Published Saturday, November 24, 2012
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Union Chapel United Methodist Church is located just down the road from the 4-H center at Rock Eagle near Eatonton, and the historic church sometimes offers a glimpse into Georgia’s rich heritage for visiting 4-H’ers.
The church also has some ties to the Coweta County area. Among its pastors were Henry Milton Quillian, who served as a pastor in Grantville; William Asbury Parks, who filled the pulpit at Jones Chapel United Methodist Church at Madras; and Eustace W. Speer, who twice was the Methodist parson in Whitesburg.
The church near Eatonton – and the extensive cemeteries surrounding it – offer opportunities for insight into what life and death meant to Georgians starting in the 1850s. The grounds have been used for 4H programs.
The Rock Eagle 4-H Center scheduled a tour of Union Chapel’s historic cemeteries as part of an activity on Oct. 15 of last year.
Sharon Dowdy of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences said the tour was organized by the Rock Eagle 4-H Center Environmental Education program.
Participants took “a short hike from the 4-H center to the cemeteries,” Dowdy said. At Union Chapel, tour participants had an opportunity to “learn the art of gravestone rubbing and epitaph writing,” she added.
The program included “a discussion of the symbolism and customs inherent in a Southern folk cemetery,” Dowdy said. There also was a visit to Rock Eagle’s Natural History Museum.
On April 28, 1855, Irby Hudson Scott deeded 3.75 acres to the trustees of the church that became Union Chapel. “The church was formed from two small churches in this area, the Bethel Church and Rock Chapel,” according to a 1980 church history by Cynthia Anne Fuller.
The name came about because the “two churches united as one,” Fuller explained.
“Union Chapel was made of the very best pine lumber. The sills and frame work, pews, ceiling and window facings were hand hewn and pinned,” Fuller noted. The triple-hung windows and the doors were made in Augusta and had to be hauled to the remote church site by horse and wagon.
Scott was the first member listed on the oldest existing membership roll – dated 1856. At that time, the church had 117 members – 54 men and 63 women.
Although the original church building is still in use, it has been altered several times over the years. In 1985, “the pulpit which was between the two front doors was removed,” Fuller wrote. “A new one was built, and a communion rail was installed at the other end of church.”
At that time, the pews were arranged in a different way, and one of the three church doors was closed. New shutters were installed.
Fuller noted that much of the work was funded through a bequest from Mrs. Emiline Wright.
A school was established in the community in 1913. When consolidation led to its closure in 1946, Union Chapel began using the old school building for Sunday school space.
It was also in 1946 that the church was wired for electricity – and when runners were placed in aisles and the pulpit area was carpeted. About that time, the church was given new pulpit chairs and a bookcase, and the church’s mid-19th century Bible was rebound.
Three Sunday school rooms were added shortly before the church celebrated its centennial in 1955.
Fuller noted that “the first message” at Union Chapel in 1855 was brought by Henry Morton, who served the congregation for 14 years. Another early pastor was Speer, who was pastor at Union Chapel from 1872-1875.
Speer began pastoring in 1847. After leaving Union Chapel, he was assigned to First Methodist in Atlanta for year. Speer then spent six years as a professor at the University of Georgia.
When he returned to fulltime ministry in 1882, he was pastor at Whitesburg Methodist, serving in 1882-1883. He returned to Whitesburg for his final pastorate in 1889-1890.
William Asbury Parks, who served as pastor at Union Chapel in 1885, also had ties to Whitesburg through his wife, Carroll County native Ann D. Moore. Parks was born in 1834 in Florence, Ala. and married Moore in 1865.
When he was a boy, his great-grandfather Henry Parks, was still living. Henry Parks, a native Virginian, was a minuteman during the Revolutionary War and was wounded at the Battle of King’s Mountain. A military comrade of Henry Parks told Parks’ son: “A braver man and a better soldier than your father, never lived. ...He was an utter stranger to fear.”
William A. Parks’s obituary stated that “early in life he united with the Methodist church.” He taught school at Ebenezer in Forsyth County at one time. He spent three years as the agent for a home for retired Methodist ministers.
In 1878-1879 he was the pastor at Jones Chapel and at Palmetto Methodist Church.
“As a young minister, he emigrated to Texas where he filled several important charges,” according to his obituary. In 1861, as the Civil War was beginning, “he was appointed chaplain of Waul’s Texas Legion, and he served throughout the entire war.”
He was a representative of the American Bible Society in Georgia and other Southern states for several years after the Civil War’s end. “It was, however, as a preacher of the gospel that Mr. Parks’ greatest work was done,” his obituary stated. He served “on circuits, stations and districts, some of his most important work being as presiding elder of the Gainesville and Dalton districts.”
“His preaching was notably effective. With a voice that was excellent in its carrying powers, with clear-cut thoughts and with words that were simple and active, with convictions that were never lukewarm, with a purpose in preaching the Gospel that was always definite and distinct in his sermons, and always endowed with unction, his preaching won many to Christ, and left, life-long impressions on those who heard him,” wrote Lovick P. Winter, a fellow Methodist minister.
“I have known few men that were worthier than Billy Parks,” George G. Smith, Methodist pastor and historian and contemporary of Parks, wrote after his death. “As far as I know, he had no enemies. He was an optimist of the best type.”
Parks died on June 24, 1910 and was buried in Whitesburg. Anna Maria Green Cook in her 1925 book, “The History of Baldwin County,” wrote that in the Methodist church in Milledgeville there “is a beautiful memorial window in honor of Rev. William A. Parks, who was for 54 years a minister, and who was greatly beloved in Milledgeville and throughout the entire State of Georgia, where he had labored for over half a century.”
Henry Milton Quillian, who came from a large family of Methodist ministers, served Union Chapel in 1891. He was born in 1851 at Mossy Creek in White County and died in Blakely in 1931.
He served as a Methodist pastor from 1876 until two years before his death. In 1895-1896, Quillian was the pastor at the Methodist church in Grantville and at Prospect, now Allen-Lee, in nearby Lone Oak.
“Quillian attended the Centennial Exposition at which Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone. Fifty years later, he attended the Sesquicentennial Exposition where he saw a successful demonstration of the television,” noted Harold Lawrence in his 1995 book, “Methodist Preachers in Georgia.”
Winter wrote that the succession of Methodist pastors in several families, including those of Parks and Quillian, “affords enduring evidence of the worth of a Christian heritage and training.”
Fuller in her Union Chapel historical tribute wrote of “those before us who raised the roof, stoked the fire and kept the faith.” A September 2001 historical tablet stated: “For generations, Union Chapel Church and school have been important parts of this community.”
Eustace Speer, William Asbury Parks and Henry Milton Quillian were part of that enduring ministry in rural Putnam County and also touched lives in and around Coweta.