Skip to main content

Full text of "History of Dials Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808-1929"

See other formats

















AUGUST 11, 1929 

Advertiser Printing Co.. Laurens, S. C. 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

Lyrasis Members and Sloan Foundation 




Dials Methodist Church, one of the oldest and most 
distinguished in the Upper South Carolina Conference, 
was organized by Bishop Frances Asbury in 1808 in the 
home of Martin Dial. It was called "Dials Methodist So- 
ciety", and contained the following Thirteen Members: — 

Martin Dial and Wife, 

Colvill Dial and Wife, 

Gideon Thomason and Wife, 

Dr. Ebenezer Hammond and Wife, 

William McMahan and Wife, 

Mrs. William Hellams, Sr., 

Easter Dial and Dinah Wolfe (Negro Slaves). 

Many years before the organization of the "Dials 
Methodist Society" by Bishop Asbury, prayer meetings, 
and other meetings of a religious nature had been held 
in the home of Martin Dial, conducted by Martin Dial, 
Gideon Thomason, Sr., and other noted exhorters of that 

The Society grew and prospered, developing the 
spiritual life of the community, holding its religious ser- 
vices in this consecrated home for several years after 
its organization. 

Many of the old preachers and exhorters living in the 
counties of Greenville and Laurens, or districts as they 
were called at that time, dated their conversion to the 
time and .place, calling it "Old Jerusalem". Some of them, 
in after years, often made pilgrimages to this old home, 
holding a lonely prayer service, kneeling on the sacred 
spot, where they found Christ. 

The first Dials Camp-Meeting was held on the hill- 

( 5 ) 


side near the Dial home, over-looking the branch and the 
famous "Dial Spring," just across the branch from the 
hillside. It was an ideal place for such a meeting — na- 
ture's own furnishings. 

People came from far and near, some walked miles 
and miles, some came on horseback, double and triple, 
and some in wagons. 

Nickolas Talley, a young preacher, preached the 
eleven o'clock sermon to an audience of a thousand peo- 
ple. It was a "red-letter day" in the history of the Dials 
Methodist Society, and long-to-be remembered by those 
present on that occasion. In after years, they would re- 
call it, delighting to tell it to their children and grand- 
children, making an interesting story of it, not forgetting 
to tell of the handsome young preacher, who distinguished 
himself so well on that occasion. 

The Society grew so much in numbers, that a larger 
and more conveniently situated place had to be consid- 
ered; therefore it was moved on the other side of Rabun 
Creek, locating it a quarter of a mile from the Dial fam- 
ily graveyard, of which the sacred association had all to 
do with its location, as Isabel May Hastings Dial, the 
mother of Martin Dial, and his beloved first wife, Chrystie 
Abercromby Dial, were buried there. 

A one-acre lot was given by Martin Dial, on which 
was built a log house, which served as a place of worship 
for many years. Preaching and class-meetings were held 
there every Sunday, and often during week-days. 

The summer-time special meetings were held under 
a brush arbor. Gleaning from the Dial family record, and 
the traditional history of the Society, I have found the 
names of some noted South Carolina preachers of that 

( 6 ) 


period, who did much of the preaching on these memor- 
able occasions: 

David Derrick, 

Lovic Pierce, 



William Capers, 


and many others. 

In 1835 the old log "meeting-house", which had done 
service for a long time was torn down, and another "meet- 
ing-house" was built on the same spot. The name "Dials 
Methodist Society" was at this time changed to "Dials 
Church" in honor of Martin Dial, who was considered to 
be the "Father of the Church". 

This Church was much larger than the old "log meet- 
ing-house". Two more acres of land were added to the 
former lot on which the log "meeting-house" had stood. 
The two acres were bought from John L. Harris, Jr., and 
Gideon Thomason, one being paid for by Martin Dial, the 
other by Gideon Thomason. The deed to these two acres 
was made to Thomas A. Brownlee, Reubin Brownlee, Wil- 
liam Thomason, Martin Armstrong, Robert Thomason, 
William Hellams, Sr., and Dr. Ebenezer Hammond, as 
trustees. This deed was made July 1st, 1835, signed in 
the presence of Rhoderick Gary and John Hellams. 

In 1841 Rev. David Seal held a meeting under a brush 
arbor near the Church. People came from far and near, 
bringing their dinners with them, as two sermons were 
preached a day — one in the forenoon, and one in the af- 

Scores of people were converted at that meeting, and 
a hundred members were added to the Church. Martin 

( 7 ) 


Dial, at that time, was 97 years old, yet he was able to 
mount his horse and ride to that meeting, which proved 
to be the last time he was permitted to worship in his be- 
loved Church. He died in the closing part of the year 
1843. Had he lived to see the first day of the year 1844, 
he would have reached his hundredth mile-stone. 

The memory of the "Seal's Big-Meeting" was des- 
tined to hold a place in the history of Dials Church for the 
centuries to come. Long since that time Dials has often 
been spoken of as "Big Dials". 

Glancing back over her past history we might well 
say that this bigness had its origin at the "Seal's Big- 
Meeting" as that meeting has always been called. 

In the year 1860, the church of 1835, which had done 
service for a quarter of a century, was moved away, and 
the present church was buillt on the same old-time-hon- 
ored spot. The building committee at that time being: 

John S. Dial, 
Gideon Yeargin, 
Robert A. Gray, 
James H. Shell, 
Wilborn Curry, 
G. W. Leak. 

W. T. Terry, J. W. Terry and B. Y. Jones were the 

The building, the present Dials Church, complete 
with all the furnishings, cost only one thousand seven 
hundred and twenty-four dollars ($1,724.00). More than 
half of that sum was given by seven or eight members. 
"Uncle Johnnie Owings", as he was affectionately called, 
and his three sons, Rapley, Creswell and Samuel, gave 
four hundred dollars, the largest sum coming from any 
one family ; James H. Shell gave two hundred, the largest 
amount given by one man. Two or three others gave over 

( 8 ) 


a hundred each, while the remaining part was given in 
smaller contributions. 

In looking over the original contract containing the 
plan of the present church, I find this interesting para- 
graph, which I am herein giving a place in this history — 
quoting exactly: 

"16 ft. of the house cut off for negro 
slaves by a ceiled partition 3 ft. high, pul- 
pit to be in the center of the house, joining 
the partition for the blacks. Pulpit to be of 
fashionable style. Altar to be 10 ft. in di- 
ameter, circular, raised 4 inches from the 
floor, banistered round 18 inches, high pul- 
pit and altar to be painted mahogany color." 

Note the changes which have been made since then. 
They were made in 1897. Also, at the same time, new 
seats were placed in the church, and later new windows, 
the present ones. 

The present church has been well taken care of by 
her members in the past as well as the present. Going 
back to her first organization by Bishop Frances Asbury 
in 1808, we find her recorded age to be 121 years. 

The old home of Martin Dial, the first "Meeting- 
house" or church, which was destroyed by fire eight 
months ago, was more than 160 years old. It was built 
of oak logs a foot in diameter, hewn on one side and 
pinned together with home-made iron pins. Much of the 
bark was still on some of the logs when the "Old Jerusa- 
lem" went down in ashes, while the smoke ascended 
heavenward, like incense from her sacred altar. 

In this write-up of the past history of Dials Church, 
it is but just and fitting that a special tribute of loving 
memories and appreciative expressions be given to the 
benefactors and preservers of the church, whose official 

( 9 ) 


duties have done so much for her on-going spiritual pro- 
gress for the past 69 years : 

John S. Dial, grandson of the sainted Martin Dial, 
Gideon Yeargin, 
Robert A. Gray, 
John R. Switzer, 

and many others, who served as stewards and trustees 
deserve honorable mention in this sketch. 

John S. Dial was a steward for 38 years and a trus- 
tee for 60 years. 

Gideon Yeargin, Robert A. Gray and John R. Switzer 
were contemporary with him for more than twenty-five 
years. One of Laurens County's noted writers said: 
"The Religion of Robert A. Gray, Gideon Yeargin and 
John S. Dial would do to live and die by." 

Robert A. Gray was superintendent of Dials Sunday 
School for many years. He might truly be called the "fa- 
ther" of it, as its most noticeable progress began under 
his administration. He was gentle, unassuming and un- 
selfish, if possible, to a fault, yet a powerful leader. He 
was a man of inspiration and action, "mighty in prayer 
and faith". He could put over and finance any problem, 
or proposition, coming up either in Church, Sunday School 
or community activities. He was one of the wealthiest 
men in the community and one of the most liberal, which 
gave much prestige to him as a leader in every benevo- 
lent proposition to be considered. When he said, "Breth- 
ren, let's put our hands deep down in our pockets," suit- 
ing the action to his words, all hands went down, and the 
money came up. He moved to Williamston in 1880, which 
was a long-felt loss to Dials Church and community. He 
was a moving spirit in the church and community in the 
town of Williamston, yet his love for "Old Dials", as he 

( 10 ) 


called it, reigned supreme in his heart as long as he lived. 
His dying request was that his body should be carried 
back to Dials and buried in the cemetery there, which 
was done. Such loyalty and devotion is truly deserving 
of a page ascribed to his memory in this history of the 
church he loved so much. 

We must not forget to insert another page in this 
history to the memory of W. Collier Curry, who "passed 
over the river" a few months ago. It might be said of 
him, "This was the noblest Roman of them all". He was 
superintendent of Dials Sunday School for 40 years, and 
a trustee and steward of the church for more than a 
quarter of a century. The Sunday School grew and pros- 
pered under his administration. He was faithful and true 
in every undertaking looking to the interest of the church 
and Sunday School. He was a wonderful shepherd; 
"knew his sheep by name, and they knew his voice". He 
was a loving shepherd, ever looking after his flock and 
their housing. His influence will extend far down the cen- 
turies to come; his name will ever call up tender memo- 
ries in the minds of all who were so fortunate as to come 
under his benign influence. 

It can truly be said of all the herein-mentioned bene- 
factors, and many others whose names are not mentioned 
in this history, that they were faithful to the trust placed 
in them by their fellow man, and faithful to their "high 
calling in Jesus Christ". The record of their stewardship 
is on file in the Archives of Heaven awaiting the final 

In this looking-back, and the following-up of the 
years of this venerable institution, comprising nearly all 
of the nineteenth century and more than one-fourth of 
this, the twentieth century, we have been stepping into 

( 11 ) 


the by-gone age of our State and county, as well as the 
community life of "Old Dials", of whom, it can truly be 
said, that this Sanctuary of God has contributed no small 
part to the growth and development of Laurens County 
and Dials community. All of her one hundred and twen- 
ty-one years are associated, not only with their most 
eventful periods, but they are interwoven with their fin- 
est character growth. Dark times fell athwart their 
pathway; fire and sword and sorrows innumerable tested 
her people; but her altars gleamed ever undimmed and 
her faith knew no wavering. Ours would be a different 
and less admirable community today, had there not been 
founded in 1808 that house of worship and Christian work, 
which we know as "Dials Methodist Society", organized 
by Bishop Asbury with the Thirteen members — the little 
Band of Missionaries, full of that life-giving, vitalizing 
fire of God's Holy Spirit — the Thirteen Pillars of Dials 
Church, and on this foundation of courage and faith rests 
not only her spiritual growth and divinely directed pro- 
gress in the past, but her rising prosperity of today. 

Dials Church has ever been a missionary church. 
She mothers seven churches — all of them an honor to 
her. Many distinguished preachers of the past and the 
present, date their divine calling back to the influence of 
this aged mother-church. Several times in her past the 
church roll contained more than four hundred members, 
while often in those by-gone years the Sunday School has 
enrolled one hundred and seventy-five pupils, with a corps 
of consecrated teachers unsurpassed by any of the pres- 
ent day. 

The Sunday School at this time numbers one hun- 
dred and seventy-five, and is still moving onward, as it 
were, in "leaps and bounds" under the efficient leadership 

( 12 ) 


of Festus T. Curry, superintendent, upon whom the man- 
tle of his sainted father has fallen. 

The Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of Dials 
Church was organized in 1893 with a membership of twen- 
ty-five, of whom it can be said, they wrought well in the 
work of missions. A native itinerant Korean Missionary, 
a girl in the Laura Hagood School in China, and a boy in 
a Korean school could bear testimony to a year's work and 
a year's training financed by one of those charter mem- 

The society, thirty-six years old, is still engaged in 
active service for the on-going progress of missions. 

The Epworth League, the social department of the 
church, organized twelve years ago, has meant a new en- 
listment of interest, as well as a distinct spiritual gain to 
the church. 

Before closing this unique history of Dials Church, 
a few more pages should be added giving the interesting 
record of the wonderful improvements that have recently 
been given to the church, the church grounds and ceme- 

The changing times in which we live have brought 
to the modern church newer needs, but it has in no way 
modified our desire for a place to worship God in an at- 
mosphere of uplifting and reverent beauty. The spiritual- 
ity of beauty is a phrase needing no explanation. "Art 
and religion have obtained their greatest height when 
they have ministered to each other." This statement 
needs no demonstration, yet, it has been beautifully veri- 
fied in the carrying-out or the functioning of the herein 
recorded improvements : The zealous interest on the part 
of all the church members, the manifestation of their 
appreciation of beauty, together with their harmoniously 
combined efforts in bringing it about, have proven it to be 

( 13 ) 


an aid and an incentive to higher living, "Where beauty 
lives, there God must dwell." 

We begin with the cemetery as it appears today— 
a transformation of "Beauty out of Chaos", the material- 
ized vision of Mrs. Nettie Curry Blackwell, the wife of 
Dr. D. J. Blackwell of Quincy, Florida. While on a visit 
to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Curry in the summer 
of 1928, she conceived the idea of beautifying "God's 
Acre". She planned the undertaking, and with her charm- 
ing personality, rarely-to-be-found executive ability and 
prowess, backed up by the untiring energy and work of 
her father, the loyalty of D. D. Harris and others, "she 
put it through". Liberal contributions came in from near 
and far. Friends as well as interested families sent gen- 
erous contributions of money, while many gave work. 
Honorable mention is due to Mrs. Blackwell, Mrs. Popie 
Curry, Mr. Festus Curry and Mr. Langclon Brooks, as the 
largest individual contributors of money toward the fin- 
ancing of the achievement. Honor and appreciative com- 
mendations are due to every contributor either of money 
or work in helping to bring to pass the fulfilment of Mrs. 
Blackwell's dream of beautifying "God's Acre", which 
stands today as a Twentieth Century Monument of their 
loyalty and devotion. 

Following the cemetery transformation, we herein 
record the wonderful improvements of the church and 
church grounds, made during the spring of the present 
year, 1929. 

The moving spirit in this enterprise was Rev. J. L. 
Singleton, pastor of the church, a man born to lead, and 
to execute the seemingly impossible. With his marvelous 
engineering skill, he launched the undertaking: painting 
of the church inside and out, together with other much 

( 14 ) 


needed improvements, and the beautifying of the church 
grounds ; in that the whole might be in keeping with the 
beauty of the cemetery. The cemetery transformation of 
1928 had left an illuminating inspiration and appreciation 
of beauty, not only in the minds and hearts of the church 
members, but in the minds and hearts of the whole com- 
munity ; so when the proposition of the church improve- 
ment and the beautifying of the grounds was presented 
to them by their pastor, their enthusiasm went, as it 
were, "sky-high", resulting in liberal contributions of 
money, material, and freely given work to finance it. The 
church was painted inside and out, furniture polished and 
dusted. Even the ladies of the church and community 
scrubbed, painted, wielded the hoe and mattock, contri- 
buted flowers, and planted them with own hands. It was 
a happy organized band of workers with an untiring lead- 
er in the person of their pastor, who was always first on 
the ground, and the last one to leave. The artistic ar- 
rangement of the grounds, so in keeping with the time- 
honored setting of the church, was a product of his gen- 
ius. He is truly deserving of the highest honors to be 
given in this write-up of the recent improvements of our 
church and her surroundings ; for to him we are indebted, 
to the largest extent, for the consummation of the whole. 

Mr. Festus T. Curry, who is noted for his liberal giv- 
ing to all benevolent purposes, is due honorable mention 
as being the largest contributor of money, material and 
hired labor, and at the same time, the most enthusiastic 
oooster and collector of funds and material toward the 
financing of the expenses. 

The attractive inscription, "Dials Methodist Episco- 
pal Church — 1808", above the front entrance to the 
church was conceived and financed by him. The concep- 
tion is beautiful and alluring. The age-old church, perched 

( 15 ) 


up on her magnificent setting, in that "garden of the 
Lord", a wayside pulpit, sending out a message to be read 
by the passers-by, who do not have time to stop and enter 
this house of God ; to them it preaches a gospel of beauty 
and good will, the true gospel of Christ. 

Honorable mention is also due to Mrs. Popie Curry, 
who gave the beautiful urns at the front entrance, as well 
as a generous contribution of money and material. Ev- 
ery one who helped in any way in these improvements 
is deserving of honorable mention and a worthy bestowal 
of praise ; for it was a joyous, freely given service, a man- 
ifestation of loyalty and love for the church of their fa- 
thers, who lived in the shadows of the nineteenth century. 

Summing up all these improvements, beginning with 
the cemetery, following with the church and grounds, 
viewing them all together in their transformed beauty 
today — they seem "a little bit of Heaven come down to 
earth", a vision of soul-stirring truth and beauty extend- 
ing to all, who enter, a perpetual invitation to walk hum- 
bly before God, and serve Him in the beauty of holiness, 
for God is Beauty. 

Another item of importance to be recorded in this 
history of Dials Church is the erection of the Memorial 
Tablet which occupies the place in the back part of the 
recess overlooking the sacred desk. 

This tablet is the conception and gift of Emma Mc~ 
Swain Dial, the great-granddaughter of Martin Dial. 

The Memorial Tablet contains the following inscrip- 
tion: — 


Martin Dial, Father of Dials Church, 
organized in his home by Bishop Frances 

( 16 ) 


Asbury in 1808, under the name of "Dials 

Methodist Society" with the following 

Thirteen Members: 

Martin Dial and Wife, 

Colvill Dial and Wife, 

Gideon Thomason and Wife, 

William McMahan and Wife, 

Dr. Ebenezer Hammond and Wife, 

Mrs. William Hellams, Sr., 

Dinah Wolfe and Easter Dial (Negro Slaves). 

This tablet, the constitutive link of loving interest 
and hallowed memories, connecting the past with the 
present, in itself contains a history any church or com- 
munity might be proud of. The age-old organization by 
the most distinguished Bishop of Southern Methodism, 
in that pioneer home whose walls stood the tempest and 
sunshine for more than one hundred and sixty years. 

Some one has said that "History is philosophy teach- 
ing by example, but Church history is God teaching by 
example". If that be true, then, this history of Dials 
Church, which has been so full of spiritual food, and di- 
vinely directed fulfillment to be read by the present and 
future generations, will be to them a stimulant of church- 
loyalty, a faith-strengthening and appealing enthusiasm, 
teaching them to be proud of her glorious past, to which 
they owe the strength of the present and the hope and 
glory of a vitalized future. It is but a natural heritage 
from a generation of godly parents, whose lives were full 
of Life's Gathered Immortelles; lives full of beauty and 
truth all interwoven in this history of her past. 

I would not, if I could, draw any distinction between 
the noble men and women connected with this church in 
the past, but would point with pride to all the arduous 
labors of those who have worked so faithfully in this part 

( 17 ) 


of the Master's vineyard, and have passed to higher ser- 
vice above. I pray that a double portion of their spirit 
may rest upon the generation now bearing the heat and 
burden of the day. 

I would that the "to-be-continued" history of Dials 
Church, covering another one hundred and twenty-one 
years, extending far into the twenty-first century, should 
be as rich in abiding values as the one hundred and twen- 
ty-one just past, upon which we have been reviewing to- 
day with thankful hearts. 

Standing today surrounded by the sacred walls of 
this "Old Home Church" to which so many of her chil- 
dren have gathered together on this, the 11th of August, 
1929, celebrating another home-coming to the Mother 
Church, hallowed by memories of parents, loved ones and 
friends no longer with us, memory throws upon the screen 
many scenes from the past associated with this "Mother 
Church". We can never forget her; there will ever be 
tender ties binding us to this spot. This sanctuary of 
God has been, and ever will be, a shrine of devotion for 
her children, a lighthouse to shine upon life's troubled 
seas, and a refuge for her children in times of despair. 

Summing it all up — this wonderful history of Dials 
Church ; her distinguished organization, and her one hun- 
dred and twenty-one years of on-going progress, over 
which so many of her children have been looking back 
upon with thankful hearts today, I feel that the sacred- 
ness of the place, the hour, the beauty that is here, the 
peace, the memories of the past, the visions of the fu- 
ture, all suggest this fitting close, to be found in Exodus 
the 12th Chapter and 14th verse: 

"And this day shall be unto you for a 
memorial; and ye shall keep it throughout 
your generations; ye shall keep it a feast 
by an ordinance forever." 

( 18 ) 


Martin Dial was the youngest son of Henry Arthur 
Dial and Isabel Hastings Dial. He was born in the "Old 
Country", and was of Scotch-Irish stock. 

He was just a small boy when his parents reached the 
shores of Virginia, landing on the same spot, known and 
distinguished today in Virginia, as the "Dial Landing". 

He was a private soldier in the Revolutionary War, 
for which service he received a large tract of land lying 
on both sides of Rabun Creek (in Laurens County, South 

He was for some time with Marion and Sumter, and 
was in many of the skirmishes in which they achieved 
deeds and successes deserving of more honor than has 
been given them in South Carolina history. 

Martin Dial married Chrystie Abercromby, the 
granddaughter of James Abercromby, Adjutant General 
in Colonial times, serving in South Carolina from 1732- 

The children of Martin Dial and Chrystie Abercrom- 
by Dial were : 

John Hastings Dial — married the daughter of Gideon 
Thomason ; 

Isaac Dial — Married the daughter of Gideon Thoma- 

Colvill Dial — married Lidia Eastwood; 

Martin Dial; 

Jonathan Dial; 

William Dial — married Hannah Hellams ; 

Hannah Dial — married Capt. John Armstrong, from 
whom the many families bearing the name of Armstrong, 
or related to the Armstrong family, are descended. 

( 19 )