Rock Methodist

Wilkes County
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Org 1839
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Photography by John Kirkland

Rock Methodist Church is so named because the original charter members started the church at a site two and a half miles west of the present location “near two big rocks on south side of Highway 17”. We found two sources of history for the old church – one a handwritten history, written in the 1950’s, at the Pitts Archive at Emory – and another one, written in the 1970’s, in the Tignall Charge book held by a former member of the church. These two histories are at odds with each other regarding time frames and sequence.

They both agree that the church was organized at the rock location above, but the older history states that the “present building was erected abut 1839. The old gallery where the slaves might come to worship is the outstanding feature. After the colored people had churches of their own, two of the colored members asked that their membership be left here”. The history in the charge book then states that the church was moved to Centerville, a “then fairly thickly populated village and a school was built next door to the church”. It further states that in Sept. of 1870, Mrs. Mary E. Matox deeded two acres of land for the “benefit of the Methodist Episcopal South”. It then states the present building was built about 1870, with two front entrances with a partition down the center of the church to separate the men from the women and children. It also tells us that the church had significant repairs in 1910 after it “was almost split in half by a cyclone”.

The architecture of the church is unusual, and both of these histories have conflicting elements. There are always more questions than answers about these old church histories and we find them all the more fascinating because of it. The church was built with very high ceilings to accommodate the gallery that was a very prominent and original feature. There is no question in either history that the gallery had a separate entrance for “colored people”, that can be plainly seen in the above photo. The porch was added at a later date and we would be pretty safe in saying the upper windows were added later as well. It also states the church originally had two separate entrances and a partition in the middle of the interior to separate the men and women. This would have been fairly common for the time, except that usually meant that the interior would have a double aisle and the partition would be located in the middle of the center section. As you will see in subsequent photos, the interior was set up with a single center aisle and pews on either side. On balance, we tend to support the 1870 construction date. On the other hand, a prominent slave gallery with a separate entrance would not make much sense in 1870. The photo of the footings would support an older construction date as well.

Sadly, the church is no longer active and is sliding into a state of disrepair. A couple of former members are trying to keep the place up but without some assistance, it will likely become a losing battle. We are hopeful that historic icons like the Rock Church can be saved and put back into community service. These churches are a vital element of our rural heritage. So…. pre-Civil War or post-Civil War. Maybe we will find out some day.

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