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The railroad ties that bind

October 14, 2021

In 1834, a survey was made between Savannah and Macon for the purpose of establishing a rail route between the two Georgia cities. In 1836, the Central Railroad was granted a charter and the building of the railroad, starting at Savannah, began at once. It took several years to build, and in 1843, the first passenger car arrived at the temporary depot set up outside of Macon. The original road was 190 miles long and, at the time it was completed, was the longest railroad in the world built and owned by one company. (source: georgiahistory.com/education-outreach)

Savannah’s first recorded history began in 1733 when General James Oglethorpe and 120 passengers of the ship “Anne” landed on a bluff high above the Savannah River to create the 13th and final colony, Georgia, named after England’s King George II. On General Oglethorpe’s second voyage, Methodism, in its earliest form, also arrived when Reverends John and Charles Wesley landed to minister to the good people in this coastal colony.

The city of Macon started when Fort Hawkins was built on the banks of the Ocmulgee River in 1806 in an area then known as the Western frontier. By 1823, the city was growing with people moving south from the mountains of north Georgia and west from the coast of South Carolina to gain land and independence. A need soon arose to connect the older, coastal city with the newly formed, frontier town for the purpose of trade and travel. Thus, the Central Georgia Railroad came into being.

This new and impressive rail system didn’t just connect these two cities, though. It connected many cities. Stops along this route included Pooler, Marlow, and Guyton, along with Millen, Midville, and Wadley. It connected Louisville to Davisboro, Sandersville to Toomsboro, and Irwinton to Gordon. And with the cities being connected, so to was the Methodist movement. The movement was literally on the move.

In Louisville, Georgia, Methodism arrived in 1801 with a visit from Francis Asbury and, after this visit, a full-time preacher was appointed and church membership grew. Around the same time, Methodist circuit riders found their way to Sandersville, with a church building soon following. Salem Church in Toomsboro was organized in 1818 by B. Winn with four acres being deeded to the trustees as the population demanded. Irwinton and Wadley started as camp ground meetings with Irwinton coming from Big Sandy Creek and Wadley coming from Bethany Camp Ground. What became known as Guyton UMC was listed as Andrew’s Chapel and placed on the Springhead Circuit for 40 years before Thomas Elkins granted a tract of land in 1844. Gordon UMC started in the mid-1850s with Rev. W.S. Johnson being listed as the first pastor and Millen UMC was created by Bishop George F. Pierce at the first annual meeting of the newly formed South Georgia Conference. Midville UMC was created less than 10 years later and Marlowe UMC began when Mr. Edward J. Purse deeded one acre of land to the Methodists. The sanctuary in Marlowe, however, was built with timber given by the Presbyterians. Davisboro started as a Sunday school class with the church being chartered two years later and Trinity in Pooler started in the home of one of the original trustees.

As people moved, so too did this radical idea of personalized relationships with the Creator and Christian strength through study, support, and accountability. Small groups were formed in homes, under brush arbors, around itinerant circuit riders, and everywhere else that could be found. Small groups became less small and more space was needed. Land was deeded, simple timber structures built and then enlarged, and, when disaster struck, rebuilt. Times weren’t easy and change was abundant but, with the change came an opportunity to tell more people about this methodical way of serving Christ and supporting each other.

As uncomfortable as change can be, whether from a new railroad or any other bit of modern technology, maybe we shouldn’t view it as negative or inherently dangerous to our way of worship and community. Maybe we should see this change as an opportunity to meet new people and connect new places with our methodical way of living. Maybe we should see it as a way to put the move back into the movement.

Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at director@mooremuseum.org.

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