Chronological Events in the History of Sardis Church
The story of Sardis Church transcends three centuries of history and has both a fascinating oral tradition and a proven recorded history. Sardis United Methodist Church is considered one of Atlanta’s oldest continuous congregations. The history and significance of Sardis was recognized in June 2011 when Sardis Church and Cemetery passed the Georgia National Register Review Board with final nomination for the National Register of Historic Places pending.
For a number of years, legend stated that around 1812, religious services were held in a log cabin on property that is now the present Sardis United Methodist Church. In fact, the Georgia State Historical Commission erected a marker in 1957 stating the above and acknowledging Sardis as Atlanta’s oldest church. However, this assertion cannot be corroborated with documented data. Since the Creek Indians owned and occupied the land at that time and Power’s Ferry Road was not yet built these dates cannot be substantiated.
1821: Joel Neal was granted land lot 97 (202.5 acres) in the 17th district of Henry County (later DeKalb County, then Fulton County) in the 1821 Georgia Land Lottery. The land grant was not recorded until 1825. Oral tradition states that Sardis Church and its cemetery were present on a part of this land. It is unclear how or when Land Lot 97 left the hands of Neal or his descendants.
1842: DeKalb County Courthouse burned, and all historical records were lost including any related to a Sardis Church. This makes confirmation and discovery of any prior church events or circumstances a significantly difficult task to confirm.
1848: On Dec. 29, 1848, Henry Irby and Ransom Gaines sold 2 (plus or minus) acres of land to “Trustees of Methodist Episcopal Church” for $5. This deed was recorded Jan. 3, 1849. The land is where the current church building stands. At this time, this is the earliest documented record of Sardis’ existence.
1853: Fulton County was created from DeKalb County and Sardis was placed in Fulton County.
1859: Sardis built a two-story, wooden frame church to accommodate the growing congregation. It purportedly replaced a log cabin that had previously served Sardis, but was moved to Silas Donaldson’s farm at the same time. Worship services appear to have settled into a Saturday or Sunday pattern depending on the availability of the appointed preacher.
1864: On a Civil War military map, Sardis’ location is shown. During the war, General William T. Sherman burned countless buildings in Atlanta, but Sardis was one of the churches which was spared. This may have been due to its location on a high hill from which the Union could shell the city. The Church may have been used as a hospital and/or a military headquarters.
1875: Sardis Church was destroyed, and the cemetery was severely damaged by a tornado.
1879: A new Sardis Church, a two-story, wooden frame building, was erected with the financial help of Sardis Masonic Lodge No. 107, whose roll included many church members. The Lodge used the second floor of the Church as a meeting place. This arrangement of a Masonic Lodge funding a church project is very rare in any part of the nation.
1879: The oldest Church register, a listing of church members, dates back to this new Church.
1888: Silas Donaldson, who was a Trustee of the Church, sold Sardis part of Land Lot 97 for $5 for the Cemetery. It is not known when or under what circumstances he came to own the property.
1895: Silas Donaldson, Jr. sold land from the estate of Silas Donaldson to the Trustees of Sardis Church to be used for the cemetery for $20.
1915: Masonic Lodge No. 107 donated their part ownership in the Church property back to Sardis and moved their operation into the heart of Buckhead at the corner of West Paces Ferry and Roswell Roads.
1925: The third Church structure was torn down and work began on the erection of the current church. Services were held in a tent during construction.
1927: The current Church, with a capacity of nearly 250, was completed. It is a two-story Georgian colonial structure, designed by architect O.J. Southwell, who emphasized this architecture “because it was the prevalent style at the time the first Sardis Church was erected in 1812.” The builder of the Church was George M. Spruill who was a member of Sardis and is interred in Sardis Cemetery. The basement of the new church was dug, and a foundation of flint stone and concrete put in place reportedly by women prisoners from the nearby Fulton County public works facility (now Chastain Park).
1927: When the new church was completed, the North Georgia Conference ended Sardis’ long history of being served by a traveling circuit rider and designated it “part of a fixed station in the north Atlanta district, the Sandy Springs-Sardis charge.”
1939: The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church - South, and the Methodist Protestant Church merged to form the Methodist Church. The North Georgia Conference of this new unification consisted of ten districts.
1941: Sardis Church celebrated its mortgage burning ceremony and the dedication of its new stained-glass windows.
1942: Earl Hunt was appointed as Sardis’ first full-time pastor.
1947: The Sunday school brick building was completed (behind the church), (now called the “Treasure House”).
1952: The Buckhead Community, including Sardis, was annexed into the City of Atlanta.
1955: The estate of Jesse Couch sold Sardis 1.125 acres at the rear of the Church property for $1.
1957: Georgia State Historical Commission erected a marker along Powers Ferry Rd. in front of the Church acknowledging Sardis’ claim as Atlanta’s oldest church.
1958: Sardis acquired and moved an old wooden barracks building from Fort Oglethorpe to the Church property and placed it behind the church building for use as a Sunday School classroom.
1961: The Church had almost 800 members and outgrew its physical capacity. Sardis was reorganized, and a majority of the congregation moved to a new church, St. John’s UMC on Mt. Paran Road. (45 members remained at Sardis).
1965: Sardis Church was again damaged by a storm with the damage confined to the steeple. Because repairs were too costly for the congregation at this time, the old steeple was removed, and the old Church bell placed in storage.
1968: The Methodist Church merged with the United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church.
1970: A home directly across the street from the Church (3726 Powers Ferry Road) was purchased and dedicated as a parsonage.
1975: A non-profit organization (Sardis Cemetery Assoc.), separate from the Church, was established to help preserve the cemetery through a perpetual care arrangement.
1976: Under the leadership of Pastor Bud Moore and church member Henry Rary, the requisite funds were raised and a new steeple, designed and built by Luther Mills, was put in place above the “flat top” Church.
1979: Sardis Church was chosen for the making of the TV movie, “The Lord’s Day.”
1984: The stained-glass windows were refurbished. Sardis received a donation of 1.5 acres north of the church building from William Cox.
1985: The Atlanta International School leased the buildings in the rear of the Church and began its program with 51 students.
1985: The parsonage across the street was sold and the money used to redecorate the Church’s sanctuary.
1995: Sardis Church steeple was restored in the original Georgian-style by architect J.B. Satterfield and the old Church bell, out of use since 1965, was restored to service in the steeple.
2000: The Church’s stained-glass windows were refurbished and covered with a clear tempered glass.
2003: Sardis held its first Live Nativity Christmas Program. The event included a narrative of the Christmas story and performance by church members, live animals, music, and refreshments. The program has been presented each year in mid- December since 2005 to a large attending audience.
2011: With the results from a capital campaign, a number of improvements were made to the Church including the installation of a handicap lift, painting the Church inside and outside, remodeling the kitchen, repaving and striping the driveway and parking area, repairing the front steps and installing railings, waterproofing, and installing new carpet in the fellowship hall.