Liberty Baptist Church | Brooks County, GA | c. 1843
Down in South Georgia, just miles from the line with Florida, you will find this impressive structure down an old dirt road. Standing tall and proud to this day, she reminds us of a small community that used to be. And while you might speed past this place without a second thought, there is a history here that I think is worth remembering.
A Community Emerges
Originally known as Key, this small hamlet was located at a crossroads that was important to travelers making their way to Thomasville Georgia. Around 1825, settlers of German descent move to the area and settled along the Coffee Road/Old Spanish Trail that came through here. The community, which was established as a post office in 1833, came to be called Grooverville after the Groover (Gruber) Family. The area grew as additional families moved to the area including the Ramseys, Lintons, and Joiners, among others. In 1859, the town was officially incorporated, and at that time, there were two churches, a Masonic lodge, two physicians’ offices, a blacksmith, merchants, an academy, and a few substantial homes.
A Church is Born
In 1841, a local woman named Nancy Cone Hagan asked to be dismissed from nearby Mt. Moriah Baptist Church over theological arguments about missionary work and Sunday School. In 1843, Mrs. Cone founded a new congregation that came to be called Liberty Baptist along with 8 others members. Later, Nancy would be described as” a woman of unusual mentality and force of character.”
Some of the founding members were members of the Groover Family, as well as Elisha Peck Smith, Mary Smith, James Baker, Amanda Denmark, R.T. Stanaland, and Sam Whitfield. In the early days, they met on the King Plantation just, which spanned most of Thomas (now Brooks) County just outside Grooverville.
In 1857, Liberty Baptist had enough numbers to build a proper church and so, the trustees bought one acre of land from the estate of Malachi Groover closer to the crossroads of Grooverville. A new building was constructed of local materials at a size of 40 by 50 feet, made of sturdy pine timbers. With both Gothic Revival and Greek Revival elements, it featured a steeple, high gothic windows, and heart pine columns at the entrance. The first meeting in the new church was held on June 19, 1858, with preaching by Elder W.J. Bluett. Later services were conducted by Pastor R.J. May, John Butler Lacy, Jesse Goodman, and Thomas Long, some of whom were circuit-riding preachers. Nancy Hagan served as clerk of the church she founded.
The Enslaved Members of Liberty Baptist
The designer of the building is unknown but the labor to build it likely came from paid local craftsmen as well as laborers who were enslaved on the surrounding plantations. Church records indicate that enslaved persons were among the first members, beginning with a man named John Norris in 1844. In 1857, it was recorded that “Sister Jenny, a colored woman, property of William Stanley, was received into the fellowship of the church.” To accommodate worship for these members, a separate exterior door led to an access stair up to the balcony, referred to as a ‘slave gallery,’ with graduated pews where enslaved members would sit during worship.
After The War
The small community that once thrived at Grooverville suffered greatly after the war and during the Reconstruction Era. While many left the area for better opportunities, a handful of families stayed through the end of the 1800s. In the years immediately following the Civil War, newly freed people continued to worship at Liberty Baptist for a short time until they were released from the membership rosters in order to form First Elizabeth Baptist Church.
Although membership declined, Liberty Baptist continued to operate with a congregation that may have been diminished in size, but not in pride. In 1952, they made updates and repairs to the building, including a modern extension that would house Sunday School classes and a fellowship hall. But as the years went on, the congregation dwindled as the town all but disappeared. In 1995, Grooverville lost its town charter, and services were discontinued at Liberty Baptist Church. Today, the church is maintained and well looked-after and occasionally used for reunions and gatherings.
Despite more than 160 years of harsh Georgia storms and Summers, the church stands much like it did when it was built, with almost no alterations to the exterior or interior worship space. Liberty Baptist is a rare example of antebellum architecture in rural Georgia that still stands today, due to the fine craftsmanship and sturdy materials like the southern longleaf pine (now almost extinct) that was harvested to build it.