By JOYANNA LOVE
Photos by JOYANNA LOVE and KEITH MCCOY
In the 1800s, many passengers got off the train in Maplesville at the depot.
Some of them felt something was missing from the scene as they surveyed the town. There was not a church in sight.
The Methodist congregation decided to change that by moving their existing sanctuary closer to the railroad tracks.
Current Pastor Barry Holmes and his wife Cheryl have been researching and learning the history of the building since coming to the church three years ago.
“We tried to talk to people that have been around along time… Bobby Seales has kind of told us about things around town. He knows the history of the church, too,” Cheryl Holmes said.
Jewel Smith has also shared a lot of information.
“She is probably the one that has been in the church the longest,” Cheryl Holmes said.
In 1992, the church was added to the Alabama Historic Register, according to a program meeting of the West Alabama conference that was held at the church and is now displayed on a wall of the sanctuary.
A historic marker outside the church describes it as “an excellent example of the one-room Gothic Revival-style church buildings which once were built throughout the South.” Heart pine from a local sawmill was used to construct the church.
The church was originally built in 1871 where a cemetery is today.
“I usually tell people when they want to find out how old a place is go find the cemetery because people were usually buried in the churchyard,” Barry Holmes said. “The churchyard is where you wanted your ancestors buried as close as possible to the church.”
Holmes tells people when they walk in the door they are walking back in time.
Much of the interior is original with a few repairs being made here and there over the years. The original pews created by Thomas Gandy Sr. and his son Thomas Gandy Jr. are still used in the sanctuary. Gandy Sr.’s great-great-great-granddaughter attends the church today.
Barry Holmes said he thinks Maplesville Methodist Church, first called Methodist Episcopal Church South, is the oldest church in town.
Initially several denominations, primarily Baptist and Methodist according to Barry Holmes, used the building and it was even used as a school at one time. Maryellen Higginbotham, a preservation and design consultant, said in a 1993 speech that it was “the only church of its type remaining in Chilton County and one of the best preserved of its era in the state.”
Sporadic records for the church from as far back as 1879 are still kept in the church office. In 1879, W.A. Montgomery was the pastor. He also served Plantersville, Pleasant Valley, Salem, New Hope, Pine Hill, Isabella and Pleasant Grove. The original records for the church were thought to have been destroyed in a fire. Cheryl Holmes said reporting is mostly done electronically now. Today, the church has its own pastor.
The church was moved to its present location in 1888.
Moving the church was quite a process.
“It is said that the existing church was dismantled at the cemetery site, each part numbered and the reassembled at the present site. Mr. G. W. Suttles is reported to have been the carpenter and to have been assisted by Mr. H.C. Bearden,” Higginbotham said.
She said the new location for the church was purchased for $40 from Nancy Goodwin.
After World War II, a fellowship hall and kitchen were added. As men returned from the war, birth rates increased and so did the number of those attending the historic church.
“The major growth of this church took place at that time. That was in the late 1940s,” Barry Holmes said.
A prayer path and garden were added in the 1990s.
“It’s a great feel it has a park component to it. It’s a great place. I encourage people to come over and have a picnic and just enjoy the setting,” Barry Holmes said.
Barry Holmes said sometimes people have the misconception that the building is a historical landmark and nothing more.
Today, the church sits on four acres. Plans are in the works for community outreach and converting a house on the property for ministry use. The Pantry of Love, a free little pantry started by the church, is one of the most recent community outreach projects.