Church of the Week: Hebron United Methodist Church
By Bill Segars
In the Southern Bible Belt there may be many “Typical Southern Country Churches”, but very few exemplifies all of the characteristics of that distinction better than Hebron United Methodist located at 2006 Hebron Dunbar Rd. outside of Clio. A must for being a “Typical Southern Country Church” is for it to be out in the rural countryside. Hebron certainly suits that requirement because it is located about three miles outside of Clio. For those of you that have never been to Clio, it’s in the country; imagine going three miles further out.
Hebron is one of the churches that I stumbled upon. I was not looking for it, nor had any idea of finding it. I was simply driving the back roads from Bennettsville to Dillon. Once I saw it, I knew that it was special. I’ve been told, “If you see large fertile, neatly cultivated agricultural fields, look for a well maintained church building. Good God fearing farmers love their church.” Hebron is surrounded by fields of cotton in full bloom.
The Meeting House style building indicated that it may be old. I wasn’t sure until I looked under the building and found large rough sawn timbers. The style of the windows and the glass also suggested late 19th century construction. Not knowing anything more about Hebron, I could only look, think and photograph its beauty on this trip. Since Hebron was so close to home, I knew that I could do more research, make phone calls to learn more about this jewel and come back later for a more in-depth study.
Melissa Skipper at the Marlboro County Library was very helpful in sending me printed information concerning the history of Hebron. It had its beginning in 1845 as a strong church, drawing members from Beauty Spot & Clio. Rev. Dennis J. Simmons, the Bennettsville Circuit pastor, dedicated their building built by local carpenter Moses Meekins in 1848. The land was donated by Colonel John Covington and his wife Harriet. That land is where the present graveyard is. The congregation enjoyed 32 years of growth at this location, with the membership peaking at 100 loyal members.
In 1879, Rev. George T. Harmon and many of the members desired to have a larger building in which to serve the growing congregation. The pride and determination to have a new building started with this desire. Adjoining land was given by Phillip and Rachel Thomas for the new building. A committee was formed very quickly to raise money, and a building committee planned the building and chose a builder. All of this planning was accomplished in just a few months; the small band was determined to have a new building.
Silas Bonds of Bennettsville was given the contract to supply all the material and complete the building, with the members help, for $1,700. As a fellow builder, I hope Mr. Bonds knew what he was getting into when he asked for help from the members, because “help” is what he got. The members selected the long leaf pine trees based on their straightness to be cut for the building timbers. After the logs were sawed at Neil C. Monroe’s sawmill, the building committee selected the lumber to be used in the construction. Even when the lumber was delivered to the church ground, the committee matched the timbers based on each timber’s grain direction to determine where in the building it would be used. Why did they go to seemly this much trouble? Simple, they wanted their church to be perfect, nothing was too good for Hebron; after all, they were paying $1,700 of hard earned money for this building. From a construction stand point; today this process is not financially feasible. I wish that it would be, but typically no one is willing to pay for this intense attention. When the building was completed, Mr. Thomas Chaflin and Mr. Huntley painted the entire 42′ x 67′ building for $300.
Through the kindness of William Frasier, a manual pump organ was purchased from Lunden & Bates of Savannah Georgia and installed in the new building. Due to the fact there was no electricity available, kerosene lamps were hung from the ceiling. The congregation was so proud of the county church building. For the dedication in early 1880, they invited the South Carolina Methodist Bishop, Rev. Wightman, to come for the service. He was also impressed with the building as he preached the dedication service.
Behind the church was a row of hitching posts. Be mindful that 1880 was a hard time for most country folks. If they were fortunate to have a horse, they needed a place to secure their horse; the hitching post is where they did this. This remained for years, even after the invention of the automobile as a reminder of days gone by.
Hebron’s membership grew through the years, but never had a large congregation. They always felt an allegiance to their building and the sacrifices that were made by their forefathers in order for subsequent generations to enjoy such an accommodating building. This may have been the driving force for the people in this rural area to maintain their building. Vinyl siding has been installed. This wouldn’t have been my choice, but the members were doing what they could to save their building. And save their building they did until 2:00 a.m. on August 12, 2007 when a passing motorist saw that it was fully involved by fire. By the time the local fire department arrived it was too late, the roof was falling in as the fire apparatus pulled up on the scene. The ravage of fire was having its way with the old heart pine structure.
The early morning sunlight showed the church’s membership really how devastating the skeletal remains of their beloved Hebron looked. An official investigation ensued with undetermined results, but no foul play was suspected, with some indicators pointing in an electrical direction.
What has happened to the small Hebron congregation since that fateful night in August? They had offers from neighboring Methodist congregations to come join them, an offer that they accepted, but only in the interim. They were determined to build back on their own Holy Ground, a promise that became a reality in 2010.
What did I learn from Hebron’s loss? We’ve all heard to old saying, “Don’t put off until tomorrow…” you know how it goes. I first visited Hebron on June 6, 2006, vowing to go back some time soon, it was gone after August 12, 2007, before I “found time” to go back. And people ask me “Why do you research all these churches?” This is not the only “friend” that I’ve lost. I’ve lost so many, I’m now scared to stop, for fear that another one will be lost before I can see and document it.
Bill Segars has a strong love and appreciation for history, having grown up on a farm in Kelleytown on land that has been in the family since 1821. He uses his 40-year building career to combine with his love of history to develop a passion for historical restoration. Segars was able to find, photograph and research more than 750 religious edifices throughout the state. We are very thankful that he shares his “friends” with us. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.