Ten charter members, including two Cherokee Indians, started a church in Peachtree in 1837. The church, now located on N.C. 141 in Murphy, celebrated its 175th anniversary June 10.
The first church building was made of hewn logs and it would become known as Peachtree Memorial Baptist Church.
The church probably was called Peachtree Baptist Church in those days, said Chester Jones, who has been pastor of the growing congregation since 2000.
“It is quite a thrill,” Jones said of being part of a church with such a long history. “We have held onto the dream of the charter members – keeping the dream and message alive.”
“I have seen a lot of change,” said Jim Hendrix, a church member since 1950. “Communications have improved. Hard benches have been replaced by [comfortable] pews.”
Photos by Scott Wallace [email protected]
Cheryl Arrowood and Shirley Voyles join other members of Peachtree Memorial Baptist Church in preparation for the church’s 175th anniversary celebration at the congregation’s newest building in Peachtree June 10.
From as early as 1817, Humpfrey Posey and Evan Jones, forerunners of the Baptist missionary movement, walked the valleys of what would be known as the Peachtree community.
They shared the gospel with Native Americans and white settlers, Jones said.
Fred Lunsford, director of missions for the Truett Baptist Association for 26 years until he retired in 1990 at age 65, said the church was organized about the time of the Indian removal and Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.
At that time, there was a group of Christians at Peachtree, part of the Valley Town Mission operated by the Cherokee Indians. That was the first church west of Balsam Gap.
After removal of the Cherokee, there is no history of Valley Town Mission, Lunsford said. Some of the members of that church became part of Peachtree Baptist.
A church history compiled by Cheryl Arrowood and the historical committee states that Peachtree Memorial is the second-oldest church in the Truett Baptist Association.
The congregation was formed from Valley River Baptist Church.
Jones said some believe Peachtree Baptist to be the oldest church in the county, while some think Valley River Baptist Church in Andrews is the oldest.
“Some believe Peachtree [Baptist] was once called Valley River [Baptist] before it was known as Peachtree,” Jones said.
One thing they do know, Jones said, is “it is one of the oldest churches in the county.”
The church, which has moved to various locations in the past, dedicated its present facility in June of 2009.
“Through the years, Peachtree Memorial has been a strong supporter of missions and a strong supporter of me during the 26 years I served,” Lunsford said. “It is what I call a foundation for the mission endeavor in the area.”
During the 175th anniversary celebration, collages of historical photographs were on display as well as pictures of artifacts found in archeological digs along the Hiwassee River in the vicinity of the mission church.
“Not every day do you get a church that has been around for 175 years,” said Mitchell Shields, who is director of missions for the Truett Baptist Association.
“That church has had a tremendous impact on our community for 175 years.”