Much of the area’s rich history rooted in Shiloh Baptist Church
Sam Wehunt, a Deacon at Shiloh Baptist Church in Peachtree Corners, proudly walks through the sanctuary of the church, telling stories about the structure and its features. There’s likely no one better to share the church’s history; Wehunt has spent 45 years of his life documenting ancestry and the history of his home church. The research and Shiloh Baptist Church are his passion.
“The church started meeting here in 1868, 17 years before members borrowed the eight hundred dollars it took to build this building,” he explained, pointing to the quaint structure with rich stained-glass windows gracing its walls. The site on which the church building is situated is where Washington Academy stood, the first school to be built in the Pinckneyville area.
Shortly after the Civil War ended, Washington Academy was abandoned. On Aug. 11, 1868, six men and women met in the old Academy building, and Shiloh Baptist Church was established.
Local landowner Dennis Singleton deeded 1.5 acres to Shiloh Baptist Church, to “further the interests of the church.” The deed was recorded April 9, 1884, and the purchase price was $1.00. Another deed from J.W. Davis, dated May 21, 1892, granted another 1.5 acres to “members and may be members” of Shiloh Baptist Church. That parcel of land was purchased for ten dollars. An additional parcel of land was purchased by the church and recorded in a deed from Ester Craig, dated October 26, 1971.
This August marks the 150th anniversary of the church, a remarkable milestone for any organization, much less structure, in a county that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 50 years. While many buildings and landmarks sprinkled throughout Gwinnett’s history have been bulldozed to make way for progress, this neat and simple white church building sits alone and serene on Spalding Drive, surrounded by expensive homes and bustling traffic. The walls of Shiloh Baptist Church have seen more changes and eras ebb and flow than any one human being could have possibly witnessed in a lifetime.
“Seven of the first eleven pastors at Shiloh fought in the Civil War,” Wehunt said. Some were wounded and some captured; the Civil War permanently changed the lives of many men and women, and it was no wonder that once it ended, the role of the church became even more important to the people who survived the carnage.
“These men came home from a war that left the South devastated,” Wehunt stated. Poverty was just one of the repercussions of the war that savaged the nation; battle-weary men returned to ruined crops, a crippled infrastructure, a “new” and often unfriendly government, and a population in which 25 percent of the men were lost forever. The days of the large plantation were gone, but small farms began to emerge in their place. Life went on after the war, changed as it was.
A hundred years ago, it was common for churches to meet two Sundays of every month, giving the pastors a chance to lead two churches at once. This practice was different than the Methodists’ use of circuit pastors, also a common practice at that time.
In the early days of Gwinnett County, the church was considered the cornerstone of the community, and Shiloh was no different. Like most churches, Shiloh Baptist was not only a place of worship; it also served as the central location for many official records, such as births and deaths, and even deeds. Family names, many of them prominent in Gwinnett County, are recorded in the Shiloh’s records for a century and a half. Housing such records gave the church even more importance to the community.
Wehunt shares the story of another important piece of Shiloh Baptist Church that is missing today. “Just outside the building here, we had what was called the Courting Tree. There was an electrical line that ran through the top of it, and there was a light right there at the tree. Young couples who were courting were allowed to sit under that tree because their parents could see them.” The Courting Tree was struck by lightning about a year ago, and it began dying. Recently, it had to be cut down for safety reasons. Best estimates indicate that the tree was 140 years old.
John H. Westmoreland served as the first pastor of the church, and he stayed in that role for three years. Frank Pratt assumed the role in 2008, and he continues to serve as pastor of Shiloh today.
The public is invited to celebrate Shiloh’s 150th-anniversary celebration from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 11. Shiloh Baptist Church is located at 5988 Spalding Drive in Peachtree Corners.