(Franklin) — A couple of years ago while following up on my father’s genealogy project notes I located Bethel Baptist Church located just over the Coweta County line in Heard County, off of Charlie B. Johnson Road.
Here is where I find fifth and sixth cousins, several times removed and a link to this area that I never knew I had or thought about. My living here is purely coincidental, as I was born and raised in the middle of Alabama.
The first time I visited Bethel I found two pleasant women just leaving the sanctuary and asked permission to wander the tidy cemetery in search of family connections. They were more than enthusiastic.
Turns out they were sisters, members of a dwindling congregation of what had been the largest church in the area many moons ago. They filled me in on some of the church’s history and the associated connecting families: Sims, Ware, Crain, Dickinson, etc.
I had visited the lonely church a few times since but my visit in middle August of 2013 was quite disheartening. The immediate church grounds was in its usual tidiness. However, the cemetery was in great distress.
Small grave markers were lost in the high grass; thick clump grass and a thicket of sumac were taking over the middle section of the cemetery while the peripheral of the cemetery was covered by encroaching Muscadine vines.
The majestic oak trees that stand sentinel like around the cemetery clearing had lost several large limbs and tons of leaves, hiding the family plots that lay beneath. Seedlings were commencing to grow dangerously close to grave markers, false tombs, and slab coverings.
The conditions were understandable. The small church congregation does what it can but nature tends to take over given the chance.
After failing to find a good point of contact through the phone books and the Internet, I took another short excursion out to the church and left a note in a crack of one of the front doors, inquiring whether the church was interested in obtaining some volunteers to come out and lend a hand getting the cemetery cleaned up. I knew of a group looking for a service project to do.
See, I’m also Scoutmaster of Newnan Troop 57 and these guys are always willing to lend a hand when needed and schedules allow. Community service is a large part of what it means to be a Scout. Most times when people see Scouts working on a project they assume it’s a Scout’s Eagle Project being completed but that’s not always the case. Scouts work diligently to assist and help their communities from the Tenderfoot rank through Eagle Scout.
That is a part of “Scout Spirit” and the founding principle of the Boy Scouts of America.
The proposal was put to the Scouts of Troop 57 and they found the idea interesting and agreed to do it once details were ironed out.
After about a week since I left my note, I get a phone call from Mr. Hunt expressing the church’s interest and gratitude for any assistance provided. After a few attempts playing phone tag, Mr. Hunt and I worked out the few details needed and about two weeks later, on Sept 7, 2013, Troop 57 members that could make the date, descended on Bethel Baptist Cemetery with lawnmowers, wheelbarrows, rakes, machetes, axes, bow saws, pruners, weed eaters, and Scout Spirit.
For nearly five hours the Scouts and adult leaders cut, trimmed, pruned, and hauled debris. Gravel in family plots were raked clean of years of fallen detritus. Slabs that were hidden under dirt and grass were revealed. Markers were now adequately fulfilling their purpose.
Troop 57 knew that they had performed an outstanding job start to finish, the before and after photos tell the story, but were still curious whether their efforts met up to any expectations.
The cleanup was performed the day before Bethel Baptist Church held their quarterly Sunday meeting so it wasn’t but a day or two when I once again received a voice message from Mr. Hunt. He was calling to express gratitude on behalf of the congregants and to congratulate Troop 57 on a job well done.
Troop 57 also received an invitation to come camp sometime on Bethel Baptist property, which they will probably take them up on when time allows.
In the meantime, the cemetery looks befitting the final resting place of those interred there; and visitors and fellow genealogists can once again enjoy their visitations.
Scoutmaster Troop 57
Troop 57 is chartered by Heatherwood Baptist Church, Newnan, Georgia.
BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH
We get a brief history of this church from “Historic Landmarks of the South” by Annie Hadden Crensaw, Greenville, Alabama:
“Bethel Baptist Church – the oldest church in Heard County – was organized in 1828 in what was then Coweta County, with nine members under Reverends James Reeves and John Wood. A site was chosen for a church to be built at ‘Henderson’s Spring’, a strong clear water source noted and used by early settlers. This location became part of newly-created Heard County in 1830, and there the church grew and prospered. Its membership increased to 175, and included many of the pioneer families of both Coweta and Heard counties. Bethel became for a time the largest church in the Western Baptist Association and owned 30 acres at the springs until after the Civil War. In 1925, plans were made under the direction of Robert Lee Wilson, Sr. to rebuild the existing structure (which was in poor condition) and to use as much of the old wood as possible. Although the old church burned before the project was completed, the pulpit, pews and other interior furniture were saved from the fire and installed in the new building and are in use today. The 1925 structure was restored in 1972 under Robert Lee Wilson, Jr., with support from descendants of its pioneer members.”