Old Time Religion Excerpt

Thyatira (Thyatira-Olney) Presbyterian Church
Old Time Religion book coverJust up the road from our house in Apple Valley, lies the Thyatira community. In spite of being another equally rural and tiny establishment, Thyatira has offered a great deal of history to the North GA and Jackson County areas. One piece of that being the Thyatira Olney Presbyterian Church.
As you top the hill, passing the Harrisburg VFD, then go back down, bottom out and pass Roger and Ruth Moore’s home on the left, you’ll see a timeless looking, plain, white church, standing there on the left of GA Hwy 15. The building sits a ways back off the road and has a beautiful air about it.
When Jude and I made our stop at TPC to take a few pictures, we found ourselves gravitating to the cemetery, actually. Not very large, you wouldn’t expect to find a lot of drama there. But the markers are varied and some are quite old. A few rare, remaining “above ground” structures stand out. These are all but lost…weather, animals, vandals, lawnmowers…all have taken their toll on so many of the fieldstone grave structures that used to be so much more common.
You might think the bodies of the deceased are sitting on top of the ground, just inside the enclosures, but they aren’t. It’s purely decorative. But it makes for a good spooky story on just the right evening.
Thyatira Presbyterian Church (we don’t include the “Olney” part, frankly, when talking about the church) is one of the oldest churches in Jackson County. I believe it may be the third oldest, behind Oconee Baptist and Cabin Creek. It’s also one of a small handful of the oldest churches in the entire state of GA.
The church was actually begun at the Hurricane Shoals settlement “around” 1795, a product of the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian tradition. It was later moved to its current location, reportedly in the early 1830’s. Somewhere in between, it had a home on Jett Roberts Road…as fate would have it, right where I grew up. Our neighbors included the JT Wilkes family, the Herman Buffington family, Buddy and Dot Hunt, Don and Norma Anderson, Mr. & Mrs. Benny Love and various other widely scattered homesteads, on down the, then largely wooded road. Back then, we probably played in the woods on the old church site, and never knew it.
The current building is actually comprised of three different sections. The original front was built in the 1830’s, upon arrival in Thyatira. Although an excerpt from the church minutes note “The meeting house called Olney was solemnly dedicated by the Rev John S. Wilson” on Nov 15, 1829. A sanctuary addition came sometime between 1890 and 1950, and a Sunday School annex followed in 1950. Since that time, the church has gone relatively unchanged.
Church minutes are always a source of both boring data and curious information. I see on March 7, 1830, Charles Hamphill “appeared and confessed his offense of drunkenness”. A reminder of the seriousness the congregations of the day held in so many of the things we dismiss “in love” today. Sin was serious business, brother.
By the way, on July 4 of the same year, Brother Hamphill was “restored to the privileges of the church”. Not sure what formalities transpired during his four months of shame.
In 1831, the Rev John Wilson preached his farewell sermon to the church, after having pastored there for the preceding three years. No reason for the change of heart, but I could guess that it may have been a simple changing of station.
Even in the early to mid 19th century, roving circuit pastors would lead the flock at multiple congregations. Thyatira was one of the congregations that employed the use of such services, sharing a pastor with as many as a half dozen other congregations in the area.
The following week however, the Rev Robert McAlpin took on the pastoral duties, on part time…or as it was stated on “half time”.
On March 13 of that year, I noticed that the struggling Brother Hamphill, along this time with an accomplice, Robert Smithwick was tried yet again, for the offense of drunkenness. He was again restored. Brother Smithwick was “suspended indefinitely”. (Even though, a few months later, he was forgiven and “restored to fellowship”.)
Nearly a year later, Charles Hamphill, and this time, John Story were “tried for drinking” yet again. I’m starting to think the errant Brother Hamphill not only had a problem with the bottle, but might’ve been a bit of a bad influence on his fellow parishoners.
Not long thereafter, Harvey Wilson confessed to “striking a drunken man”. Maybe Mr. Hamphill was attempting to lead him into temptation.
Around about 1835-36, a rash of dismissals was noted, allowing embers to join the Presbyterian church at Sandy Creek. Although at first I feared dissention in the ranks, it was quite common for a block of existing members to be dismissed to help seed the work of a “sister” congregation that was just getting started.
On Jan 24, 1837, two sisters, Miss Rhoda and Miss Elizabeth Handcock, both passed away. No details were found regarding their fate, but the curious fact came in the report that they were both buried at the same time in one grave.
Not sure how to theologically discuss that one.
Their shared grave still remains in the Thyatira Presbyterian cemetery, with an unassuming marker.
Another curiosity, and one that I’ve noticed in other church minutes of the day, was the fact that periodically, a person or family would be accepted or admitted into the church body “along with their slave(s)”. While offensive, at first, I’m sure the slave owners of the time looked upon this as an honorable act, exposing their slaves to the Word of the Lord. Amazing how times and people have changed, even in the midst of an unchanging God.
In February 1908, The Jackson Herald printed a thank you letter from the pastor and members of the church regarding the installation of a new roof on the church building. Apparently, the contractor and the Cortright Roofing Company also contributed both materials and labor to the cause. A specific reference was made to assistance in “repairing” the church building and the ready response to their “call for help”. So I would assume some weather-related damage had ensued.
Perhaps coincidentally, this was connected to the infamous “Louisiana to Georgia Outbreak of 1908”, which was one of America’s deadliest tornado outbreaks, killing 324 individuals and spawning the seventh deadliest tornado on record, at the time. It’s quite possible that this was related to the damage sustained by the church.
The Jackson Herald; Jana Mitcham, Old Country Churches pub Oct. 13, 2010
The Jackson Herald, February 6, 1908, excerpt.


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