Hart County was created by an act of the legislature that was introduced on December 7, 1853 and passed in February of 1854. The county of Hart and the town of Hartwell were named for Nancy Hart, a famous patriot of the American Revolution. The land was part of a tract given by the Cherokee Indians in 1783.
On May 12, 185,100 acres of land were purchased on which to locate the county seat . Lots were set aside for churches and schools in the planning. Originally a lot on the corner of Howell and Carter streets was set aside for the Methodists but in 1859 was sold and our present location was purchased.
The Hartwell Methodist Episcopal Church, South was instituted in 1854. The Reverend Howell Parks served as Senior Pastor and the Reverend William S. Turner as the Junior Pastor. The church was on the Howell Circuit, which was composed of Hartwell, Bethesda, Cokesbury, Providence, Macedonia, Mt. Zion, and later was to include New Harmony and Liberty Hill.
The Charter members included John B. Benson, Mrs. Elizabeth Benson,Col. P.E. Devant, Mrs. P.E. Devant, John R. Kay, Mrs. Lucinda Kay, Fred Hodges, Mrs. Martha Hodges, James Jones, Mrs. Mary Louisa Jones, Thomas M. Holland, Mrs. Julia Holland, Miss Mary Ellen Holland, Miss Julia Caroline Holland, Chesley L. Scott, Mrs. Eliza Scott, Fred Stephenson, Mrs. Mary Stephenson, and J.G. Justice.
Having no church building, services were held in the temporary courthouse, a wooden structure on the northeast corner of the public square. When the first brick courthouse in the center of the square was finished in 1858, the court room was used as a temporary place for Sunday School and worship.
The first church building was built by John R. Kay in 1859. It was a large frame building painted white. It had large windows with a tall steeple. This was the only church to be built in Hartwell until after the War Between the States.The use of the building was extended to other denominations.
One early pastor observed, ” Our church had a small membership, but was composed of early Christians anxious to accomplish the greatest good for the community.”
During the 1880’s the building was remodeled. In 1891 a new bell was purchased for the church. The bell alone (without the fixtures) weighed 1050 pounds. It was “made of the best bell metal and had the tone of A flat.” The original bell was given to the First Presbyterian Church for their new building.
Through the years these bells have tolled, calling men to prayer at church. The present bell has been used to declare the coming of peace at the closing of two world wars.
During these early years the church remained a part of a circuit, with preaching services being held once a month. The Hartwell Sun of January 17, 1877 showed in the religious directory, with H.T. Norman as pastor, the following schedule: Bethesda, 1st Sunday, Hartwell, 2nd Sunday Mt. Zion, 2nd Sunday (4PM), Redwine, 3rd Sunday, Macedonia, 3rd Sunday (4PM), and Providence, 4th Sunday.
The Hartwell Sun observed on May 21, 1897, “Nothing can avert it! A building boom is on in Hartwell. During the summer the Methodists will build a handsome brick church edifice on Howell Street, a number of brick and stone buildings are being built around the square, replacing the old wooden ones. Many nice residences are being built.”
Our part of the “boom” was the building of our present sanctuary. The Reverend C.A. Jamison was the pastor at the start of construction and the Reverend T. J. Warlick was in charge at completion in 1898. The Gothic style plan was by Willis F. Denney, architect of Atlanta. A young German interior decorator, Mr. Didscheuneit of Atlanta, had charge of all painting and woodwork. The sanctuary was painted a soft shade of rose with white fringe around the walls where they joined the ceilings.
The art glass windows made of Tiffany glass were executed by W.R. Orr Company of Atlanta. The memorial window to the Bensons was designed by D.H. Schurman. The large front window in memory of John R. Kay was donated by the citizens of Hartwell.
To make room for this new building the old one had to be removed. The building was sold at public auction on July 17, 1897, at 11:00 AM. A.G. McCuy bought the building to be converted into other buildings. The Hartwell Sun of July 1897 said, “The Methodist Church steeple was pulled down by horse power on Monday morning. Many hearts were saddened to see the sacred old edifice, the first church in town, dismantled.”
The September 3, 1897 issue of the Sun stated in an article, “The new Methodist Church is now in process of construction. The basement is being laid in Elberton granite and will show several feet above the ground. This together with the slate roof will give the appearance of strength and massiveness. The style of architecture is gothic which will always be popular and appropriate for church buildings. The auditorium will have a seating capacity of 450 with elevated floor after the amphitheater style. The lecture room, separated from the auditorium by rolling partitions, will have a seating capacity of 250 and will be provided with an organ and other conveniences, and will be used for Sunday School, prayer meeting, and all other purposes except preaching. For convenience and to avoid use of the main heater, it will be made comfortable in cold weather by a stove. This is an excellent idea, as the main auditorium will be kept nice and in good condition with much less sexton work. The north and east fronts will present a handsome appearance with a symmetrical tower 85 feet high. The edifice will be entered by 3 large vestibules, and the largest congregation will have no inconvenience in entrance or exit.”
While the church was under construction a special side track of the Hartwell Railroad was laid from Hodges Park down West Howell Street to the church to bring car loads of brick, granite, slate and other building supplies. The Methodist Church became the first building in Hartwell other than the Hartwell Mill to have electricity. Through these early years and until about the middle of this century, the Hartwell Church was connected with the Hartwell Camp Grounds. Services were held for a week including the first Sunday of August. Many of our families “tented” at the camp ground. The camp ground became the youth center of the Athens Elberton District for many years. The camp ground was sold to the Menonite Church in 1988.
Five Bishops have preached at Hartwell First Methodist: Bishops George Foster Pierce, June 1874; Lucis Holsey in the 1880’s; Arthur J. Moore, July 1941; Joel McDavid in the 1980’s; and Lindsey Davis in 2002.
Bishop Moore’s second time in Hartwell was for the opening of our educational building. This three story structure was built in 1952. The Reverend W.M. Barnett was pastor at this time.
The present parsonage was built in 2002. Previously, the parsonage was located at 415 West Howell Street, having been built in 1953 while the Reverend Louis F. Huckaby was pastor. There was an addition to this parsonage during the ministry of the Reverend Robert A. Kerr. On March 28, 2004, the former parsonage was re-consecrated and renamed the Margaret Kennedy O’Neal Youth Center. Today, the “O’Neal House” is used for youth and young adult ministries, as well as Stephen Ministry meetings. The only other parsonage was the house located at the corner of Franklin and Chandler Streets.
The sanctuary was completely redone during the ministry of the Reverend Hubert L. Flanagan, Jr. in 1963. There was an addition to the parsonage during the ministry of the Reverend Robert A. Kerr.
The 1980’s could be characterized as the building and upgrading of facilities. Under the able leadership of Reverend David B. Sargeant, who along with some of the laity, contributed much of the physical workmanship of the ground level of the education building. There was a three stage building program begun. The first stage was the building of the gym and family life center. The second phase was the complete renovation of the educational building and the third phase was the remodeling of the sanctuary. Phase one and the first floor of the education building were completed during the tenure of the Reverend David Sargeant. The top two floors of the educational building and the sanctuary renovation were completed during the tenure of Reverend Larry W. Rary in 1988.
Also in 1988 as a result of memorial gifts a 30 passenger new church bus was purchased and led to the development of the “Sojourners” travel club. Memorial gifts provided for the purchase of handbells and two handbell choirs were formed under the direction of Mrs. Lynne Glasco. The same year a new Grand Piano and safety covering for the beautiful stained glass windows were secured from memorials.
1989 marked the year of retirement for Mrs. Maryleene Basinger thus ending a long and fruitful term of dedicated service in music to the children and adults of Hartwell First. The children will long remember the “Wonderful Wednesday” program started by Reverend Hugh Cauthen and Maryleene. Maryleene’s fine piano playing also leaves many inspiring memories in the hearts of the congregation.
The United Methodist Church has evolved from several mergers during the years of Hartwell First. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, came from the split that occurred in the North and South in 1844. The two churches, along with the Methodist Protestant Church merged in 1939 to form the Methodist Church. The Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church merged in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church.
The dates and facts of history do not reflect the true story of the congregation of Hartwell First as much as the statement by an early pastor describing her as a church “composed of earnest Christians anxious to accomplish the greatest good for the community.” The First Church of Hartwell has always been active in programs of mission and service.
In 1987, Hartwell First United Methodist Church was awarded a listing on the National Historical Registry along with other buildings in the Historical District of Hartwell. It is from this stability of a rich heritage that we are moving into the future to meet the needs of our growing community.
Hartwell First United Methodist Church is a church steeped in a rich history and moving into the future of serving steadily growing Hartwell into the 21st century!