By Peggy Sommer, Church Historian
Watkinsville Methodist Church 1802-1861.
Records, dating back to 1802, show Isaac Cook as pastor of Watkinsville Methodist Church, which was in the Appalachee District at that time. There are no other records of the first organization of this church. In 1835, the Watkinsville Circuit was created, and comprised of churches at Salem (southern Oconee County) to ones in Jackson County. The Georgia Methodist Churches at that time were under the jurisdiction of the South Carolina Conference. Georgia's first Annual Conference was held in Macon in 1831.
Church membership requirements were quite strict in those days and the records show members "under censure for drunkenness - Expelled." Members were also expelled for "Dancing" and "attending the circus."
The first site of a Methodist Church in Watkinsville was in the old part of the Watkinsville City Cemetery on Simonton Bridge Road. This meeting house burned in 1830. The second site, behind the Courthouse, on Main Street was on a plot of land 40' by 46'. This area is where the new section of the Courthouse currently stands. It was used by an African American congregation after the Methodist moved to their next location. This building was torn down in 1922.
The Watkinsville Methodist Episcopal Church, South 1861-1893.
The third building, located on the corner of Main Street and Whitehall Road (currently Watkinsville Frist Christian Church), was built in 1861 by the slaves of William Murray on 0.7 acres purchased from Richard Richardson for $100. Today the chestnut hand-hewn sills are exposed in the basement. The pillars of the church contain hand molded bricks. There was a balcony for slaves in the original building. During the Civil War, a flank of General Sherman's army led by Major General Stoneman bivouacked in Watkinsville, and the legend is that the horses were stabled in the church building. In 1887 following the courthouse fire the church was used as a courthouse and the balcony was used to store court documents.
The Watkinsville First Methodist Church, built in 1893 (Now Ashford Memorial Methodist)
The fourth site of the church, the current Ashford Memorial Church, is on the corner of Harden Hill Road and Main Street. Two Oconee County brothers, Nathaniel and Richard Richardson, who were house and bridge builders, were chosen to build the semi-gothic structure. The brothers were schooled in New York and chose the blueprints of the church from an architecture book by Paley. The heart of pine timbers used for the exposed beams in the sanctuary were dragged by oxen from South Carolina. This building, built in 1893 on 100 by 150 feet of land, was given by A.W. Ashford, his brothers and two uncles as a memorial to Louisa Booth Ashford. In 1897 the old church building and property were sold to the Christian Church for $500. In 1935, the Men's Bible Class under the leadership of their teacher, Miriam Downs, decided to excavate the basement, making more classrooms. Much effort was expended, as most of the dirt had to be dug and hauled by hand, until there was head room enough for mules and drag pans. The annex building, which added six new rooms, was built in 1955 using $10,487.52 willed to the church by Warnie Edge Phillips, a beloved Watkinsville School teacher. This church and congregation grew to the point where in 1963 it became a station church, which meant that its preacher was no longer responsible for Ray's and Johnson's services as well.
The Watkinsville First United Methodist church sanctuary today.
The decision was made in 1981 to build a new larger church on 7.407 acres on New High Shoals Road, the fifth and present location of the Watkinsville First United Methodist Church. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in September of that year. Phase 1, a Fellowship Hall, kitchen, nurseries and classrooms, was completed and consecration services were held by Bishop Joel McDavid on September 12, 1982.
On Easter Sunday, April 22, 1984, the groundbreaking ceremony was held for Phase 2. On December 23, 1984 the sanctuary was consecrated and the large stained glass window behind the pulpit was dedicated in the memory of Mildred Dillard Bishop. In December 1985, the stained glass windows were added to the front of the sanctuary and handbells were purchased with memorial funds provided by Phyllis Fluevog. In 1987, pew Bibles were purchased and pew screens added in memory of Grady A. Oaks.
By 1992 the church's growth led to a task force to study the future space needs of the church. Their February 1993 report that the church needed to start making expansion plans led to the establishing of a building committee. A capital funds campaign with the theme of "Raising Faith, Raising Christians" was started in the fall of 1999, and another set of plans considered. The opportunity to purchase the Amborse property between the church and the bypass led to a final revision of the plans. The official ground breaking ceremony for the addition to the church was held July 9, 2000. The new classrooms were consecrated June 3, 2001. A paved parking lot was created on the Ambrose property in the fall of that same year.
The church went through a similar process of making plans and revising them before deciding on its current building project, which will add a new fellowship hall and space for the youth on the second floor. Ground breaking was held January 10, 2010.