HISTORY OF THE FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
The first record of any religious service in Hawkinsville is from 1825 on the banks of the Ocmulgee River, about where the bridges are now. The participants were a diverse group led by their minister, Brother McCarrol Peurifoy. Preaching was first done at cross-roads and the homes of village and country folks. The first Christian church to be organized in the village of Hawkinsville, Georgia was that of the Methodist congregation built sometime between 1825 and 1832 at the corner of Dooley and First Streets. This building was occupied until 1857, when a deed secured from Mr. Simon Merritt for the present site at the corner of Merritt and Dooley Streets was chosen by the congregation and the second home of the Methodist Church was built.
In 1895, a larger brick church was built. This building served for 56 years until 1951 when an inspired and consecrated congregation under the leadership of its pastor, The Reverend Frank L Robertson, accepted the challenge of a great philanthropist, Eugene W Stetson. Mr. Stetson was raised in Hawkinsville and was President of Guaranty Trust Company of New York. This all came about due to a conversation Charlton Adams had in 1946 with Mrs. Edith Coleman of Macon, who was raised in Hawkinsville. When learning of our Sunday School needs, she suggested he visit her brother Eugene in New York. After Mr. Stetson was visited, he sent $50,000 with the stipulation that we match it. Later he sent $25,000 more. Due to meeting this challenge and the extra donations, we have our present sanctuary, completed in 1951.
A few years later the members saw a need for more space. Another building program which resulted in a new education building and youth center was dedicated and occupied in 1971. The Harold S. Cochran bequest of $30,000 was used in conjunction with the building program and there is the recreation hall, Cochran Hall, so named in his memory. This all started with a dream of a Sunday School annex by the pastor, Rev. J.E. Barnhill, a most devoted and loved pastor during the war years 1941-1943.
In 2011-2012, a generous bequest from the Whitey Lollis family allowed us to purchase the house across the street on Union St. and renovate the space. This became the Lollis Youth house for our 6th-12th graders to have a space to call their own.
NOTES OF INTEREST
The Mary Culler White chapel is named for Mary Culler White, a Hawkinsville resident who sailed for China in September in 1901 to serve as a Missionary. She first returned in 1908 to hold a reunion of the members of the Mary Culler White Sunday School Class. After internment of the Japanese, Miss Mary was repatriated from China in December 1943 and was never allowed to go back. She died May 19, 1973 in Asheville, North Carolina with Bishop Frank Robertson. Her ashes were carried to China by Bishop Robertson at a later time.
The walls in the Narthex are made from wood from the pews used in, what was at the time, the Friendship Methodist Church in Dodge County that was on our charge at that time and the pews from this church are being used in that church.
The stained glass windows and the Rose window were created by the Willett Stained Glass studios of Philadelphia, PA. They are all hand-blown leaded, stained glass with full color scenes and borders. Each window was dedicated through a different memorial to the church.
The original Methodist Parsonage sat on the East corner of Merritt and Dooly streets until the purchase of the Duke Riley Pierce (some records spell the name “Pearce”) home. Duke Pierce was born in Houston County in 1871 and moved to Hawkinsville in 1897 where he practiced law, served as the first City Court Judge, mayor, alderman and county school superintendent.
The home at 44 Merritt Street was constructed sometime around 1910. After two fires in the mid to late 1940’s and the passing of members of the Pierce family, the property was purchased by the congregation of First Methodist Church (located across Merritt Street). The home has served as the parsonage for the Methodist church ever since.
In 1980, a major renovation and addition were begun. This involved enclosing the carport on the east end of the house (to provide a study for the pastor), major interior restoration, new tile on the original front porch and the addition of a new family room and carport to the back of the house. In 1999, the two front rooms, dining room and study were totally remodeled. New floors and countertops were installed in the kitchen.
The year 2004 brought an emergency renovation after flooding from a broken pipe destroyed the first floor master bedroom and bathroom. Both rooms were totally remodeled and the basement was also cleaned out. In 2007, after sitting vacant for four years, updates began for a new church family. The upstairs bathroom was gutted and remodeled with new tile, new floor, new vanity and fixtures. A custom built-in entertainment center was installed in the den. All rooms were repainted and new carpet was installed in the den and upstairs rooms.
In preparation for the new pastor in 2013, the entire house was repainted and the kitchen was completely renovated with new cabinets, backsplash and floors. Our current pastor is Rev. Jack Varnell.