A History of Liberty United Methodist Church

Liberty Church is located on Co. Rd. 92, just off 95 N., nine miles North of Abbeville, Alabama in the Screamer Community, NE Henry County. The property on which the church sits was deeded July 30, 1873, to the Trustees, Richard A. Whitehurst, William Fletcher Watford, and Daniel Jordan Peacock by Giles Jefferson (Tup) and Sarah Ann Dixon Peacock for use of the ministry and membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. It consisted of two acres. SE quarter of NW quarter of section 11, Township, 8, Range 28.

Liberty Church, also known as Liberty Chapel, was originally located on a site three or four miles NE of the property described above. The church building was situated on the banks of Liberty Creek, and housed both white and slave membership. Cemeteries were established on the hillside above the creek, whites on one side of the road and slaves on the opposite side. A portion of the cemetery is evident today in the overgrown wooded area by the presence of a few gravestones. This site is beside a dirt road still listed on the Henry County tax maps as the Old Liberty Church Road.

No deed has been found to establish the date of the organization of the church, but there is good reason to believe it existed in the 1830’s and thereafter. The first site was very near the early village of Otho, a steamboat landing on the Chattahoochee River. Rev. Anson West states in his “History of Methodism in Alabama”, page 279, paragraph 1, that settlements were established in the very early days within the Townships of Seven and Eight, Range 28 and 29 in the NE corner of Henry County. The old church was located in Section 6, Township 8 N, Range 29 E. On page 281, paragraph 2, he gives names of persons who were Methodists and pioneers in the first decades of the Methodist walk in Southeast Alabama: Grantham, Lucas, Peacock, Pittman, Whitehurst, Williams and Weatherby. These surnames are among those listed on the oldest church roll in existence. These families also owned land in the area described by West, according to records in early Henry Co. deed books. A statement in Rev. Anson West’s obituary says he was “licensed to exhort” at Liberty Chapel, Abbeville Circuit Nov. 3rd, 1855. The Rev. Wade Hampton Weatherby was a “circuit riding preacher”, probably Liberty Chapel’s first pastor. He is buried in the old cemetery, but a headstone has not been found.

The rising of Liberty Creek during spring rains, and the decline of Otho, gave the congregation reason to move the church site in 1873. Tradition holds that the church building was dismantled, transported to, and rebuilt on property given by the Peacock’s. This structure was also used as a schoolhouse for the Hilliardsville Community for many years. Cemeteries for both whites and blacks were established.
In 1914, the church building was again dismantled and reassembled a few yards to the front and North of the former site to give more room for the cemetery. In this third structure, materials originally used in the very first church building were incorporated to form the wood frame House of Worship. The building remained just the same until 1964, when the wooden shell was enclosed with brick and the interior walls and ceilings were covered with paneling and ceiling squares.

The church was wired for electricity in 1948 when the Pea River Electric Cooperative brought electric power to the community. A well was drilled and an electric pump installed in 1973, which made it possible to add bathrooms and kitchen facilities. Remodeling of the fellowship hall, a new kitchen, three Sunday School rooms and another bathroom were completed in 1988. In 1990, the sanctuary was completely renovated with a choir loft, vestibule, and a beautiful steeple with a lighted cross added. Donations of stained glass windows as memorials or in honor of someone were installed in July, 1991. The fellowship hall was completely rebuilt in 1996. Water from the Bakerhill Water Auth. was hooked up in 1998. The parking lot was expanded and a storage building with bathroom was built in 2000.

The above described church building was completely destroyed by fire Tuesday night, February 6th , 2007. Services Sunday following the fire were held in the parking lot. Screamer Fire Dept. offered the use of their education room, and Sunday services were held there until a new building was completed, and Wednesday activities were held at Gordon Hudspeth’s farm house, his old home place.

The cemetery at Liberty was listed on the Alabama Register of Historic Cemeteries on December 5, 2007. The certificate is on the “Memories Of The Past” wall in the fellowship hall of the new church.
The first Morning Worship Service in the new church building was Palm Sunday, March 16th, 2008, with Pastor Dianne Kelly preaching the first sermon. The last service before the fire was Communion Sunday, and Communion was observed the first Sunday in the new church, with District Superintendent Dr. Herb Sadler assisting Rev. Kelly.

Dedication / Homecoming Service was held Sunday, April 13th, 2008, with 196 in attendance. Dr. Herb Sadler preached, and Rev. John Bryan, a former pastor , spoke about what Liberty UMC meant to him. Liberty was his first church in 1953. WTVY television from Dothan was there and did a lead story on the Sunday night news that night.

On March 31st, 2008, Liberty was named the small membership “Church of the Year” for 2007 at a District Laity rally and banquet, and a plaque was presented from the Dothan District of the Alabama/West Florida Conference.