History of Farmville Baptist Church        Written by Kathryn Arrington

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The early history of Farmville Baptist Church is from previous history documentation that was placed in the cornerstone on May 16, 1954, and from the History of East Liberty Baptist Association written by Brother Basil B. McGinty who was pastor of the church for 25 years. Also, further documentation of history of Farmville comes from newspaper articles and written stories from relatives or members who served at this Church and Farmville Community.

On March 24, 1832, the United States Government signed a treaty with the Creek Indian nation, known as the Treaty of Cusseta, Alabama. Among the counties established by the State Legislature at this time were Chambers, Russell, Tallapoosa, and Macon (Lee County did not come into being until 1866). Across the Chattahoochee River from West Georgia came families with wagons loaded with household, personal possessions, and livestock trailing behind. Baptists and Methodists for the most part brought the religion of the frontier with its enthusiasm and its tensions. From the time the settlers began building their log cabin homes from hewn logs and began planting crops, they gathered in the growing towns through East Alabama to plan the building of Churches. Farmville Baptist Church was established in 1835. From records that have been found, the land for Farmville Baptist Church and cemetery was donated by Phillip and Sidney Watkins. They are both buried in the Farmville cemetery. The land was presented to deacons Jacob Hughley, James S. Talbot, G. W. Shelton and J. T. Hester. The first building was said to have been an unpainted one room building facing south with two doors in the front with windows on the sides and heated by a wood stove. Also, a one room schoolhouse was located at the back of Farmville Church in which the children attended school up to the fourth grade. The fourth, fifth and sixth grade students were meeting in a tent outside the schoolhouse. When it rained the students had to hold their feet up there was so much water coming into the tent. Some of the names recorded in the school records were: Mae, Dolph, Hattie, Mary Ella, Irene, Tom, Lee, and Elaine Botsford; Ross and Emory Herring; Alice and Lillie Talbot; Leland Cooper; Hugh, Joe, and Herman Carroll; Ira, Homer, and Quinton Neighbors; and W. W., Glen, and Erin Bradley. These pupils attended the Farmville school about 1893 and their teacher was Mary E. Reese. She boarded in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Neighbors who lived in what once was known as the Lyman Pittman home (white house) located across from AU Fisheries. About this time the building was replaced with a larger one. The new school was later named Botsford School after the family who gave the land. The children played across from the front of the church in a large wooded area where the horses and buggies were hitched on Sunday. Botsford School was used as the community house.

In 1840, Farmville was received into the Liberty Baptist Association which had been organized in September of 1836. Willie B. Jones was pastor and the church had 36 members. In 1845, the Tuskegee Association was organized because of the great distances some of the delegates were having to travel to attend the association meetings. At this meeting a resolution was passed that more mission work be done among the Indians and African-Americans. Willie B. Jones was a strong supporter of this work, even though many of the early churches did not believe in missions.

In 1848, Farmville joined the Tuskegee Association and remained a member for 30 years. In 1878, Farmville was again received into the Liberty Association by letter. On September 23, 1883, the associational meeting was held at LaFayette Baptist church and three delegates from Farmville were present. The delegates present were Henry Cooper, J.A. Shelton, and J.I. Hester. These delegates pledged $30.00 to be used by the association for various causes sponsored by the association. During this time, W.M. Blackwelder was pastor from 1881-1885 and J.I. Bedell was the clerk at Farmville. The church had 82 members and 41 enrolled in Sunday School. Farmville was one of the few churches to have a Sunday School in those days. Although most churches reported no Sunday School, Farmville reported one almost from the beginning of its life as a church.

Pastor J.P. Hunter 1885-1887

Pastor E.F. Baber 1887-1889

Pastor A.S. Bannon 1889-1892

A larger, white frame building was built on the same site facing south in 1892/1893. It was heated with a wood stove.

On October 8, 1895, Farmville was host to the Liberty Association. The building was too small to hold the people present and a brush arbor (opened field/pasture) meeting had to be held for the overflow crowd. At that time, Farmville had 114 members with 37 enrolled in Sunday School and J.P. Hunter was the pastor from 1892-1900.

Pastor W.R. Whatley 1900-1907
 
An interesting incident happened when Reverend Bell was pastor (1907-1910 George L. Bell). He did not feel that the church was paying him enough so he mentioned this to one of the deacons. At the next conference, the deacon moved that the pastor’s salary be increased $5.00 per month (the church was having preaching services only once a month). When the motion was made another deacon arose and offered an objection, stating that he saw no reason for a raise and asked the preacher if he had a reason, whereupon the pastor said, “Brother Botsford, preaching has just riz.” The laughter almost broke up the meeting. Brother Botsford and Reverend Bell were both old men and very good friends, so Brother Botsford withdrew his objection and the raise was granted.
 

In 1910, messengers to the association were J.R. Evans and R.N. Botsford.  The pastor was George E. Brewer; 1910-1914. There were 120 members and 30 enrolled in Sunday School. Records show that $107.16 was given from Farmville for missions, but no mention was made about a pastor’s salary. 

Pastor R. F. Stuckey 1915

Pastor J. L. Ramsey 1916

In 1917, the church had 73 members with 84 enrolled in Sunday School and C. H. Reeb (1917) was the pastor and J.C. Wilson the clerk. Farmville was still a strong supporter of Sunday School work among the early churches.

On October 5, 1921, the 86th session of the association was held at Farmville while T.H. Landers was pastor from 1917-1925 and J.C. Talbot was clerk. The church had 85 members and 57 were enrolled in Sunday School. Brother Landers passed away in 1936. Pastor Basil B. McGinty served from 1926 until he resigned in 1950.

For several years before WWII, the church drifted aimlessly. During the depression a number of families moved away. There was a mission field on the edge of the community that the church tried to reach from time to time, but the building was poorly heated and inadequate. It was not attractive to the young people.

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Opelika – Auburn News article by Ann Sipperly (June 1985)

A fond memory of growing up by a relative in Farmville told about the church and the community was that everyone was busy with their own activities as all were farmers, but the church was the center of gatherings.

Margaret Bradley Earnest of Opelika recalls many memories of growing up in Farmville and the stories her mother told about the church and the community as a child. Mrs. Earnest’s great-great grandparents settled in Farmville and the fifth generation resides here today. Margaret’s parents were Fannie Mae Botsford and William Wilson Bradley. Her father and his brother A.G. Bradley ran the Bradley Brothers Gin and Bradley Brothers Farm in Farmville. Farmville was known as a caring community and people were always there to help, especially when needed in sickness and it seemed that nearly everyone was kin.

On Sunday dinners the entire congregation would go to someone’s home for dinner every Sunday following the service. Men would sit around and talk about crops, seeds, and the weather. The ladies compared notes on the families and there was handwork to show and compare. The children were sent in the yard to play. On one of these occasions, the children were playing in an open car when someone hit the gear. The car rolled down the road with all the children screaming. Fortunately, the last child jumped out as the car went over the embankment.

When revivals were held they would last a week or two with an evangelist preaching fiery sermons to stir the church membership. The baptism service was held at a spring pool nestled in the flat area below the hill from the church. Tall pines encircling the pool provided shade which kept the water cold. Mrs. Earnest remembers being immersed into the cold water. “It was breathtaking!” Mrs. Earnest remembers her Granny Cotton being baptized in a chair and hot rocks were placed in the spring to heat the water as she was “up in years.” The spring furnished water to the church, a home, and pastures. Also, it is noted that this spring was a watering place for Indians and a stage coach trail way.

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On a cold night in 1941, a small group lingered after services to discuss what could be done to increase the comfort at Farmville. They agreed that a new heating system was needed. “What we really need,” exclaimed one, “is a new church.” “With a steeple,” said another. Then and there a dream was born that did not fade. A fundraising committee was appointed and the building fund was started. The fund grew slowly and immediate actions seemed impossible. The new heater became absolutely necessary and a propane gas floor furnace was installed.

During the building program Brother McGinty resigned and Cecil Golden, a student at Howard College, became pastor in 1951. During 25 years of service to Farmville as pastor, Brother McGinty came to fill a place granted to few men. He loved and was loved by the people. He led in every enterprise. He was present at social gatherings and sickbeds. He officiated at weddings and funerals. He begged that his people visit the non-membered. He pleaded for a new church building long before they caught his spirit. He was an incalculable help in planning the church building. There was deep grief when circumstances dictated his resignation. He will ever be a strong influence at Farmville.

On January 14, 1951, just before Training Union, a person passing by noticed flames under the building and sounded the alarm. Almost immediately the whole structure was ablaze and minutes later the roof had fallen in. The church was destroyed by fire, possibly by a faulty heater. The first arrivals succeeded in salvaging the piano and five pews. People lingered until midnight discussing plans of action at this time. A building and finance committee were appointed. Immediately, the women began their operation of the Farmville Market. The Farmville Market was located on corner of Hwy 280/Hwy 147N Intersection where the Bradley Brothers gin was located across the road and the Historic “The Bottle” was located as well. The old gin office building from Bradley Brothers gin was moved across from “The Bottle” and served as a shed for the Farmville Market to be used each Saturday. The ladies baked cakes, pies, breads of all kinds and served Brunswick stew, sausages and also offered jellies, jams, fresh vegetables and anything else they had available on the farm. The funds from the Farmville Market paid for the new church building. Mrs. Margaret Earnest’s mother (Mrs. Mae Bradley) crocheted a bedspread and sold tickets for chances to win. The funds received from the crocheted bedspread were used to purchase stained glass windows for the church sanctuary.

Before the fire, the building fund had amounted to $4,000 and had been invested until such time as a new building could be started. Insurance on the church amounted to $1,000. The desires of the people indicated a building that would cost $25,000. Contributions were made, materials were given, and service time and labor were provided free of charge. These were from church members, community people, and friends.

The building committee worked tirelessly to complete the building. Professor W. B. McGehee, of Alabama Polytechnic Institute, contributed his services in drawing the plans and helped with the decorating scheme. The church is greatly indebted to Mr. J. E. Rice, retired contractor, who gave his time in supervising the masonry. Contractor for the carpentry was W.L. Rice. The work was financed by generous gifts of friends and members.

At first, no plans had been made to finish the basement because there seemed to be money available only to complete and furnish the sanctuary; however, there were materials left and it was finally agreed that the basement be completed. When homecoming was held in the basement, everyone rejoiced in the decision; however, the project used all the available cash in the building fund. The Church met in the Community Clubhouse (Botsford School) for 54 Sundays. On the 55th Sunday, Homecoming Services were held in the basement of the new brick church using 50 chairs, the five salvaged pews, and the piano from the old building. Nobody seemed to mind the drab plaster walls and lack of equipment. Following the services members and friends joined together for barbecue and singing then laying of the cornerstone was held in the afternoon.

Dr. A.H. Reid, secretary of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, visited the church and advised that the church borrow money for pews, pulpit furniture, and remaining essentials. His advice was followed although strong feelings against debt had been expressed by many of the members.

With a debt of $4,500, worshipping in a building valued at $45,000 with beautiful pews and furnishing and a competed basement, the people at Farmville felt that the Lord had built the church and He would lead in the realization of His plans for the future of the church.

On May 16, 1954, dedication services were held. Rufus B. Owen was pastor from 1952-1954. The new building was designed to face east with room on the north side for a pastorium at a later date. The building was a combination of Georgian and Colonial architecture. The dimensions were 40’ x 70’ and the auditorium 38’ x 45’. There were three front entrances, two opening into 8’ x 10’ anterooms. The seating capacity of the church was 200 and the choir loft seated 24. The exterior walls were built 12” thick…4” brick and 8” red clay tile. The interior walls were finished with plaster masonry. Ceilings throughout were finished with acoustical tile board. The baptistery was located at the rear of the choir with a dressing room on each side. Except for hardwood floors, all the lumber was donated by members of the church. The steeple rose 38’ above the roof and was built of cypress paneling and copper roofing. There were two stairways to the basement. In the basement were four Sunday School classrooms, an assembly room, a kitchen, and two restrooms. The church was heated with propane gas. Concrete walks inside a retaining wall lined the sides of the building.

Pastor Yancey Sanders – Jan-August 1955

Pastor U.W. Starnes 1955-1956

Pastor S. R. Inzer 1956-1959;

On March 24, 1957, at a regular business meeting of the church, a resolution was adopted by a vote of the adult members of the church to incorporate under the laws of the State of Alabama. A.C. Carter, Milligan Earnest, and C.B. Priester were to serve as trustees for five years each or until successors were elected.

In October of 1958, Farmville became a part of the Tuskegee Lee Association of which the church is still a member.

On December 13, 1959, the church borrowed $9,000 to build the pastorium. The pastorium was built in 1960. Don Evans (1960-1961) was the first pastor to live in it. By 1963, the church needed more Sunday School rooms. Several suggestions were made about what to do to solve the problem and in June a mission building was moved from Ridgecrest Baptist Church for $995. It was equipped and used until the building program in 1966.

On August 15, 1966, the church voted to borrow $104,000 with a bond issue at 6% interest through Auburn National Bank. The First National Bank of Montgomery was prime lender and Auburn National Bank was the paying agent. The money was borrowed to build the educational building at the back of the main church building. Lowell Ledbetter was pastor at this time and served from 1962-1971.

The educational building was added in 1966. The building programs were a lot of hard work, but a lot of Christian fellowship was also enjoyed by church members, community members, and friends. It paid off because today the church is debt free with small improvements and additions being made as money becomes available. The bond issue consisted of 156 bonds ranging in denomination from $100 to $1,000 to be paid in full by February 15, 1980. The bond issue was signed by the church trustees, the church treasurer, and the church clerk. These bonds were called sinking fund bonds and were paid off in 1978 or early 1979. At that time one bond could not be located or had not been marked paid by the Auburn Bank. Finally, on December 3, 1983, the First National Bank of Montgomery released the mortgage on the church.

A cemetery fund, consisting of $15,000 has been established for the perpetual care of the cemetery. The money is invested in bank certificates with the interest being used for upkeep. This fund came into being largely through the hard work and untiring efforts of A.C. Carter who was chairman of the cemetery committee in 2000.

Pastor Olin Ray – Interim 1972

Pastor George Palmer 1972-1977

Pastor David Loggins 1978-1980

Pastor J.C. Farrington 1981-1994

The stain glass window with a cross that is above the Baptistery was given in loving memory of Robert Patrick Washington by Mr. & Mrs. Lavelle Washington and memory of Dalton Bruce Jones by Mr. & Mrs. Bill Jones.

On December 1, 1994, Pastor Bob Baggett was called to serve as our pastor until his death in February 2000. His wife Betty Baggott joined the staff as Director of Education. Pam Kenney is our Music Director; Bonnie Crowley and Emily Bynum are our instrumentalists. Total church membership in 1995 was 231 with 150 of these being active members. The sanctuary, dining hall, and kitchen were remodeled. A new sound system was purchased. Renovation on the exterior of the Education Building was completed. The 11:00 worship service was broadcasted on MIX 96.7 radio. New Sunday School classes were organized and new committees were formed. A night Women on Mission was organized. A Prayer Ministry was organized. The music program tripled and a children’s choir was added. In 1996, Homecoming service included a new Steinway piano being dedicated in celebration of 161 years.

In 1997, church membership was 313 with 209 of these being active members. The former parsonage became a missionary house for furloughing missionaries. The house was occupied through the year 2001. Many physical improvements were made, including the paving of a ninety-nine spaced parking lot. This was a productive year for Farmville, sixty-two individuals joined the church since the last Homecoming Day. Sunday School rooms were painted and new ceilings installed. The mission house was updated, handicapped ramps completed, and a new roof installed on the Educational building.

“All this is wonderful but the real blessing is the depth added to every area of our program. The successful prayer ministry, the caring fellowship groups, the bereavement committee, the formation of four new Sunday school classes, a new church members class, Vacation Bible school, sponsor families for our new-members, the doubling of our Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings over the previous year. All this has been made possible because of the spiritual dedication of the Farmville family.”  – Bob Baggott

Dr. David Bentley served as interim pastor from February 2000 till October 2000.

Pastor John Dees October 2000- August 2002

Pastor Jim Mitchell served September 2002 to September 2004

Micki Jones became the pianist in 2004.

Pastor Jerry Teel Interim – September 2004 – May 2006

May 2006 – August 2006 – Various Speakers

August 2006 to April 2009 – Pastor Bill Cannon

April 2009 to February 2010 – Various Speakers

February 2010 to May 2011 – Pastor Josh Tanner

May 2011 to June 2012 – Various speakers (Mainly Dr. Don Hawkins)

July 2012 to April 2019 – Dr. Tom McClendon
 
In 2015, R.E. Johnson and Mabel Bryant were made Honorary Trustees to Farmville Baptist Church.
 
In 2016, Farmville First Steps Preschool was founded. Sherri Cash became the Director. In order to have available space, the Church office and the Preschool Director’s office was combined downstairs in two previous classrooms combined. The old Church office was made into the Church Library. A child’s library was located in the previous Church library. In the first year, ages available were 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s. The children had a library, a music program led by Vannessa Rogers, and two teachers per classroom. In the 2019-2020 school year, a 1 year old class was formed. Due to the amount of interest, a second 1 year old class was added for the 2020-2021 school year.

 

In 2017, Farmville decided to install an elevator. Since this was not possible due to limited space, a lift was installed at the front of the church. This caused the building to lose seats in the sanctuary but helped the elderly and handicapped to be able to navigate through the building better. One set of stairs was also lost.

In 2019, Farmville renovated the Fellowship Hall the kitchen and installed a new convection oven. Around this time, Farmville was notified by the Alabama Department of Transportation that a roundabout would be built at the previous intersection. It was scheduled to begin building in 2020.

May 2019 to Present – Interim Bud Passmore
 
In March 2020, Ms. Mabel Bryant passed away and one of the Honorary Trustees was lost at the age of 98 (Jan. 31, 1922-March 9, 2020). Shortly after her death on March 15, 2020, a coronavirus (COVID-19), closed the doors of the church as a world-wide pandemic, but the members of the church stayed involved and checked on one another throughout the quarantine. They anticipated the gathering to worship together and made sure to lift one another in prayer until the crisis passed.

 

Farmville Baptist Church is a church with a great heritage. Through the years, this fellowship has been faithful in missions, evangelism, and Christian education. Today, we pause to remember those who sacrificed so much to bring us to this strategic time in our history. Farmville Baptist church remains an enduring historical entity.

 

This History of Farmville is compiled from newspaper articles and written stories from relatives or members who served at this Church and Farmville Community.
 

Written by Kathryn Arrington