Watkinsville First United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Sharing the Love, Spreading the Joy

A Brief History

By Peggy Sommer, Church Historian
Records dating back to 1802 show that Isaac Cook was pastor of Watkinsville Methodist Church, which was in the Appalachee District at that time.  There are no other records of the first organization of this church.  In 1835, the Watkinsville Circuit was created, and comprised of churches from one at Salem (southern Oconee county) to ones in Jackson County.  The Georgia Methodist Churches at that time were under the jurisdiction of the South Carolina Conference.  Georgia's first Annual Conference was held in Macon in 1831.  There are existing records of all pastors, presiding elders, and junior preachers of this church, beginning in 1802.

The earliest church roll lists men and women separately.  The following is a list of some of these members.  Descendants of some of them still live in the vicinity.  The names with stars are people buried in the Watkinsville City Cemetery. 

*John Calvin Johnson         *Matilda H. Johnson
*Robert L. Harris                *Evaline J. Jackson
*Thomas Booth                      Almeida Butler
*James C. Wilson                   Adaline Barton
*William H. Ashford              Claissa M. Williams
  Joseph H. Hurray              *Letitia Richardson
  Joseph Ward                        Sally J. Edge
  Francis Smith                      Emma Foddrill
*Joseph A. Knight                 Milly Klutts
  Emery L. Anderson          *Cate Dicken
  Willie Richardson              *Mary M. Knight

In those days the requirements for church membership were quite strict and the records show members "under censure for drunkenness - Expelled."   Members were also expelled for "Dancing" and "attending the circus."
The Watkinsville Methodist Episcopal Church, South 1861-1893.
The first site of a Methodist Church in Watkinsville was in the old part of the Watkinsville City Cemetery on Simonton Bridge Road.  This meeting house burned in 1830.  The second site, behind the Courthouse, on Main Street was on a plot of land 40' by 46'.  This area is where the new section of the Courthouse was built.  This building was torn down in 1922.  It was used by an African American congregation after the Methodist moved to their next location.

The third building, located on the corner of Main Street and Whitehall Road (currently Watkinsville Frist Christian Church), was built in 1861 by the slaves of William Murray  on 0.7 acres purchased from Richard Richardson for $100.  Today the chestnut hand-hewn sills are exposed in the basement.  The pillars of the church contain hand molded bricks.  There was a balcony for slaves which was used to store court documents when the church was used as a courthouse following the 1887 courthouse fire. During the Civil War, a flank of General Sherman's army led by Major General Stoneman bivouacked in Watkinsville, and it is legend that the horses were stabled in this church building. 
The Watkinsville First United Methodist Church, built in 1893 (Now Ashford Memorial Methodist)
The fourth site of the church, the current Ashford Memorial Church,  is on the corner of Harden Hill Road and Main Street.  Two Oconee County brothers, Nathaniel and Richard Richardson, who were house and bridge builders, were chosen to build the semi-gothic structure.  The brothers were schooled in New York and chose the blueprints of the church from an architecture book by Paley.  The heart of pine timbers used for the exposed beams in the sanctuary were dragged by oxen from South Carolina.  This building, built in 1893 on 100 by 150 feet of land, was given by A.W. Ashford, his brothers and two uncles as a memorial to Louisa Booth Ashford.  In 1897 the old church building and property were sold to the Christian Church for $500.

In 1935, the Men's Bible Class under the leadership of their teacher, Miriam Downs, decided to excavate the basement, making more classrooms.  Much effort was expended, as most of the dirt had to be dug and hauled by hand, until there was head room enough for mules and drag pans.  The annex building, which added six new rooms, was built in 1955 using $10,487.52 willed to the church by Warnie Edge Phillips, a beloved Watkinsville School teacher.  This church and congregation grew to the point where in 1963 it became a station church, which meant that its preacher was no longer responsible for Ray's and Johnson's services as well.
The Watkinsville First United Methodist church sanctuary today.
The decision was made in 1981 to build a new larger church on 7.407 acres on New High Shoals Road, the fifth and present location of the Watkinsville First United Methodist Church.  Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in September of that year.  Phase 1, a Fellowship Hall, kitchen, nurseries and classrooms, was completed and consecration services were held by Bishop Joel McDavid on September 12, 1982.  On Easter Sunday, April 22, 1984, the groundbreaking ceremony was held for Phase 2.  On December 23, 1984 the sanctuary was consecrated and the large stained glass window behind the pulpit was dedicated in the memory of Mildred Dillard Bishop.  In December 1985, the stained glass windows were added to the front of the sanctuary and handbells were purchased with memorial funds provided by Phyllis Fluevog.  In 1987, pew Bibles were purchased and pew screens added in memory of Grady A. Oaks.   Joe Alspaugh encouraged the church to form an organization for its senior members and SUGAR (Still Useful Group of Active Retirees) was organized in the fall of 1989.  

By 1992 the church's growth led to a task force to study the future space needs of the church.  Their February 1993 report that the church needed to start making expansion plans led to the establishing of a building committee. The process from this decision to a new addition was a long complicated one involving two different architects and plans that were accepted but delayed as the congregation worked up the courage to accept such a major challenge.  A   capital funds campaign with the theme of "Raising Faith, Raising Christians" was started in the fall of 1999, and another set of plans considered. The opportunity to purchase the Amborse property between the church and the bypass led to a final revision of the plans.  The official ground breaking ceremony for the addition to the church was held July 9, 2000.  The new classrooms were consecrated June 3, 2001.  A paved parking lot was created on the Ambrose property in the fall of that same year.  
The church went through a similar process of making plans and revising them before deciding on its current building project, which will add a new fellowship hall and space for the youth on the second floor.  Ground breaking was held January 10, 2010.

The church has always had a strong youth program.  Older members of the church have memories of work days that involved picking cotton to raise funds for missions  The generation of the 70's and 80's along with their parents have fond memories of cooking fried chicken to sell to the UGA fans who passed the church on their way to football games.  Youth have worked at concession stands in the UGA stadium.  Highlights for today’s youth have been the many mission projects for the Appalachian Service Project, River of Life and Habitat for Humanity.  A full-time Youth minister was hired in June of 1999.  Boy Scout Troop 80 has been sponsored by the church since 1980 and Girl Scouts have been meeting here since we moved.  They are responsible for the Scarlet UGA Bicentennial Oak in front of the church and the picnic tables.

Other highlights:  Sunday Schools have been mentioned since the 1850's. The first ladies group mentioned in church records was in 1875.  The current UMW began in 1892.  Methodist Men was chartered January 9, 1962 with Grady Oaks as president.  1991, new hymnals were purchased.  1999, the church bus was purchased & the puppet ministry started. 2000 First Camp, a program for kids after school began.

Membership of the church in 1875 was 59; in 2000 membership reached 575.  Today (2010) it is 750.