Barrow County has sixteen properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The NRHP, established in 1966, was established to identify and evaluate properties (buildings, sites, objects, structures, districts) of local, state, or national significance that are worthy of preservation. Rockwell Universalist Church, located 2.5 miles north of Winder on Highway 53, was listed on the NRHP in 1985. Rockwell is the second oldest Universalist congregation in Georgia and remains active today with services on the first Sunday of each month.
The area surrounding Rockwell Church was settled during the early nineteenth century. The lands between Cedar Creek to the south and the Mulberry River to the north were home to the House, White, Hill, Camp, Lyle, Bradberry, Parker, Guffin, McMillan, Haynie, and Hinton families. It is said that the liberal Universalist faith was first “planted in the minds of these people” during the late 1830s by itinerant preachers from Alabama and South Carolina. During the antebellum period, the itinerant ministers preached in members’ homes, as no formal church building had been constructed.
Old Rockwell School
By the 1850s, Colonel Robert White, owner of a grist mill on nearby Cedar Creek, donated funds for the organization of a Masonic Lodge and school building. He purchased a slave named Spence, known as a master carpenter, to construct the lodge and school buildings; an Abraham Garret built the brick chimneys on either end. The building was two stories, with the Masonic Lodge above and the school room below. It was located on the north side of the road near present-day Rockwell Church, in an area then known as “Center Hill.” The building continued to operate as a school until the early twentieth century; the lodge organization moved to Hoschton in 1886.
According to church histories, the congregation may have met only sporadically during the Civil War, although it is said that the present-day church grounds were used for mustering in and training local Confederate units. The congregation was formally reorganized by L.F.W. Andrews 1867 at the insistence of Colonel White, and it was named the First Universalist Church of Jackson County. Although there is no formal list on file, charter members were thought to include Colonel Robert White and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. L.Y. Bradbury, Mr. and Mrs. Cicero S. Hill, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Haynie, Henry Morris, Samuel Booth, Carter Hill, Jones and Nancy Sell, Alexander and Margaret ill, Eliza Collins House, Mr. and Mrs. Marcus House, Luke and Mariah Flanigan, Fannie Henry, and others.
Gathering at Rockwell Church, late 1800s
Members met in the school building until the current church building was constructed in 1881, when it was renamed the Mulberry Church. Much of the material and labor was donated by the congregation. According to church histories, the lumber was forest pine, the sills full length, and the majority of that used for the flooring and walls was donated by Marcus C. (Mack) House. The ceiling remained unfinished until 1895 when John B. O’Shields provided the lumber. The original seats were replaced in 1905 and 1906 by new pews built by three brothers, John W., Henry M. and Robert A. Hill, who owned a nearby sawmill. Another brother, Paul Hill, later donated the land to the church in perpetuity.
The "singing school" at Rockwell Church, late 1800s
Later changes to the church included the installation of concrete steps near the rear door, and the pouring of a concrete porch floor along the façade. In 1950, the original floor was replaced with a new pine floor and the interior was truncated to accommodate a rear partition for class rooms. New doors were installed along the front and rear during the early 1960s. The church grounds were also landscaped at that time, including boxed plantings around the foundation and the addition of a large slab table and shelter, today used for lunch at the annual homecoming.
Rockwell Universalist Church is a local landmark of Barrow County for its rich historical associations with the early settlement and growth of the area, and its stark simplicity is a reminder of late nineteenth century rural religious architecture
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