THE RICHLAND TRADITION
Two Hundred Years and Counting
For most of the last two hundred years, folks in the southwestern part of Twiggs County have gathered together at Richland Baptist Church to ask the Lord's blessing. And on the first Sunday in October, the members of the Richland Restoration League will once again return to the church which they have lovingly kept from the neglect of the winds of time and total destruction.
Two hundred years ago on October 5, 1811, Richland Meeting House was constituted by the reverends Edmond Talbot, of Jones County and Eden Taylor of Baldwin County. The Rev. Micajah Fulghum was assigned to the pulpit of the church which was first located on the banks of Richland Creek in a log structure. About a decade later, a new structure was constructed near Duke Hart's springs.
The charter members of Richland Church were John Denson, Jacob Ricks, Edward Nix, William Coates, Sarah Denson, Susannah Ricks, Elizabeth Lipham, Elizabeth Truluck, Sally Parrott, Anna Hammock, Sara Glenn, Nancy Powell, and Chloe Hodges, a Negro woman. Jacob Ricks, a founding father of Twiggs County, was named as a commissioner of public buildings at the town of Marion, the county's original county seat, which was located a few miles to the northwest. Ricks also served as one of the first justices of the Inferior Court of Twiggs County. John Denson lived to the ripe old age of 90 and long enough to see the current church built. Edward Nix died just five years after the church. Few records, if any, could be found about the remaining charter members.
Membership continued to rise and by 1840, Richland Church became the largest church in the Ebenezer Baptist Association. During the first five decades of the existence of the church, both white and black members worshipped in the church together. Although the slaves were considered members, they were required to sit in the galleries of the church during church services. In the year 1860, black membership reached a peak of 165 members, representing nearly seventy percent of the total membership. After the Civil War, black members left white churches and formed their own congregations.
One of the most poignant moments in the history of the church came a century and a half ago at the beginning of the Civil War. The ladies of the Richland and Marion communities would meet at the church to sew articles of clothing and make supplies for their boys in gray. Mrs. Isolene Minter Wimberly gave a heart-stirring address from the front steps of the church to the men and boys who were members of Company I of the 6th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, "The Twiggs County Guards." Mrs. Wimberly presented her husband, Frederick Davis Wimberly, the company lieutenant and later captain, a hand made battle flag, which was turned to the flag bearer, Sergeant Warren. The Guards, like many other Southern units, suffered horrific losses while attached to the Army of Northern Virginia.
The current structure, built in about 1845 on the site of New Hope Baptist Church, was located near an old stage road running from Savannah to North Georgia. The Greek Revival style, rectangular church has four simple columns supporting the roof of the portico. The simple front has four doors with the center two leading to the aisles. Traditionally, the ladies of the church entered the right door and took their seats, while the men came through the left door. Both men and women sat in the center section, but were segregated by a wooden partition running down the center. Along the sides of the pulpit, smaller rows of pews were arranged to face the pulpit at right angles to the main pews. Commonly called "Amen corners," these areas were reserved for the hard of hearing and the elderly.
The roll of ministers of Richland Church reads like a "who's who" among prominent Baptist preachers during the antebellum period. Among the most well known ministers who served Richland were George M. McCall, J.H. Campbell, James Kilpatrick, James Cary Solomon, Henry Bunn, Edward J. Coates, C.D. Mallory, James McConnell, James Williamson, Vincent A. Tharpe, Theophilus Pearce, John Ross, Adam Jones, C.A. Tharpe, and Lott Warren, who would also serve as an attorney, judge, and Congressman. During its first 78 years as a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Association, Richland Baptist Church had its minister serve in the highly honored position of Moderator of the Association.
Membership slowly declined after the war after the county seat was moved from Marion to Jeffersonville. With black members leaving to form their own churches and the white population in the area declining, attendance all but ended. After G.W. Faulk, Jr., a leading member and deacon of the church, died in August 1911, the last days of the then century old church were at hand. The church's last, minister, Francs Bartow Asbell resigned almost a century to the date after the church was founded.
For the next 37 years, the grand and once glorious house of worship stood vacant on most Sundays. Then, after the country had come out of the darkness of the Great Depression and two world wars, the descendants of former members and supporters of one of the true treasures of Twiggs County stepped forward with their time, their money and their devoted hearts to stop the deterioration of the century old structure. The league has also been able to preserve the interior of the building and several original items used in worship services more than a century ago.
In 1948, the Richland Restoration League was formed. Mary Faulk Harrison was elected president of the league. Other officers included Irene Wimberly Gleeson, Clara W. Pope, Sara Faulk, and Mrs. H.D. Faulk. These women worked tirelessly to restore the church to its original grandeur. The efforts have continued until the recent past when a $90,000 renovation program was initiated in 2004 to shore up the church's foundation. Through the generosity of contributors, the loan was paid off in seven years.
On Sunday, Oct. 2, the members of the Richland Restoration League will hold a celebration in honor of the church's bicentennial. The featured speaker for the day's festivities will be the Rev. Francis Wilson. Rev Wilson, a former resident of Cochran and a graduate of Mercer University, will address the gathering. Rev. Wilson is a grandson of Rev. F. Barrow Asbell, the last official minister of Richland Baptist Church when it closed one hundred years ago.
The league's trustees invite the members of all Twiggs County and Middle Georgia churches to be a part of this once in a lifetime celebration of their devotion to Richland Church and its service to the Lord. The festivities will begin at noon and will include an old fashioned dinner on the grounds and a performance by Wesleyannes, a choral group from Wesleyan College in Macon.
To get to the church, take the I-16 exit (No. 24) at Ga. Hwy. 96 and turn west next to the Huddle House and onto Richland Church Road and follow the signs for about two miles. For further information, go to www.historicrichlandchurch.org.