Whitfield County’s oldest Baptist church, Poplar Springs Baptist, was established in 1836 near the Poplar Spring that flows into Crow Creek and which provides the name for the church.
Following the Cherokee land lottery of 1832 which opened Crow Valley to white settlements, there became a need for a church to serve the pioneer settlers to the region. It is probable that the church as a body of believers began meeting prior to 1836 as a dozen or more farms began to dot the valley during this time. Some Cherokee Indians continued to live in the valley until the famous Trail of Tears forced them out in 1838.
By 1836, the pioneer families met, officially formed the church, and named it Poplar Springs Baptist. Thomas Crow, for whose family the valley is named (not for the bird), as a layman and charter member of the church was a leading force in organizing it and it is believed that he first suggested the church’s name and location. He also donated the property for the church.
The original meeting house was built from logs cut on the grounds near the Poplar Spring and creek at the foot of the hill on which the current church building is now located. The spring can be found today and shown by one of the elderly members of the church, Brother Hammontree, but is surrounded by undergrowth and is quite snaky. The original church was located southeast of the current church site, a couple hundred yards away. There was a grove of yellow poplar trees which stood around the spring at the time that the original church was built.
Unfortunately, the early records of the church have been lost, but some of the first members of the church which are known were Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Crow, Mr. and Mrs. James Crow, Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Kettles, Mr. and Mrs. Silas King, and Mr. and Mrs. S.R. Murphy. Current members who are descendants of these original members include the Crow, Kettles, Dyers, Oxfords, Stinson and Long families, among others.
It is remarkable in today’s world of changes, moves, transitions, the Internet and worldwide travel that so many of the early pioneers of Whitfield County’s Crow Valley region and charter members of Poplar Springs Baptist Church have passed down the heritage, values and mission of the church and continue its role in ministry to this day. After nearly 200 years, a number of families within the current church rolls can count eight, nine or even 10 generations of active church members at Poplar Springs.
To provide some context, Poplar Springs was the first Baptist church in what is now known as Whitfield County, the church is at least a decade older than First Baptist or any of the other “First” churches of Dalton, Poplar Springs is 15 years older than Whitfield County and 11 years older than the city of Dalton.
Poplar Springs was one of the first Baptist churches in the North Georgia Baptist Association, and she hosted the association’s first constituting meeting in 1861. Shortly after that time, Poplar Springs, Macedonia at Dawnville and a third church formed the original three churches in the association. One of the church’s frequent guest preachers was John M. Stansberry, who was a missionary, a church builder, and a helping hand in the creation of Poplar Springs Baptist. Brother Stansberry was pastor of First Baptist Dalton during a portion of the war years, but he was a regular guest preacher for worship and revival services at Poplar Springs.
When the Civil War broke out, Poplar Springs Baptist sent her share of young men and boys to fight for the South, a number of whom did not return. By the spring of 1864, the war found its way to Crow Valley and Poplar Springs, which played host to the principal Western armies of the North and South for a week during May 1864. On May 9, 1864, Federal cavalry and infantry probed Rebel defenses at Poplar Springs and were twice repulsed, suffering considerable losses. The Confederates also sustained casualties, chiefly among some Georgia soldiers who had been posted in the fortifications between the church’s cemetery and Picket Top, a nearby hill which was also called Potato Hill by the locals.
The church was in between the lines and was fired upon by the Federal artillery and infantry during the battle. During and after the battle, which continued for the next two or three days, the wounded were treated in the church, which was the old log structure that had been built some 25 years before.
After the Southerners withdrew from Dalton on the evening of May 12 to face Sherman’s legions at Resaca, Federal soldiers occupied Crow Valley and Poplar Springs. The Confederate trenches had been built along the low ridge between the cemetery and the ridge just to the south of Potato Hill, and were just behind the church. From the Yankees’ position, it appeared to them that the old log church was a part of the Rebel defenses, and that it provided aid or shelter to their foe. It is also possible that the Federals were not aware at the time that the building was a church. For whatever reason, the Yankees shelled the church, and after the wounded had been removed and relocated, the church burned down, either as a result of the shelling or from the Yankees burning the damaged building afterward.
After the church was burned, the people of the valley remained resilient and were determined to rebuild their church at the first instance. Timber was cut by the men of the church and then hauled to the old Ault Mill, also called Haig Mill, which was located to the south of the church. The men used a team of oxen owned by Mr. Johnnie Jones to haul the lumber to and from the mill. The lumber was then sawed and used to build a new church on top of the hill to the northwest of the original church, and just in front of today’s current brick sanctuary. The second church building was constructed with mortised joints and wooden dowels instead of nails. That building underwent several improvements and changes over the years until the new church was erected in 1957.
In 2011, Poplar Springs celebrated her 175th birthday and remains proud of her heritage and her work in the lives of those around her. Today, the church remains as vibrant as ever and is led by Pastor Ray Cochran. A Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails marker describing the action in that portion of Crow Valley has recently been placed on the grounds near the old cemetery.
This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton-Whitfield Civil War 150th Anniversary Committee. To find out more about the committee, go to www.dalton150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.