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Little Swamp United Methodist Church celebrates 175 years

Little Swamp Church will celebrate its 175 years of existence beginning in early October. Pastor Kevin P. Stroop and the church family invite everyone to the church’s 175th anniversary celebrations beginning with an old-fashioned tent revival on Wednesday, October 10 through Friday, October 12 at 7 p.m. The festivities will culminate with an annual Homecoming Service at 11 a.m. Sunday, October 14. Country Gospel recording artist Rene’ Jones of Nashville, Tennessee and formerly of Ashton, South Carolina, will provide the special music. A bountiful meal will then follow in the church fellowship hall.

Little Swamp, both a church and a community, has a tradition that dates back farther than the 21st century mind can fathom. The community, affectionately labeled “Plum Nelly”, because it is plum in the woods and nearly out of the world, is nestled in an oddly-shaped triangular parcel of land in lower Bamberg County, part of which was formerly a portion of Colleton County.

The church, on whose history community members chose to dwell, was then, as it is now, the axis on which the community revolves.

The first church services were held in a brush arbor a short distance from the church’s present location. This location was known as Yearling Pond, named for a nearby pond. Bishop Francis Asbury, founder and first Bishop of the Methodist church in North America, spoke at Yearling Pond brush arbor on one trip from Charleston to points upstate.

On July 23, 1837, Jacob Gedsenger deeded one acre of land to Little Swamp Methodist Episcopal Church. This deed, scribed in the lovely handwriting of Gedsenger, is a valued historical artifact kept in safekeeping with the church records in an undisclosed location.

As the community grew, James Wilson Miley, II (aka “Big Jim Miley”), a successful farmer and businessman, noted the inadequacies of the brush arbor arrangement. “Big Jim” gave a parcel of land for a more permanent structure to be erected. Sometime around 1852, labor furnished by the James Goodwin family helped to build a small log church across the road from the present church.

This log building served the dual purpose of church and school for several years. The chimney within this building was constructed of homemade brick and was the only source of winter warmth. A well, located beside the log building, furnished drinking water for at least three generations until it was disposed of in the Fall of 1969.

Big Jim Miley was the first Sunday School Superintendent of Little Swamp Methodist Church. Following his father’s footsteps, John Benjamin Miley, eldest son of Big Jim, was a lifelong leader and member of Little Swamp.

Some years later, a one-room wooden clapboard church was built across the road from the log building, near the present church’s location. These devout men furnished all the labor to erect this building: Owen Barnes, Tennip Smith, George Padgett, “Little Jim” Miley, “Big Jim” Miley, Rhett Smith, Calvin Smith, Joe Kinsey, Fred Padgett, Isham Padgett, J. Z. Harrison, Sr., Charlie Smith, Charlie Bennett, Sr., Asbury Linder, Lark Carter, Willie Goodwin, Johnny Goodwin, Bennie Goodwin and Joe Carter. One can only imagine how special this place of worship was to these gentlemen whose hands built it!

In 1916, under the leadership of Rev. A. S. Lesley, an addition turned the one-room church into a sanctuary with a two-room Sunday school addition..

A wood heater, located in the center of the church, provided a source of winter heat. Church members took turns building fires on Sunday to warm the sanctuary. Hand-held fans were used to keep the air moving and to fan the gnats in the summer. Churchgoers spent much more time at church then and sat on old wooden pews.

On Sunday, July 13, 1952, members of Little Swamp Church witnessed their last church service in the old clapboard building. Monday morning, bright and early, the process of tearing down and rebuilding was begun. Family and friends joined forces to tear apart the old building, taking great pains to save any lumber for use in the new structure.

The contractor for the present church was D. L. Rhoad. Mr. B. Randall Black, brick mason, laid the brick for the new building.

Homecoming Sunday, July 12, 1953, was a memorable occasion. Family and friends came from all over South Carolina and some from other states for this special day. So many people were in attendance, the church was overflowing into the yard. Collection had to be taken inside and outside the church this day.

On this special day in July, the dedication of Little Swamp Methodist Church was performed in a debt-free building.

In August, 1979, work was begun on a 2400 square foot edifice adjacent to the church building to be used as a fellowship hall. This modern brick structure consisting of two baths, a spacious kitchen and a large open meeting room was consecrated in July, 1980. The total cost of this addition was $45,221.47.

Cynthia Bennett Padgett currently serves as our church treasurer and has held this position longer than any other individual in church history. She has faithfully served in this capacity since 1967.

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