The little hill in Davie County where Olive Branch Methodist Church once stood has been in use for over 200 years in one way or another.
The church was organized on paper in 1804, but before that met in an old log schoolhouse building in roughly the same area. It may have been in use for spiritual meetings at least as early as the 1780’s, and was the site of Davie county’s first proper “camp meetings” in 1805.
In the 1890 book “History of Methodism in Davie County” by the reverend W.L. Grissom, which was based on lectures he gave at an “Augusta Seminary”, he claims that they (speaking of Olive Branch and a Walnut Grove) “…were among the first preaching places in the country as has been seen”. I believe he uses the word “country” in the local sense and not the national.
1806 is when the land was granted to the church by Robert and Nancy Fields, and we must assume construction of the church building began then if it hadn’t already started. In those early years, the church was part of a “circuit” and had no full time minister, but shared one preacher with over a dozen other church gatherings. That first man’s name was Boen Reynolds and he must have worn ruts in the roads meeting all of his responsibilities to these churches, as it’s said he had preaching appointments every day.
Though the original church building no longer remains, a history of it is readily available from the Davie County Library, and in it, a Mary Nell Hartman Lashley, writing in 1932 gives us a detailed description of what Olive Grove was like in it’s prime.
Let us for a few minutes recall how the building itself looked as it stood in a grove of beautiful virgin forest trees. It was a frame structure of good proportions with a medium high gable roof. Two doors on the east side were reached by steps made of large solid rocks. Speaking of these rock steps reminds me of
one custom which the men and women strictly observed, and which now seems very strange to us.
Those steps divided the “sheep from the goats” so to speak. That is, the women from the men. The men used the left entrance and the women used the right entrance, and neither dared to cross the door steps of the other. If a young man brought his best girl to church he left her at the steps, and she entered the womens entrance and he the mens. Nor were they allowed the pleasure of sitting by one another after passing into the church...
On the outer side of the two aisles that led from the entrance doors to the pulpit were short handmade benches, and between the two aisles were the longer seats – benches. But this was no advantage to the young couple because a shoulder height partition dividing these longer seats extended from the very first pew to the very last bench in the rear of the church and kept them apart…
The elevated pulpit enclosed in a high railing stood imposing aloft from the rest of the sanctuary with only three or four steps on either side leading up to it. These had gates at the top with fasteners on them. During
James Nathaniel Brooks latter days he was invited to sit in the pulpit with the Preacher in charge.
The several windows on the North and South sides of the church gave light and ventilation at all times. In winter a large wood burning stove which sent the smoke through a long pipe to the ceiling and on into a brick flue to the great outdoors, stood between the pulpit and the front bench of the center section. Here the gathering people warmed themselves as they listened to the long sermons of the good and devout Circuit Riders of the day.
The slaves were not forgotten but were provided a place of worship in the same building with their masters and families. On the outside of the church and just around the corner from the womens entrance there was a door that opened into a winding stairway that Iead to the slaves balcony. This balcony extended over the entire North side of the church and on one-half of the east side where a high partition divided the east balcony in half. The white men used the south half and the entire balcony extending over the south side. The entrance to the mens balcony was on the south side of the church.
The church went on with it’s business, starting a missionary society, having special meetings and regular services, hosting conferences for the local association. There was also either a school connected with the congregation called Union School or it was simply the name of the church Sunday school. I’m unsure which.
Following Mrs. Lashley’s account to it’s end, the church went on at Olive Branch until 1881, when a new building was constructed in Farmington proper, which was then dedicated in 1882. The last recorded use of the old building was in June of 1886 and was a funeral for one James Nathaniel Brock.
It stood empty until 1899 when the the church conference sold the building to a farmer named Thomas A Brunt who lived just southeast of the site. Brunt paid $100 for the building and took it apart and moved it by wagon loads to his own farm where he built a barn with the lumber.
Despite this, burials continued the old church graveyard until 1913, when a Mary Ellis was laid to rest there.
The graveyard of course remains, but must have fallen into disrepair and required several cleanups in the 70’s and 80’s, with another round of repairs in the early 90’s after some stones were damaged by vandals. It has been used for various purposes through the years, including an “old time” singing in 2004.
Today, a stacked rock monument which was erected in 1931 marks the spot where the front of the church would have been. It’s large base stone is actually a step that lead into the women’s door mentioned in Mrs. Lashley’s account. One would have to assume it was to large for Mr. Brunt to make use of or move.
A stacked rock wall also encloses the old burying ground.
I can find no definite account saying so, but I believe the other stones around the monument are likely old foundation stones.
The stones in this cemetery represent some of Davie county’s earliest families and settlers, and is part of a rich history that spiderwebs out into the rest of the United States, as these people’s children would venture out into the far west reaches of America. This is of course the same county where Daniel Boone’s parents are buried.
There are also some really unique and rather beautiful examples of gravestone art and decoration.