The plantation owners in the Midway District began early to establish summer homes in what they termed “pine lands”, on higher and healthier ground located ten or fifteen miles from the swamps where they had originally settled for the culture of rice.
William Flemington, wishing to establish a summer home and at the same time enjoy the society of his friends, around the year 1815 surveyed a tract of unsettled land ten mile west of Midway for a retreat which he named Gravel Hill. Selecting a parcel for himself, he gifted the remaining lots to several of his friends. Among the early settlers were John Osgood, Oliver Stevens, Peter Early Winn, Major John Bacon, Joseph Norman and William Flemington.
These settlers were members of the Midway Congregational Church and Society and attended services and meetings at Midway, although it was a great distance to travel. Many of them returned to their plantations during the winter months.
Gradually, the summer homes became more permanent. Because of the distance to Midway, occasional worship services were held in a small house used for magistrate court until a log house was built. This was used for both church and school purposes. Later, when a frame building was constructed for a church, the log house continued to be used as a school for a time.
The exact date of the organization of the church and society at Gravel Hill is not know. The earliest record found to date is the Record Book of the Church and Society at Gravel Hill. The first entry is “Subscriptions for building the Church on Gravel Hill” 1832. Four acres of land were given by Simon Fraser on which a frame house of worship was constructed and used for twenty years. The organization of the church was patterned after the Midway Church and Society, of which the residents of Gravel Hill continued to be members of until 1865. They attended services at Midway monthly or as often as possible. Gravel Hill church seems to have been a branch rather than a mission of Midway Church.
In 1850 it was voted to change the name of the retreat from Gravel Hill to Flemington, in honor of William Flemington who had settled in the retreat and gifted lots to his friends.
The original frame church building was enlarged and improved from time to time, with pews added frequently after 1837, showing that the congregation had increased in numbers.
On June 10, 1851, the select men called a meeting of the society to consider the propriety of building a new house of worship. It was decided to erect the new building and locate it on the same spot occupied by the old building. W.G. Martin, together with W.E. Quarterman and T.Q. Cassel constituted the building committee. The building would be 36 feet wide, 54 feet long and 22 feet high from the top of the plate to the lower floor; the height of the cupola was left to the discretion of the committee, with Mr. Cassels as the architect. The cost of the new building was $1,500. Later the dimensions were changed to accommodate a gallery, only in the front, with two doors in front and an outside door leading to the gallery.
The building was constructed of yellow pine lumber. The trained Negro carpenters, from every plantation and members of the society furnished the labor. Bricks for the foundation were made locally. Irwin Rahn, a member of the church, built the steeple. The structure of the church is a classic example of Greek revival religious architecture of the mid-Victorian period, although the columns do not follow the classic proportions. A board fence four feet high enclosed the building. The building committee reported the completion of the church at the annual meeting on August 10, 1852.
After the War Between the States, with all its destruction, the settlers found it almost impossible to travel ten miles to service at the Midway church. As the Walthourville retreat had already withdrawn to form a separate organization, the Flemington people found it necessary to do the same. They were dismissed from the Midway Congregational Church and Society and adopted the Presbyterian form of government. The Presbytery of Georgia approved their application at a called meeting in Flemington, April 6, 1866.
With the dissolution of Midway Church, its effects were divided among the three churches which had been organized by Midway membership – Walthourville, Flemington, and Dorchester. Flemington received the bell which had hung in Midway church for many years; the date engraved on the bell is 1799. From the communion service which John Lambert had given to the Midway church in 1786, Flemington received a beautiful silver tankard, a pair of silver goblets and two silver baskets. The pulpit was constructed with the rest of the building. The woodwork and the pews were handmade of yellow pine in a simple and elegant design.
An interesting old reading desk was made by Ezra Stacy, an officer in the church and one of the charter members. This was used by the elders when they conducted services in the absence of the pastor. It was thought proper for only ministers to speak from the pulpit. An Empire mahogany sofa, upholstered in red velvet, occupied the space behind the pulpit until 1887, when it was replaced by a larger arm chair and two small chairs. Few changes have been made to the original building. Two rooms were added and the old pews were replaced with more comfortable ones.
This old building of simple beauty and dedicated to the worship of God has withstood wind and weather for one hundred and twenty-seven years. The wide doors are still open to welcome all who enter and worship there.
The first school on Gravel Hill was held in a log cabin. Later a wooden structure was erected and incorporated as Tranquill Institute. In 1838 the trustees were Robert Quarterman, W.E. Quarterman, Thomas Q. Cassel and Ezra Stacy. The original building was one long room with a fireplace at one end. There were two doors, one in front and one near the fireplace. William Wilson Winn, also known as “Billy Breeze”, was for many years the principal. All subjects were taught at the school and upon completion students were eligible to enter college.
During the War Between the States the school building was used as a hospital by the Northern soldiers. Three of them are buried in the Flemington Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Sherman’s army arrived in Liberty County about December 1864 and took possession of Midway and Flemington, using the church and school house as headquarters. They were taken without resistance.
Among the early organizations in Flemington was the Flemington Musical Society, which met every two weeks in the homes of the members.
The heavy growth of pine trees made naval stores an important industry in Liberty County. There were turpentine stills in Flemington and McIntosh, and the products were shipped by railroad from McIntosh to Savannah. The owners met the buyers at Factors Walk to sell their products. When the trees could no longer be used for turpentine, they were cut and hauled to the saw mills which operated in the area. Lumber soon became a leading industry throughout the county.
One of the main roads in the county was known as Old Sunbury Road which ran through the center of Flemington. It was along this road that many of the settlers built their homes, as well as on the road known as Old Savannah Road. Old Savannah Road intersects with Old Sunbury Road at the former Trask house and store, which is now known as Stacy’s Florist. This is the location where many homes of the early settlers were situated, with the church and school as the center of the community. Just beyond the church, the road branched to the right. This road led to the section known as “The Hill” where the first set of summer homes was constructed. Beyond the big bridge over a stream in which the boys enjoyed swimming and fishing, was The Hill. “The Valley” which separated the two ridges on which the homes were built was a favorite recreation spot where many moonlit picnics were enjoyed under the large oak trees.