1891 the congregation made a liberal subscription toward the enterprise, but before the actual building was begun the financial depression of 1893 came, making it impossible to build then. Though the construction had necessarily to be postponed the determination to build did not wane, and the work was actually begun and completed in 1895. The building committee was composed of P. H. Lovejoy, J. W. White, J. F. Coney. J. J. Harvard, Sr., B. Holmes, Dr. W. L. Smith, D. C. Joiner, and the pastor in charge, Rev. T. W. Ellis.
Two Annual Conferences Entertained
The privilege and honor of entertaining the South Georgia Annual Conference has come twice to the First Methodist Church. The first time was in 1890. Bishop Geo. F. Pierce was the bishop in charge. The next Annual Conference came in 1898. The new parsonage had just been completed and the church had been recently dedicated under Rev. J. A. Harmon’s leadership, and the congregation felt they wanted to celebrate by entertaining the Conference.
The Sunday School
The first auxiliary organization started in the church was the Sunday school. We cannot be sure of the date when it was first begun, but it was in operation during the decade of the fifties. Our Sunday school has had a continuous existence since that time. Both of the latter church buildings were built with a view to the growing needs of the Sunday school. In the plans of the present building, Sunday school rooms were included. There has been continual growth and development in this field of church activity.
The first organized movement among the women of the church of which we have a record was in 1877. When Rev. A. M. Williams came to the charge with his bride there was no parsonage to which they could go. Mr. Williams began at once to organize the women into a Parsonage Aid Society. Then, in 1880, at the meeting of the Annual Conference at Hawkinsville, the Woman’s Missionary Society work was launched in the South Georgia Conference. The initial movement in this Conference was started here. The Parsonage Aid Society was probably converted into the Woman’s Missionary Society.
Ministers And Missionaries
Two young men who grew up in the First Methodist Church have gone into the ministry-Jelks Taylor and Gordon Rainey. Rev. Jelks Taylor, after serving a number of years in the South Georgia Annual Conference, went to Siberia as a missionary. Rev. Gordon Rainey made his home in Kentucky and has become a forceful preacher.
One of the congregation’s most noted women, Miss Mary Culler White, in 1893 became interested in teaching in the Sunday school. Later she felt a call to larger work, and ultimately received a Macedonian call to the mission field. For many years she has served as a Methodist missionary in China.
Now, 1935, the Methodists of Hawkinsville feel the need of certain additions to the building erected in 1895, and some day their hopes may be realized.