It was only a log building in 1855 when Pleasant Hill Baptist Church began on Brown's Bridge Road near Gainesville. Four new buildings have been built since then, the latest a fine red brick structure seating 600 and dedicated in September 2005.
The church has a rich history, its roots actually traced to a 1-acre tract sold in 1853 by Alexander "Mr. Zandy" M. Stringer to Union School House for $5. Two years later, Pleasant Hill School and Pleasant Hill Church were in business side by side. The school taught first through seventh grades.
A second building to replace the log church resulted from a fund-raising drive in 1878. Sunday School started at Pleasant Hill the next year.
The Five-Mile Store, which once stood at the intersection of Brown's Bridge Road and Keith Bridge Road, was practically an institution in the community for many years. Pleasant Hill members John D. and Anna Frix provided a stop five miles from Gainesville where farmers on their way to market could rest and water their livestock.
Electricity hadn't come to the area yet, but the Frixes had a Delco generating system for lights in their home and store. Beginning in 1935, they would open the store on Saturday nights for families to listen to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. Electricity didn't come to the area till 1938. That same year Brown's Bridge Road was hard-surfaced, but paving had to wait until 1946.
Pleasant Hill Church continued to thrive. The third new church came in 1938, and Sunday School rooms were added in 1947. More Sunday School rooms were built in 1960 and continue to be used.
In 1966, the church bought the adjacent Puckett property where the present sanctuary sits.
A bond sale for another new sanctuary began in August 1971, and the fourth building dedication came in May 1972. Members built a fellowship hall in 1994. In 1999, the church bought another eight acres, and the present sanctuary followed in 2005.
Pleasant Hill's history has been recorded by members such as the late Lucy Harris and now Pat Rail. Too many families and ministers to mention have been instrumental in the church's success.
Dennis and Mildred Carpenter have directed the church's music since 1975 and built the choir to 80 members.
"Mama Floys" and Ralph Whitmire were among the stalwarts for many years. "She and Granny Roper would just shout during preaching," Rail said.
Mrs. Whitmire taught young marrieds Sunday school more than a half century. At night she read the Bible by lamplight to her sons, Don and Doug, and the family continues as faithful Pleasant Hill members.
Don Whitmire remembers one night a mentally disturbed woman was found sitting on the steps of the church. Law enforcement officers wanted to jail the woman, but Mama Floys heard about it, took her in, gave her a hot meal and bath and found out how to contact her parents in Florida.
"She saw good in everybody," Whitmire said of his mother.
Balus Ivey, from another longtime church family, always sat on the left side wearing overalls and getting on his knees to pray, Pat Rail said. He was known in Gainesville as the honest vendor who sold vegetables and peanuts on the square, packing his bags of peanuts tightly so customers would get the most for their money.
The Rev. John Smith was baptizing new members downstream in the Chattahoochee River in 1943 at Davis Bridge until he realized he had to baptize upstream to keep them from strangling.
Church members talked the Rev. Clack Stubbs out of retirement to serve as interim minister, later becoming full time from 2001 till August 2006. The Rev. Mike Taylor succeeded him, and the Rev. Stacy Phillips is associate.
Homecoming is a highlight of the church year. It was called May Meeting until 1981 when it was changed to the fourth Sunday in September.
Other families who have been prominent in the church include the Smiths, Stringers, Browns, Wetherfords, Elliotts, Ropers, Williamses, Trueloves, Reeds and Harrises.
The church's cemetery brims with history, including a marker for Tommy Cagle, a 15-year-old boy who was never found after Gainesville's 1936 tornado.
Footnote: Brown's Bridge Road gets its name from Minor Brown, who built a toll bridge over the Chattahoochee River in 1829.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. Originally published Oct. 7, 2007