In Salem Church

Salem Methodist Church

Salem Church, Lowndes County, GA circa 1866

Salem Church, Lowndes County, GA circa 1866

Salem Church is among the earliest Methodist churches in this section. The church would have been on the Troupville Circuit ridden by Reverend Peurifoy, a Methodist circuit rider of Wiregrass Georgia. Other Methodist churches on the circuit included Troupville, established about 1832, Oak Grove Church, Concord Church, and Bethlehem Church. Pre-dating any of these churches was the annual Methodist revival held at the old Lowndes Camp Ground, later called the Mount Zion Camp Ground. The earliest Methodist church in Ray City was organized in 1910.

About Salem Church

“The exact year this church was organized is unknown but it is believed that the original church building was a small log structure constructed near a spring fed branch behind the present 110-year-old home place of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Folsom. The existing Salem UMC was built on its new location in 1856, on land that was deeded by Eli Driver Webb. The first trustees were Randall Folsom, Joseph T. Webb, William Varn, William D. Smith and Berry J. Folsom. It is believed that the first pastor of Salem was either Rev. Joseph T. Webb or Rev. Hamilton W. Sharpe, both local Methodist preachers of that era. Many of the citizens of the community attended school in a one-room school across the street from the church and, when needed, the church was also used for classroom space.”  – South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church

Salem Church was attended by slave owners and slaves, as well. The church kept two graveyards, a white cemetery and an  African-American cemetery. There is still a distinct line between the two cemeteries, one with unmarked graves, the other with neat white headstones and plush grass.  Laying in the marked graves are many of the Folsom family connection, among them Dr. James Rountree Folsom, father of Montgomery M. Folsom.

M.M. Folsom was one of the best known and most versatile newspaper men in the South, according to his obituary. He was a great and prolific writer of prose and poetry, which was widely read and copied.  In the September 14, 1885 Atlanta Constitution, Montgomery M. Folsom recalls Salem Church of his youth.

 

In Salem Church

The Memory of a Middle Age Man Stirred Up.

M.M. Folsom in Valdosta, Ga, Times.

        Let me see, the old church must be getting old indeed, now; I am shiffling along toward the dim and mysterious regions of the third decade of life, and, I am beginning to feel right patriarchal. Yes, I was walking along the street a few day since when a diminutive specimen of the genus homo accosted me with “hello, old chum,” and I came very near rebuking him on the spot, but on second thought I remember how fine a sense of ridicule the modern ragmuffin is blessed with, so I contented myself with a withering glance, and then winked to keep him from thinking hard of me. Good gracious! How egotistical I am growing. But never mind, I’m going to be a country editor, some day, and then I can use that delusive pronoun “we” and then we’ll make ourself just as great an ass as we choose, and no one will molest us or make our cheek to blush.
       Well, that church is a few months older than I, but I trust it hasn’t half as much to answer for. When last I threw a ball at its stately front I tried to hit the figure “6” in the date, “1856” painted above the tall columns which support its venerable front.
       Long time ago there was another Salem, built of logs, clap-boards and puncheons. “H.W.S.” could tell you all about it. The good Methodists decided to build a new one, and the present site, fronting the old Coffee road, was selected. I think William McGuire was the master carpenter in the job, but I don’t know, it has been so long. Oh! what a flood of sweet old memories come trouping along as, in fancy, I sit once more within those sacred walls. A goodly space, in the rear of the pulpit was partitioned off for the negroes who were then slaves, of course.
      Certain seats were recognized as the special property of certain old people, not that we had any pew renting, and the like of that, but they came so regularly, and occupied the same seat so often, that younger folks soon learned to look for Uncle Randal on a long bench near the partition, with the south window at his back. Dear old man! How I loved to watch his portly figure as he waddled up the isle, and the few scant locks glistening like a glowing silver light above his ruddy brow. Uncle Billy Sineath was bent with age and hard labor. He would plow hard all the week, and till near meeting time Saturday, then he donned his meeting clothes, and started for the church just like the true Christian that he was. His face was rugged, and the dark eyes glowed beneath a pair of cavernous brows, but never a kinder heart beat in the bosom of any man. Uncle Hamp was always there, too, with a kind word and a hearty handshake for every one. What made him more conspicuous was the tall beaver, that he took off at the door. Now there is a great deal of individuality about a hat. Grandpa and Uncle Billy Sineath wore broad brims, and the brim had to turn up in certain places, while in others it must lay flat, or curve around in a peculiar manner. I used to wonder how much time they spent training a new hate ere it acquired the regulation flop. Our old teacher was straight as an arrow and nearly as slim, his hair was always gray, I suppose, but when he patted one of us little urchins on the head as he stepped into the porch, we were of the elect the balance of that day. But why try to describe such individual? It would require volumes simple to record their goodness and the act of Christian charity which they did in their days.
        I remember one sermon that touched me, boy as I was, deeply and it stirred the depths of the hearts of every individual in the vast congregation that were packed in the church. Leonard C. Peake had lately been blind, but his sight was now restored. A man of venerable aspect and commanding presence, he stood in the pulpit that day and preached as I never heard man preach before. His text was “And Moses said unto——-” but I can’t remember, it was so long ago but it read on- “we are journeying unto the land which the Lord God hath given us. Come thou and go with us, and we will do thee good.” In the course of his sermon he told how, after a season of darkness, he had been allowed to look again on the blessed light of Heaven. Oh, that was a time long to be remembered.
      Then there was Jesse J. Giles, the happiest looking man I ever saw. His soul knew no wintry season. His face eternally beamed with the smiles of a perpetual spring season. To look at him was to love him, and to love him was but a step removed from the worship of that God whom he worshiped with the most sublime adoration. His voice was a s a woman’s and the musical tones were like the strains of music from some faraway land. The old well-worn copy of “John Wesley” that he gave me so many years ago lies before me as I write. Unhidden tears bedim my eyes as I think of the last words he ever said to me.
       But the grandest old warrior was big, burly, tender-hearted John Hendry. His voice was of that deep, rich kind which men of slender chests are wont to covet. The tawny beard covered his face and hung down on his breast. When he ascended the pulpit steps the evil doer trembled, and the first syllable of that deep voice sent a thrill through me like an electric shock. And oh! you ought to have heard him sing,
“I’m glad salvations’ free!”
      The great voice filled the whole building, and the thunder tones went reverbating and re echoing among the dark pine woods. Wafted by the soft evening breeze the echoes grew fainter and fainter until the word “Salvation” died away on the hilltops faraway, away, where the autumn moon shed such a wondrous shower of golden light.
       But we had one funny parson, I’ve forgotten his name. He said that when he left his last circuit he left “six crowing roosters sitting on the front yard fence.” He never stayed long.
       Another was a vissionary and a dreamer. In fact, he was so fond of relating his wonderful dreams, that there grew a proverb out of it, and we sacrilegious boys were in the habit of illustrating our opinion of a doubtful yarn by saying, “Ah! you thought like—–dreamt when you studied that up.”
      There was one man who could never pray without weeping. His voice would grow husky and broken and his petition always ended in a heart-broken sob. If that many wasn’t a Christian I never knew one.
Good men they were. I have not mentioned a tithe of them. The subject is too big for me. I cannot write of things that touch such tender chords, and wake such sacred memories. All that was best in my wasted life is interwoven with the story of old Salem. How often in my wanderings have I cast my longing eyes thitherward, and sighed to think of the days that are past forever more.

“Blest scenes of enjoyment long have we been parted,

My hopes almost gone, and my parents no more;
And now as an exile, forelorn, broken-hearted,
I wonder alone on a far distant shore.”

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