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Hoschton First Baptist Church: 100 years and growing
Hoschton First Baptist Church will celebrate its 100th anniversary Sunday. The original building exists, with some changes, including a steeple replacing the building’s dome. - photo by For The Times

HOSCHTON - Hoschton First Baptist Church will celebrate its 100th anniversary Sunday with two days of festivities.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Jim Duggan, said that from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, the church will have food, games and old-fashioned singing. "We’ve got some old hymnals we’re going to sing out of," he said.

And on Sunday, the congregation is invited to both attend a celebration worship service dressed in old-fashioned clothes and enjoy a covered-dish luncheon.

Hoschton Baptist Church — it was renamed Hoschton First Baptist on Oct. 7, 2000 — was founded a century ago on Oct. 25, 1908, a time when people walked to church and church services were held depending on what Sunday it was.

The Revs. W.S. Walker and J.O. Oxford and deacons J.E. Davis, W.H. Braselton, J.H.C. Randolph and C.C. McEver met that day "for the purpose of organizing a missionary Baptist church," and at that time "18 members from an old Baptist Church were received into the new church," according to Eudene Tindell.

Tindell, a church member, has been compiling information about the church’s history for the Sunday celebration.

She said the church purchased a 115-by-250-foot lot from the De La Perriere family for $100 to build the church. And, until the church was built, the congregation met in Hoschton’s Congregationalist church every fourth Sunday.

However, rumor has it that another Baptist church existed before Hoschton Baptist.

In her research, Tindell discovered that another Baptist church might have burned down prior to Hoschton Baptist. This may explain where the "18 members from an old Baptist church" came from, she said.

Ralph Freeman, a lifelong Hoschton resident and church member, first told Tindell about the possible existence of another church. But so far, neither he nor Tindell have found any records confirming this.

While this story may remain a mystery, Freeman, 92, does remember some of the church’s earliest days, including when kerosene lamps lit the building and coal heated it.

"I remember going to church, and we’d carry a bucket of coal with us," he said. "And sometimes there wouldn’t be over three or four of us at the church, but the preacher, he’d preach to whatever was there."

In 1916, church membership reached 46; today’s membership is 353.

In addition, Freeman said Sunday services used to be held once a month, instead of every week.

At this time in Hoschton and most of the eastern U.S., circuit riding was still the norm. Riders rotated between a set number of churches and preached at each over a series of weeks.

One of Hoschton Baptist’s preachers even walked from Commerce to Hoschton for services.

"He walked over here to preach, and he usually would spend two nights with us," said Freeman. "He’d come in and spend Saturday night and preach Sunday ... and then he’d spend Sunday night with us and ... walk back home Monday."

Freeman laughed and added that the preacher liked to wear a "high top hat and a swallow-tail coat to preach."

The church’s original building still stands, but certain structural aspects have changed, including the doors leading into the sanctuary.

Two side doors used to open into the sanctuary, but these were later replaced with a set of double doors placed in the center of the building.

"People will tell you that the doors on both sides was for women on one side and men for the other side," said Freeman.

However, he believes the real story behind the side doors had to do with funerals held at the church. The two side doors existed so the deceased could be carried from the church to their grave feet first, he said.

Ward’s Funeral Home in Gainesville supposedly paid to have the doors changed, said Freeman.

"They furnished the (double) doors to go in here because it’s hard to get a casket around the corner (of the side doors)," Freeman said.

Other changes included replacing a set of deteriorating wooden steps and a porch with cement ones. Also, in 1969, a steeple replaced the church’s dome. In the 1950s, a new wing was added onto the building. The addition included several Sunday school rooms, a hallway and two bathrooms.

More recently, on March 30, the church moved its services from the original sanctuary into the church’s family life center, which was built in 1996. The Rev. Jim Duggan said membership had grown too much for the smaller sanctuary.

Celebrating the church’s anniversary is a "big deal" to Duggan, and he hopes the next 100 years will be just as rewarding.

"It’s been a good 100 years," he said. "But the best is yet to come."

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