For two centuries, the Baptists have been the dominant denomination in Laurens County. A century ago, the county’s largest church celebrated the day when their new church was officially debt free. Although most of its early records have been destroyed, Dublin’s First Baptist Church was one of the leading non-big city churches in the state of Georgia in the first two decades of the 20th Century. A century ago, this week, the congregation of the First Baptist Church celebrated the burning of the mortgage on their seven-year-old sanctuary.
The Baptists were already congregating on a flat piece of land in the rolling hills of northern Laurens County at the place they called “The Poplar Springs” when Laurens County was created in the late autumn of 1807. Although worship services were randomly taking places in the county seat of Dublin, twenty years would pass before a movement to establish a Baptist church began. In fact, churches at Bethlehem and Blue Water would begin services before the Baptists in Dublin.
Very little is known of the early years of the First Baptist Church, the records having long been destroyed. The earliest services, conducted by visiting ministers, were held in private homes and in the courthouse. The church goes back at least to 1826. The first building, a primitive structure for a still somewhat primitive community of the mid 1820s, was built in 1827 or in the next couple of years on what is now Bellevue Avenue between North Church Street and Maiden Lane.
According to tradition, the First Baptist Church was chartered on the first Sunday, September 6, 1829 by Mrs. Thomas Moore, Mrs. Eli Warren, D.G. Daniel, Mrs. D.G. Daniel and Mary J. Bettison Daniel.
In the winter of 1831, Baptists, a good mid day’s ride from existing churches, asked the membership of Poplar Springs to help them organize a new church in Dublin. That same year, the church was invited to join the Ebenezer Baptist Association. By 1840, the church counted 37 members. The following year, Jeremiah Yopp donated an acre of land on the western end of the town where the church was already located to Bolling Hobbs and John Woodard, Deacons of the First Baptist Church.
Membership numbers hovered around the 50 to 90 mark until the beginning of the Civil War. Ironically in 1857, there were 39 Negro members of the church. The aftermath of the war saw the end of integrated churches. Former slaves formed their own church, the First African Baptist Church a few blocks away, in the years just after the end of the war.
As Dublin’s townsfolk sought to recover from the literal destruction of their ways of life after the war, the Baptists scraped together enough money to construct their second building on the site, located closer to the intersection of Bellevue with Maiden Lane than the present structure. The 40 foot by 60 foot wooden building, shared with the Methodists until they completed their first church building in the mid 1890s, lasted until 1908 when the current church was completed. The old structure was moved to North Decatur Street and used by the Congregation of the Second African Baptist or Scottsville Baptist Church.
The first minister was simply known as Rev. Buchanan, his first name being lost to eternity. Jordan Baker came next followed by Rev. Hammack. The fourth minister, Rev. James Williamson, whose Scottish brogue “added interest to his sermons,” was a native of Glascow who traveled from Nova Scotia to New Orleans to Savannah preaching the gospel. Rev. J. McDonald, of whom very little is known, came next.
The Rev. David Garnto Daniell, the first native of Laurens County to serve as minister, began preaching in the mid 1830s. Rev. Daniell left for Atlanta, where he became the first pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. The Rev. Larry Hobbs, also a native of Laurens County, served from 1839 to 1840, until he was succeeded by his brother, Rev. Bolling Hobbs, who served from 1841 to 1854.
Among the early church officials were deacons, Bolling Hobbs, John Woodard, F.C. Hightower and Nunae Scarborough. Bolling Hobbs, Elijah Benton, Wright Stanley, M.L. Stanley and R.A. Stanley were the earliest clerks. They were followed by W.B. Lee and William Jordan Baker and William D. Horne. There are no surviving records to indicate who served the church during the Civil War.
At the end of the war, the Rev. Edward B. Barrett took over as the pastor of the church. Rev. Barrett, who had served under Generals Jackson and Hill as Chaplain of the 45th Georgia Infantry, served the church for four years and the community and as a school teacher and a state representative. Washington Geiger completed the 1860s as the pastor.
Rev. Washington L. Geiger
Without a shadow of a doubt, the most well-known and well-liked pastor of the church was the Rev. Whiteford S. Ramsay, (Left) who came to Dublin as an 18-year-old school teacher, briefly served as Lt. Colonel of the 14th Georgia Infantry during the opening months of the Civil War. Rev. Ramsay returned to Dublin to devote his time to God and teaching school. In 1870, he began his 22-year-tenure as the Pastor of First Baptist Church, the longest in the church’s nearly two hundred year history. Rev. Ramsay organized the current day Laurens County School system. It is said that when he died as many as 10,000 people came to pay their respects.
Ramsay was succeeded by Needham Hurst, C.W. Minor, J.Ware Brown and E.W. Marshall during what has been described as a troubled time of the church’s existence. As Dublin rose to prominence in business, agricultural, and political stature in the state, the First Baptist Church was able to hire many of the outstanding ministers in Georgia, including James C. Solomon, Robert E. Neighbor, Millard A. Jenkens, Allen Fort, William A. Taliafero and Timothy W. Callaway.
The crowning accomplishment of the membership of the First Baptist Church was the construction of the present church in 1908. This Gothic-style architecture church, modeled after Melrose Abbey in Scotland, borrowed designs from superior functional churches around the country.
The sanctuary’s original seating capacity was 650, exclusive of the gallery seating. The Baptist were right proud of their new building, and rightfully so. The new structure was the first church building in the Southern Baptist Convention to have an Educational Building and a departmentalized Sunday School. The Sunday School auditorium seated more than 200 people. The Sunday School rooms numbered fourteen. The original church called for a 75' x 100' structure, covered with repressed brick and trimmed and capped in Georgia marble. Two 40 foot towers adorn the North and South corners, while a 60-foot tower accents the church’s main entrance.
So, on this the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Dublin’s First Baptist Church, here is to a third century of serving our community and our Lord.