Worship area in town of Louvale harkens back to an earlier time

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A large tree shades the porch of the Antioch Institute at Louvale. Beyond the school is Antioch Primitive Baptist Church. The church founded the school, and the congregation originally met in the school building.

From Staff Reports
religion@newnan.com
The little town of Louvale offers visitors an opportunity to step back in time – to see a trio of churches and an old schoolhouse much as they were a century ago.
The heading on a marker placed by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission in 1986 puts it simply: “Louvale Church Row.” The three meetinghouses – Baptist, Primitive Baptist and Methodist – stand with an old school and the community cemetery on a strip of road just off Highway 27 in Stewart County, south of Columbus.
None of the three congregations began in Louvale. The town was originally called Antioch, and got its new name when the town developed at the terminus of the Savannah, Americus and Montgomery Railroad – often called the Little Sam – in 1886.
By that time, the Methodist and Primitive Baptist congregations had been around for half a century, and the Baptist congregation was more than 25 years old.
The oldest of the congregations, Marvin United Methodist Church, was founded 1830 at Green Hill, a community in Stewart County that has since disappeared. The church moved to Louvale in 1890, when the Victorian meetinghouse still in use was built.
Methodists came early to Stewart County. Loverd Bryan shared a memoir of early Methodism that was included in Sara Robertson Dixon’s 1958 “History of Stewart County.”

Bryan wrote that he brought his family to Stewart County in 1831 and found George Chapman, a Methodist missionary, already in the area.

“I proposed in 1836 to donate 100 acres of land on the center lot of land in the county, four miles east of Lumpkin, to be held and owned by the church, as long as it should be used regularly for Camp Meeting,” Bryan said. “My proposition was accepted, and the next year, a very large and commodious arbor, one hundred feet square, was built.”

Bryan noted Noah P. Smith “was in charge of the circuit” in Stewart County at that time. No doubt he was pastor of the congregation that became Marvin Methodist.

Smith led Camp Meeting in 1836. “This meeting lasted 10 days, and 115 were added to the church, some of whom, no doubt, are in that goodly land where Camp Meetings never break up,” Bryan wrote.

Smith was from Jasper County. He and his wife, Julia, married in 1820, but records do not show him pastoring before 1835 when he was in Stewart County.

Smith later pastored in west central Georgia. He served the Methodists in Greenville in 1844, in LaGrange in 1845-1846, in Zebulon and Fayetteville in 1847. He came to Newnan as pastor in 1848 and stayed for two years, and Smith also was the Methodist pastor in Palmetto in 1855-1856.

According to Harold Lawrence’s “Methodist Preachers in Georgia,” Smith was “found dead in bed” on Sept. 14, 1860.

Antioch Primitive Baptist Church has been at what is now Louvale the longest of the three churches, but made two stops along the way. Founded 1832 in Pleasant Valley, the church moved to Moccasin Gap in 1842 and then to Antioch – now Louvale – nine years later. According to the HCC marker, the present Antioch church was erected around 1885 “to replace [the] original log structure.”

Adjacent to the Primitive Baptist church building is Antioch Institute. The frame school building was built in the 1850s and operated by Antioch Primitive Baptist Church “until it was sold to Stewart County in 1895,” according to the historical marker.

The simple frame school building “is believed to have been used for church services until the handsome building to the south was erected for that purpose about 1885,” according to HCC. “The county operated the Louvale High School here until 1928 when the upper grades were transferred to Lumpkin. The elementary school remained until 1942.”

The old school facility was later used as a community center. During the 1980s, it was home for the Sybil and John B. Richardson School of Sacred Harp Singing.

New Hope Baptist Church was constituted in 1860. According to Dixon’s county history, New Hope’s “first house of worship was on the old Lumpkin-Cusseta Road two and one-half miles from the present site.” Minutes from the church’s early history were lost years ago, she noted.

“The church moved in 1896 and built where it now stands in the little town of Louvale,” Dixon wrote. “Brother Bussey was the first pastor after the removal to Louvale.”

Members of one of the New Hope families later lived in Coweta County. Dr. Walter Skinner, 78, of Moreland visited Louvale when he was growing up.

“I went there when I was a kid and I went as a teenager,” he remembered. Mattie Lena Shirling Skinner, who was married to Skinner’s father’s twin brother, had grown up in Louvale and was a devout Baptist.

“Aunt Mattie Lena’s homeplace was on the left, and the church was one the right,” Skinner said. He remembered his aunt as a strong-willed woman with lots of influence over her brothers and her husband.

The Shirlings – the surname is also something spelled Shierling – were a church-going family and had strong ties to Louvale.

“The boys went in the Army,” Skinner recalled. When he taught for Georgia State University at Ft. Benning, Skinner reconnected with one of the Shirling brothers who was an Airborne quartermaster.

“When I needed sugar, her brother brought me a 50-pound bag of sugar,” Skinner recalled.

Someone in the Shirling family – perhaps a grandfather of Mattie Lena Skinner – made a patent medicine called Shirling’s Salve. “It was a salve – kind of like Cloverine. They made it at the store on the south side of town and sold it,” Walter Skinner recalled.

“Daddy thought it was wonderful. You’d put it on a sore, and it would heal up,” he said, adding that the salve’s main ingredient was petroleum jelly.

Skinner recalled that on his teenage trip to Louvale, he hoped to find the recipe for the salve – dreaming of the money that could be made. He recalled that Cloverine advertised in comic books at the time, encouraging youngsters to sell the stuff.

“If you sold enough, you’d get a BB gun,” Skinner remembered.

Mattie Lena Skinner’s husband, William Martin Skinner, and Walter Skinner’s father, George Washington Skinner, were both loggers for decades. Both lived in Haralson for a time.

Later, Martin and Mattie Lena Skinner moved to Newnan. They lived close to downtown in “a big, two-story house you could rent back then for $10 or $12 a month,” Walter Skinner remembered.

Today, Louvale remains a quiet spot where pioneers and preachers of years past are easily remembered. The influence of the meetinghouses along church row continues to touch lives in many places.


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