Fair Haven Methodist
Fair Haven Church may be the most remarkable and well maintained sanctuary in all of rural Georgia. The more we learn about it, the more remarkable it becomes. While the construction, architecture and craftsmanship are front and center, the story of Fair Haven Methodist can’t be told without including some of the history of the Jones family. Early pioneer Francis Jones, Sr. arrived in Georgia from North Carolina prior to the Revolutionary War and settled on the east side of the Ogeechee River in what was then St. Mathew Parish, now Screven County. Francis had two sons, Francis Jr. and Phillip and from this humble pre-Revolutionary War beginning, the Jones family legacy and the little Fair Haven church had its roots.
It was the second son, Philip, who settled at the place known today as Birdsville in Jenkins County on land granted for his services in the Revolutionary War. Philip died at the age of 30 leaving his wife and a single heir, his eighteen month old son, Henry Philip Jones. What later became known as the Birdsville Plantation came to fruition under his tutelage. He began the construction of the manor house that was completed by his son, William Beaman Jones in 1847. Under Henry Phillip’s administration, Birdsville emerged as one of the great plantations of the South. According to one account, when he died his estate was valued at $350,000 – which would be in excess of ten million dollars in today’s currency. The name Birdsville came about in 1813, when a post office was established at the plantation and named after the first postmaster, Samuel Bird. Prior to that, it was simply known as the Jones Plantation.
Henry Philip was the father of four Jones brothers – Henry, William, Joseph and James. They are credited with the construction of the beautiful Fair Haven Church that was built on land donated by Henry. One of the brothers is buried at Fair Haven, one in Atlanta and the other two in the older family cemetery. We are not sure when the original congregation was organized, but we are told that the present church is the third one to house the congregation. The oldest Methodist church in the state (Liberty Methodist in Richmond County) was organized in 1775 and there are two Baptist Churches (Bark Camp and Big Buckhead) that were organized in the 1770’s and 80’s and are located only a few miles away. Our best guess is that this church would have been organized around 1785, possibly earlier. If there are any sources out there with some better documentation, we would love to see it.
Fair Haven Church and Birdsville Plantation lay in the path of Sherman’s army during his March to the Sea, and there were instances of pillage and violence as his forces moved through the area. According to the church history, Union troops came to the church and removed a drop leaf table. It is unknown why or how, but the table ended up at a nearby tenant farm. The resident promptly returned it to the church, complete and unharmed, except for a missing drawer. The table with the missing drawer now occupies a prominent place on the chancel as you will see in one of the subsequent photos.
Fair Haven Methodist, in what is now rural Jenkins County, stands proudly as a shining example of our Georgia history. It is remarkable that the family legacy spans almost the entire length of Georgia history, from a decade prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the present. Jones family roots have been tied to this land for 250 years now, and the little church has been standing for 170 of those years. The original land was just a spot in a vast, virgin wilderness on what was then the western frontier of Georgia. The church still has services every week and visitors are welcome. We are so grateful to the many congregants of Fair Haven for their loving stewardship. Quite a story and quite a church. Come inside and see for yourself.