Sardis Presbyterian Church

Coosa, Georgia

 

 

The Sardis story must begin with the land itself and the Cherokee Indians.  The church stands approximately 13 miles west of Rome on Georgia Highway 20.  Sardis, with its cemetery to the west and a spring of fresh water in the woods to the east, lies at the foot of Turnip Mountain, just west of a pass between Turnip and Heath Mountains known for generations as “the Narrows.”  The pass was widened to a road, then a two lane highway, and now a four lane highway with median.  We do know there was a large Cherokee settlement in this area.

 

Unlike many other tribes, most Cherokee Indians attempted to adapt to the ways of the white settlers.  One of the most active groups working to educate the Cherokees was the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.).  The largest of their missions was Brainerd, near Chattanooga.  In 1821 the Board authorized John C. Ellsworth to establish a mission at Turnip Mountain.  Ellsworth and his wife Eliza moved into a cabin just north of the present Sardis Cemetery and lived there for several months before deciding to build the Turnip Mountain Mission, later renamed Haweis, two miles east, through the Narrows, and nearer to the Coosa River.  Dr. Elizur Butler and his wife were sent to Haweis from Creek Path Mission in Alabama in 1827.  In 1830 Dr. Butler was arrested for refusing to sign an oath of allegiance to the State of Georgia, acknowledging as valid Georgia laws designed to force the Cherokees from the state.  He was sentenced to four years in prison along with Samuel Worcester, an A.B.C.F.M. missionary from the New Echota mission.  A case, Worcester vs. Georgia, was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court, under Chief Justice John Marshall, nullified the Georgia law under which Worcester and Butler were imprisoned.  The case set important legal precedents, but with President Andrew Jackson refusing to enforce the decision and with the State of Georgia determined to open North Georgia to white settlers, it did not protect the Cherokees and their friends in Georgia.  Butler and Worcester accepted pardons from Governor Wilson Lumpkin in January, 1833.  Dr. Butler returned to Haweis, but in 1834 was forced to flee to Tennessee.  In 1838, he moved to the west with the Cherokees.  The grave of his first wife, Eliza Post Butler, is all that remains of Haweis.

 

Dr. Hugh Quin, a Baptist minister and doctor, moved to the area from North Carolina and assisted Dr. Butler at Haweis.  After Dr. Butler’s move to Tennessee, Haweis was known simply as Missionary Station.  Dr. Quin continued his work in education and religious instruction and in 1833 founded Pisgah Baptist Church, the oldest church in Floyd County.  He was active in the founding of Fellowship Baptist Church and the First Baptist Church in Rome.  He and his wife moved to Palo Alto, Mississippi in 1845.  There are three Quin graves in Sardis Cemetery, plus that of Mary Frances Quin McArver (Row 11, Grave 2, 1846-1903), whose descendants remain active at Sardis.

 

Sardis Presbyterian Church was organized in November, 1836 under the leadership of the Reverend John Warnock.  The first church building was made of logs covered with plank and stood just north of where the church now stands.  There were 13 original members representing five families who moved from Lincoln and Mecklenberg Counties in North Carolina.  The early settlers included so many families and extended families from North Carolina that the area became known as the North Carolina Militia District.  It remains today the North Carolina Election District.

 

The first session records of Sardis Church were lost during the Civil War, or as the book begun in 1866 explains, “during the progress of the late war.”  This book contains the Church records from February 1866 through April 1908.  On the first page of the book, the Clerk of Session in 1866, James F. Hoskinson, explains that the earlier records were lost, gives the date of the Church’s organization and lists the original members.  On the fly leaf, there are more details about the founding of the church, the first building, and the years when member families moved to the area.  This information, we are told, was obtained by conversation with original members still living and was recorded by Mrs. M.G. Shaw.  The book was sent to the Historical Foundation of the Presbyterian Church in Montreat, North Carolina.  These records along with other early records from Georgia and surrounding states were transferred to Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia in 2007.  The Sardis book was copied before mailing and the Sardis Preservation Society files retain a copy.  It is a wonderful record of the settlement of the area and the general movement west.  New members are listed and “letters of dismission” are granted to individuals and families moving away, often “to the West” or simply “to wherever their lot may be cast.”

 

There is a record that on July 9, 1852, William J. Smith, James F. Hoskinson and David A Williamson, Sardis Elders, for the sum of $100, received a deed from Dennis Brown for 5 acres of Lot 107.  Isaac Bouchillon and Asbury F. Comer witnessed the deed.  By this transaction the Elders secured title to the land on which the congregation had built its log meeting house in 1836.  The present building was constructed in 1855.

 

Rev. Warnock served the church through 1840 and was followed by the Rev. John McKorkle of Virginia from 1842 – 1844.  On April 18, 1844, William J. Smith was the Elder delegate from Sardis at the organizational meeting of Cherokee Presbytery in Summerville.  The churches represented were Lafayette, Roswell, Marietta, Pleasant Green, Mars Hill, Hickory Flat, Walnut Grove, Sweet Water, Sardis, Summerville, Chickamauga, Dahlonega, and Cumming.  The Rev. James Gamble served as minister at Sardis during 1850 and 1851 and the Rev. Thaddeus C. Crawford began his ministry here in 1855.  Dr. Crawford was a graduate of Davidson College and Columbia Seminary, then located in South Carolina.  He moved to the Gore community of Chattooga County in 1846 and established a high school there as well as serving as pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church.  In 1855 he simply added Sardis to his duties at Bethel and traveled the 15 miles between the churches each Sunday.  He served as minister until 1878.

 

During the Civil War, many young men of the congregation enlisted in the army.  One group, the ”Sardis Volunteers,” was organized on the church grounds on May 9, 1861 and became part of the 6th Georgia Cavalry.  In 1863, Major Alfred Bale of the Sardis Volunteers, was killed near Dandridge, Tennessee, and his body was returned to Sardis for burial.  The following year, Lt. Col. Charles Bale was killed at Resaca, Georgia, and he was buried beside his brother.  These are two of the most distinctive grave markers in the cemetery which includes a total of nineteen known Civil War soldiers.

 

The first meeting recorded in the Session Records book begun in 1866, was recorded by J. F. Hoskinson, Clerk of Session.  The meeting included Elders I. Bouchillon and William Bradley.  Other elders mentioned during this period were Samuel Smith and Anderson Williamson in 1874, and Dr. T.M. Shaw, C.P. Morton, J. Smith, A. McCord and James Berryhill in 1875.  Mr. S. W. Smith served as Clerk of Session from January through April of 1874, followed by Mr. C.P. Morton from May 1875 through May 1877.  Dr. T. M. Shaw submitted the minutes as Clerk from June 1877 through March 1895.  He was followed by Mr. C.P. Morton who served again as Clerk through November 1907.  Mr. W. Quin McArver records the last meeting in this book, beginning his many years of Clerk of Session in April 1908.  He served in this capacity until his death in 1960.

 

In 1877 a Sunday School was organized and church membership reached a high of 173.  It was also in this year that the interior of the church was reversed.  The church entrance was moved to the south end of the church with the pulpit being moved to the north end and the pews turned around to face the pulpit.  A close look at the north elevation today reveals what was possibly the original single door entrance to the church.

 

With the Reverend Crawford’s departure from the church in 1878, the church began a slow but steady decline.  By 1892, under the leadership of Dr. D.L. Buttolph, church membership fell to 82 members and by 1907, the church roll showed only 34 members.  Church records show that many of the early members died during the later part of the 19th century and many families sought new opportunities in expanding towns and cities.

Dr. W. H. Darnall served as pastor for twenty-five years, from 1896 until his death in 1921.  He was remembered as “beloved by all who knew him.”  In 1913, J. Walton Weathers was ordained into the ministry from Sardis.  His daughter, Ella Banks Weathers Boyle, remains a friend of Sardis and her husband, the Rev. William P. Boyle, was guest minister many times.

 

The marriage of Sarah F. Daniel and Paul Fletcher Whittier was held at Sardis on December 15, 1920.  The church was decorated with garlands of smilax gathered from the woods.  Mrs. Whittier lived most of her adult life in Atlanta where she was active in the First Presbyterian Church, but she maintained her membership at Sardis and was one of the last two living members when the church was dissolved in 1979.  Her son, Dick Whittier, serves on the Board of the Sardis Preservation Society.

 

The Rev. J. W. Lafferty was called as minister in 1920 due to Dr. Darnall’s failing health and served until 1930.  The Rev. J. G. Kirckhoff was pastor from 1930 to 1935.  Emmett Bridges and Frank Weathers were ordained as Elders in 1927 and served during these years with Mr. Quin McArver.  Deacons were J.R. Medlock and Dan Smith.

 

A second set of session records documenting church activities from 1908 to 1938 were destroyed when the store of Mr. Quin McArver burned in 1938.  In the 1930’s there was a platform in front of the pulpit.  Mary Frances McArver Wilson remembers being told it was added because of the short stature of a minister who served the church.  It was removed in the 1940’s when Mr. Joe Early had a hardwood floor placed over the wide, rough floor.  A large potbellied stove provided heat.  It was during this time that electricity came to the Coosa area.  The Rev. Addison Talbot, who was minister in 1938, wired all the oil lamps and the chandelier in the center of the building for electricity.

 

In 1949 Coosa High School burned and the graduation service was held at Sardis.  Bettie Sue Daniel, one of our Board members, was in the graduating class.

 

Attendance figures at the church continued to drop and with the death of our church officers, Sardis Presbyterian Church was officially dissolved in 1979.  Cherokee Presbytery permitted the building to be used for church services twice a year, on the first Sunday of May and the first Sunday of October.

 

Ten years later, Dr. Billy Funkhouser gave $5,000 to have the building repaired and repainted.  Dr. Funkhouser was a descendant of the Morton family.  John Whisnant secured workmen, served as Treasurer, and supervised the repairs.  John’s wife, Pat Shaw Whisnant, was the daughter of Dr. Will Shaw and Mable Shaw and the granddaughter of Dr. and Mrs. T. M. Shaw.

 

John and Pat Whisnant and Gus and Mary Frances Wilson worked together to form an organization of people interested in preserving this very special place.  The required documents of incorporation were drawn up, and on the first Sunday of May, 1990, the Sardis Preservation Society was officially organized.  Thanks to the assistance of the Rev. Bill McKinnon, minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Cedartown, Georgia, Cherokee Presbytery deeded the property to the Sardis Preservation Society on October 30, 1990.

 

Under the leadership of Mary Frances Wilson as President of the Preservation Society, and with major support from Gus Wilson as Treasurer, Sardis entered a new phase of its history.  Some of the physical improvements and activities are listed below.

 

             1990     The ceiling was repaired and painted, and the floor was leveled.

 

             1992     The tin roof was repaired and painted.

 

             1994     The interior walls were painted.

 

1995     The old pump organ was repaired, courtesy of David and Hope Weathers Bothwell.

                         The loveseat and pulpit pad were reupholstered, thanks to Sarah Alice Wood McGibbon.

                          Jane Payne made the beautiful needlepoint cover for the organ stool.

 

             1995     The first Christmas Open House was held on the first Saturday and

                          Sunday of December, ending with a service on Sunday afternoon.  The

                          Rev. Jan Rhodes led the first service.

 

             1996     Following the worship service on the first Sunday in May, a memorial

                          Service was held for Major Alfred and Lt. Colonel Charles Bale of the Sardis Volunteers,                                       Sixth Georgia Regiment and Georgia Volunteer

                          Cavalry during the Civil War.  The brothers are buried side by side in

                          Sardis Cemetery.  Civil War Re-enactors conducted the service and

                          presented a Confederate flag to Mr. George Hubbard of Decatur, a

                          descendant of the Bale family.

                          Aaron Chastain, local artist, donated his pen and ink drawing of

                          Sardis, providing copies to the Preservation Society to sell.

 

             1997     The building was jacked up and the large sills that support the

                          structure were replaced.  The timbers were specially cut.  The building

                          was repainted at the same time.  It was the most ambitious and

                          expensive project to date.  The cost was $17,350.00.

 

1998     Charles Green, a Board member, had electrical service connected to the church.  A generator had been used for several years; effective but noisy.

             The electrical connection was welcomed.

 

1999     A path was cleared to the spring.  The spring was dug out and a new

             concrete retaining wall was built.  Thanks was extended to John Wilson,

             Charles Green and Leslie Coleman for their hard work.

 

                          The Daughters of the Confederacy held their meeting at Sardis honoring

                          the Confederate soldiers buried here.  Dan Roper, a local attorney, was the speaker.                                     

 

             2000     At the May service, a portrait of the Rev. T. C. Crawford, who served as

                          minister of Sardis for almost thirty years, was presented by local artist

                          Sanford Payne.  Mrs. Shirley Owens, a great granddaughter of the Rev.

                          Crawford, gave a short history of his ministry and his role in education.

                          Many of Rev. Crawford’s descendants attended the service. 

                          The Sardis Preservation Society was recognized by the Rome Area

                          Heritage Foundation for its efforts in preserving the Sardis building and

                          Cemetery.

                          A completed application was submitted to the National Registry of

                          Historic Places,  In 1994 Winona Early Brooks began the necessary

                          research and documentation, and the work has been continued by

                          Bettie Sue Daniel.

 

             2002     The exterior of the church was painted.  New shutters were made and

                          hung during the summer of 2003.

 

             2004     The silver communion service was restored thanks to Sarah Alice Wood

                          McGibbon.

                          The exterior of the church was carefully washed and cleaned.

 

             2005     On January 12, 2005, Sardis Church and Cemetery were placed on the

                          National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of

                          the Interior.

 

             2007     The Preservation Society purchased and installed a roadside marker with

                          information about the church and cemetery.

 

2008     Extensive repairs were made to the west side of the church to correct insect damage.

 

 

Special thanks go to Bill Wood for his years of care of the church grounds and cemetery, including the cleaning of many cemetery markers.  Thanks to the members of Boy Scout Troop 34, who have cleaned the cemetery twice each year.  Thanks to Sanford Payne for the portraits of so many of the people who have served Sardis.  And special thanks to Mattie Day and Juli Brown, members of the McNew family who have cleaned and decorated the church for our services.  Thanks to Gus and Mary Frances Wilson for their steady care.

 

With grateful thanks to all who keep this special place shining…now and for years to come.

                                                                                                        Revised May 2009