by Maryse Anderson Carmichael (May 25, 1951)
The small building stood back from the road among the green pines that are so prevalent in that southeastern section of Georgia. The paint on the wooden walls had once been fresh and white, but now it was pealing and gray with age. Many of the windows were either broken or had disappeared; those that remained were thick with layers of dust that had accumulated through the years. Grass and brush grew tall and thick around the building. This was the Hickox Baptist Church in the month of December, 1948.
A church? Yes - and not so many years ago it had been the spiritual center of the community. . . .
The township of Hickox was established around the close of the nineteenth century. The center of the surrounding community was the turpentine still that was located in Hickox. The ever-increasing need of this business prompted the Atlantic Coast Line Railway to open a freight depot there. Many new families moved into the town, part to work at the still, part to work at the freight depot. Stores were built and a thriving town was begun.
Because of the many children in Hickox and on the nearby farms, a school was built. Yet there was still another need in the community - a spiritual need.
It was this need that brought about the plans for a church. The Baptist faith had more followers than any other in that area so the church was of that denomination.
The plans materialized in the year 1908, with the erection of the Hickox Baptist Church. The lumber was donated and sawed by Mr. Peter Knox. The men of the community built the church themselves, giving their time and labor without charge. Under the guidance of Reverend William Bennett and his assistant, James Dikes, the church organization was completed. The institution grew rapidly.
The years passed one by one, each bringing little change to the community or the church. The first world war, however, brought the beginning of a great change.
The turpentine still slowed down production during the war because of a manpower shortage, but prices were higher than ever. Staple commodities such as flour and sugar were difficult to obtain, however, and those that could be obtained cost several times their prewar prices. The high cost of living in the small town and failure to obtain necessities caused many of the turpentine laborers, railway workers, and even the farmers to move away.
The war ended. Gradually the men returned and production began to increase. Then catastrophe struck. A fire broke out in a small corner of the turpentine still and spread quickly through the town. Not only the still but many homes as well were burned to the ground.
As the natural result of the loss of the major source of income, the prosperity of the town began to decline. Inhabitants once again began an exodus, this time to more prosperous regions. Still the farmers remained and through their patronage the town continued to exist as a trading center for the farm community.
The roaring twenties passed by and at the end of the decade came the great depression. The farmers faced a long period of low incomes and no markets. Through the thirties the conservation and stabilization program of the Federal government led these farmers on the slow road back to recovery.
During these economic ups-and-downs the prosperity of the church followed the prosperity of the community. The farmers who composed the larger portion of the congregation sometimes attended services but more often they did not. On a number of occasions it seemed that the church would have to close its doors, but somehow it continued to struggle along.
The end of the thirties arrived and with it the end of the Sunday School. Neither the young people nor the adults were interested in Sunday School or church during this period.
A large number of the farms in the surrounding territory lay idle. The shadow of the war in Europe fell over the land. The hands that tilled the soil were gone, as they had gone at the beginning of the first world war. Shipyards in the nearby port cities of Brunswick, Jacksonville, and Savannah offered defense work at high wages. A large number of the men were now scattered over the globe wherever the armed forces of the United States could be found.
Through the years of 1939 and 1940, the church attempted to hold services at least once a month. There were few members left in the community and the attendance was so small as to be almost none. The town of Hickox resembled a ghost town of the old west that had risen at a sidden flash and had disappeared just as swiftly, leaving only an empty shell.
The people were gone and without people there can be no church. At long last the struggle ended and in the year 1941, the beginning of the second world war, the Hickox Baptist church closed it's doors.
The grass and brush around the church grew unchallenged. Small boys thought it a great deal of fun to throw rocks at the same windows through which their parents' gaze had once wandered. The bell in the steeple no longer called its listeners to worship. The pews and even the pulpit were removed and loaned to a church in another section of the county. The piano, which had been the pride of the little community church was carried away and used in a Waycross church.
The year 1945 arrived. The war was over and once more the men began to return home. The growth of the community was quite different on this occasion from its growth after the first world war. The town increased very little in size as compared to the increase in the number of farm families in the district.
A large proportion of this rural population was composed of young families in their late twenties and early thirties. The men had returned from the Service and from defense jobs and with the desire to buy farms and settle down. This they did, and the coastal flatlands were covered with these small farms.
Most of these farm ventures proved successful because crops were good and prices were high. Farms were modernized, for their owners had learned during the war years the advantages of modern machinery for increasing production and saving time.
The interests of these families were many and varied. The men organized the Farm Bureau Association and their wives organized the Home Demonstration Club. There was also an active Parent Teachers Association in which the parents showed a strong interest.
As human begins do the world over, these people enjoyed meeting together and having "good times". The most popular form of entertainment was square dancing. The men and children enjoyed hunting and fishing.
Yet there was a great void in their lives which day by day grew larger. There were plenty of organizations to which the people belonged but somehow they weren't filling this void. Slowly gambling and drinking joined the list of past times for the men. Interest lagged in the other organizations that had had such promising beginnings. The homes were filled with sorrow and unrest, not the love and peace that is the foundation of Christian homes.
There by the side of the road sat the little building that had once been the Hickox Baptist Church, the center of a Christian community. It was a symbol of the spiritual decay that pervaded the community. The empty building was as empty as the lives of the people around it. Would something happen before it was too late?
It was then that a miracle had its birth. It was born in the dream of a young wife and mother, Betty (Highsmith) Hendrix. She dreamed that she could not find the way to heaven and eternal life. This was a vivid expression of the need in her life and in the lives of those she loved.
For days she worried about it. Finally this young housewife visited an old friend, Reverend E. P. Corbitt, a Baptist minister. She told him her story and of her growing desire to be saved and to save those around her. But she did not know the way. She had not attended church in years and neither had her husband. She asked her old friend to come to Hickox and open the doors of the little church.
The minister was slightly skeptical. Knowing that the church had failed before because of lack of interest, he wanted to be sure that the same thing would not recur. Betty assured him that he would have an audience if only he would come.
Reverend Corbitt realized the desperate need of the community. He came and visited in the homes, always bringing the coming church service into the conversation. He began to feel encouraged because while the people were not too enthusiastic they did not oppose his plans.
Thus it was that on a Sunday in January in the year 1949, the first worship service in eight years was held in the Hickox Baptist Church. Reverend Corbitt had his audience – forty-nine adults and many, many children. Their previous lack of enthusiasm had been corrected. For many of them it was the first time they had ever attended such a service. It was a new and wonderful experience.
They begged the man of God to come again the next Sunday. He could not return because he had made a previous engagement but on the next Sunday he returned. The following Sundays found the men, women, and children eagerly awaiting the sight of the old gray coupe as it chugged along the dusty road.
The majority of the members of the old church organization had either moved away or were deceased. Very few remained. However, on the fifth Sunday in January two new members were added to the roll.
The evident interest and sincerity of the people prompted Reverend Corbitt to call a revival beginning the third Sunday in February. The little house was filled to overflowing. The entire Piedmont Association in which the church had once been a powerful force rejoiced over this spiritual revival. During the week there were twenty-one more additions to the church membership. The old members who remained found it difficult to express their joy at having their church active again.
The church was reorganized on March tenth, 1949. Church officials were elected and Reverend Corbitt was called as pastor. The Sunday School officers and teachers were electged and classes began.
Worship services were held the first and third Sundays of every month. The membership increased steadily every Sunday. The Sunday School also held services on the Sundays when there were no worship services. The children enjoyed the classes for this was the first Sunday School they had ever attended. It was also the first for a vast majority of the adults.
The members loved their church and they wished to make it more beautiful. The shrubbery was cut away to make a parking space. The piano and pews and been returned and a new pulpit built during the early months of the reorganization of the church. The pews were varnished and shellacked and the entire building was painted both inside and out.
Time and labor were donated by the members and much of the material was also obtained by donations. Passers-by now saw a gleaming white church whose bell joyously called all to come and worship.
The year passed swiftly for the little church. There were weekly prayer services, special programs for Christmas and Easter, and the annual home coming. On this home coming day, the old members came from their new homes to worship with the new members. The fellowship of these who had chosen to follow Christ as their Lord and Master made this one of the most memorable occasions in the history of the church.
In July, 1950, the increase in church membership and activities of the church necessitated the ordination of three additional deacons. Plans were made for a building program for the church.
In the fall of 1950, the members enthusiastically began the actual enlargement of the church. Again they donated their time and labor to work on God's House. Four classrooms were added and the auditorium was greatly enlarged. On Sunday, December 31, a service was held dedicating the new building to be used for the work of the Master.
The progress of a church may be measured by the increase in its membership and by its physical improvements. If measured by these the Hickox Baptist Church shows a great deal of progress in the past two years. But the true measure of progress is the change that has been brought in the lives and hearts of the individuals concerned. This is the standard by which the Hickox Baptist Church should be measured.
The transformation that took place in the hearts of these people brought a change in every home. Christ became the center of their lives. Husbands and wives achieved greater marital happiness than they had ever believed possible when they were joined together in an overpowering love for Christ.
The greatest and most far-reaching effect of this transformation was the effect of the children. Each family includes a minimum of three or four children and the church gave them their first religious training. The church and its Sunday School provides a means of education for these children so that the next generation will be a Christian, church-going one.
Other organizations to which the farmers and their wives belonged increased in membership but this time with a difference. The Christian spirit pervaded these organizations as well as those connected with the church. The fellowship and companionship grew stronger at every meeting. They did not allow Christianity to stop at the church but they spread it wherever they went to all with whom they came in contact.
The officers in the church and in the Sunday School include men who two years ago would have laughed at the suggestion that they would one day be members of a church. They were interested in anything but a church. today God has worked a change in their lives. As of their favorite choruses say, "things I loved before have passed away; things I love far more have come to stay."
God has walked in this land and with him "he brought a miracle - a miracle of re-birth, of new life for all who will follow the way." He is the light that leads them. From the windows of the small church his love has spread to encompass all. Even those who were skeptical must agree that a miracle has happened.
So the little church stands in this month of May, in the year 1951. Every Sunday the cars drive up and families pile out. Soon the air rings with the sounds of voices singing praises to God. The bell peals forth its call to worship. This is the Church, the center of the community.
(Printed for historical purposes with permission of it author, Maryse Anderson Carmichael)
Today, 46 years later, this same church is still thriving and will be holding it's customary annual homecoming celebration this Sunday, April 2, 1995. The young wife and mother, Mrs. Betty (Herrin) Hendrix, whose dream made this church a reality still reality still resides in this area. Needless to say, she and her husband accepted Christ as their Savior and continue to work for the Lord in this community. They have truly been an inspiration to all who know them.
It has been said that "you can tell whether or not a church will continue to prosper by its youth attendance." If this saying holds true, Hickox Baptist church has a wonderful future…. a future of rebirth through Jesus Christ, hope, love and prosperity.
Spring 1949: Hoke Highsmith, Joe H. Herrin, Lyman Rowell
Spring 1950: Uley O. Stokes, Maurice L. Anderson, Jasper Johnson
Spring 1962: John I. Lee, Lavelle Bohannon, Woodrow Hendrix, Clarence Allen
Spring 1966: Jimmy Highsmith
Winter 1969: Rural McDuffie
Fall 1971: Norris Strickland
1972: Norman Rowell, Buddy Highsmith
1949 -E. Pierce Corbitt; 1952- Major Musgrove; 1953- E. Pierce Corbitt; 1954- Reed B. Purcell; 1956- Marvin Smith; 1964- George R. Lee; 1966- Elbert M. Howell; 1968-Carlos Chapman; 1970-Gerald Harper; 1971-W.B. Glosson