The Early Years
Nacoochee Presbyterian Church is a small, white clapboard church situated in the beautiful Sautee Valley in the mountains of Northeast Georgia. The beginnings of Nacoochee Presbyterian Church originated in 1869 when Captain James H. Nichols and his family settled in Nacoochee Valley. A devout Presbyterian, Captain Nichols succeeded in forming a Presbyterian congregation within a year of his arrival. Two years later, he built a church building on a crescent-shaped hillside adjacent to his home. The original congregation consisted of Captain Nichols, his wife Kate, daughter Anna Ruby, mother-in-law Augusta Louisa Latimer, along with J.R. and Rebecca Dean and their four children, and the family of John Glen. Several families of Nichols’ former slaves who had remained after emancipation joined in worship services.
Augusta Presbytery entered Nacoochee Presbyterian Church onto its rolls in 1870 and assigned Joseph Washburn as the first minister. A graduate of Williams College, Joseph Washburn was the son of Joseph and Mary Washburn of Macon, GA. Prior to the Civil War, he had been a businessman in Savannah for seven years. He served in the Confederate States Army from 1861 to 1865. After the war, Washburn attended Columbia Theological Seminary and then came to Nacoochee in 1874. He was pastor at Nacoochee Presbyterian Church for two years.
The second pastor, Leonard Archibald “Archie” Simpson, born in 1852 in Marietta, GA, was a Davidson and Columbia Seminary graduate. He came to Clarkesville in 1879 and served the pulpit there as well as Nacoochee and other congregations until 1894. One can only imagine what travel conditions must have been like in these remote areas at that time. It is no surprise that Simpson was not able to cover this territory alone. Other pastors filled the Nacoochee pulpit from time to time. Nelson Smith, a Pennsylvania native who graduated from seminary in Montreal, was stated supply from 1880 to 1883. A Presbyterian evangelist named W.O. Phillips served Nacoochee and other pulpits in 1893 and 1894.
During this time, Captain Nichols continued to be the driving force behind the church. He was Superintendent of a very active Sunday School. Several homes in the area proudly displayed framed certificates for graduates of the church’s “Sabbath School” along with certificates for reciting the catechism signed by Nichols.
To better serve the Presbyterian population in northeast Georgia, Augusta Presbytery reorganized and formed Athens Presbytery. In 1880, Captain Nichols represented
In 1893, Captain Nichols left the area. Archie Simpson, who had served Nacoochee part-time for 15 years, departed shortly after Nichols. A South Carolinian, H. Cutis Fennel, who had graduated from Erskine College and Columbia Seminary, came as stated supply from 1894 to 1896. Once Fennel returned to South Carolina in 1896, no pastors are recorded as having served NPC for several years. By 1898, Nacoochee and three other northeast Georgia Presbyterian churches had a total combined membership of only 41 members.
In the midst of this lack of leadership, Athens Presbytery dissolved Nacoochee Presbyterian Church, and transferred the four or five remaining members to the rolls at Clarkesville Presbyterian. These members remained faithful in spite of the hard times and inspired the pastor at Clarkesville, Robert E. Telford, to come to Nacoochee to hold worship services every fifth Sunday. From 1899 to 1901, the small remnant of a congregation stayed together through what would be a major turning point. A 1901 revival service rejuvenated the membership and Athens Presbytery recognized a newly reorganized Nacoochee Presbyterian Church, assigning David J. Blackwell as pastor.
Mr. Blackwell was instrumental in bringing about another change to the persevering congregation that had profound effects on the entire community. In 1902, the Methodist Jesse R. Lumsden made an oft-quoted statement to Blackwell, “If you Presbyterians will establish a school here, we will give you our school building and four acres of land connected with it.” Nacoochee Presbyterian church members embraced the idea and submitted a proposal to the Athens Presbytery that won its approval.
, 1903. As Nacoochee Institute grew over the next 23 years, Nacoochee Presbyterian Church grew with it. So intertwined were the school and the church that the congregation began to worship at the school’s facility. Services were no longer held at the original Nacoochee Presbyterian Church building and that property reverted back to the Nichols estate in 1920 and is used today as a Baptist church.
Nacoochee Institute was a godsend to the valley community and to hundreds of children who would otherwise have had no opportunity for such a quality education. The leaders emphasized academics along with spiritual growth as evidenced by a curriculum that included yearly Bible classes, Latin, Greek, French, algebra and the arts. The Institute received faithful support from Athens Presbytery for its first few years, then the Augusta Presbytery enlisted to provide joint sponsorship. So popular was the school throughout Georgia that the statewide Synod took over support in 1917. For many years congregations throughout Georgia celebrated “Nacoochee Sunday” in which they took a special offering for the Institute. The Women’s Auxiliary of the church was very active supporting the Institute with money for scholarships and with favorable promotion throughout the Synod. A trademark of the school was its service to the larger community.
From 1903 to 1928, NPC enjoyed the hard work and dedication of a number of pastors who served both the Institute and the Church. Joel T. Wade came to Nacoochee Institute in 1903 as its first superintendent; he was also stated supply at NPC until 1907. Following Wade’s resignation in 1907, John D. McPhail took over as the stated supply pastor of NPC and also served as a professor at the Institute. The most extraordinary of these dedicated servants of education and ministry was John Knox Coit. He was brought to Nacoochee Institute to be financial manager under John R. Long, who served as president from 1908 to 1909. Coit’s skills at administration were quickly recognized and he was appointed superintendent in 1909. Besides his educational duties, Coit led the school body and the Nacoochee congregation in a vibrant weekly worship service and a Sunday School program for the next 19 years. During this time, Coit shared leadership in the church with other pastors. Lamar Ferguson was stated supply at NPC from 1914 to 1917 after serving as principal at the Institute for two years.
On April 1, 1926, fire raced through the main building of Nacoochee Institute, completely destroying the structure. By unfortunate coincidence, another more vocationally-oriented school at Rabun Gap had burned just a few months earlier. Nacoochee Institute continued to operate but its days were numbered and the school was only able to graduate two more classes in 1927 and 1928 before it merged with the school in Rabun Gap, some 50 miles north. In September, 1928, the first school term for the new Rabun Gap Nacoochee School began in Rabun County. A new school building was built by the White County Board of Education and Nacoochee School began operating as a public elementary and high school for the school term 1928-1929.
A New Beginning
Due to the fire, Nacoochee Presbyterian Church was left without a church building, but the faithful congregation forged ahead, worshiping first in an open-sided shed for the summer of 1926 and then moving into a newly renovated dairy barn for the winter of 1927. Under the leadership of Ralph Gilliam of the Home Missions Committee, the members began a campaign to raise their own building, soliciting funds from 30 states and a “whole host of friends,”
The original building had a flat roof which was later changed to a gable style. A bell tower was added in 1989. In 1955, the Coit Memorial Annex was added to the church, providing an assembly room, classrooms, a kitchen and restrooms. The pulpit was built by Preston Simmons in 1954 while he was enrolled in the Trade School in Clarkesville with lumber donated by Florence Logan. The Communion Table was built by James Hood in 1980. The Baptismal Font was built by Jim Johnston and was finished just in time for the baptism of his son Hoke Johnston in July 1986. The small wooden crosses above the sanctuary windows were carved by Charles Smith, a church elder. The stained-glass window above the blue entrance doors was designed and made by Gloria Brown and dedicated in 1988. The iron gate located at the original entrance to the church was crafted out of old buggy wheel rims in 1927 by Simpson Logan and George Westmoreland. The Celtic Cross that hangs above the pulpit was custom-made for this location and honors Dr. Austin J. Walter (6/13/1905-9/15/1981) and Minnie Ross Walter (11/15/1905-2/26/1982). It was a gift from Bill and Linda (Walter) Johnston, Harry and Peggy (Walter) Wise, and David and Susan Walter to honor their parents who spent many years supporting NPC. The cross was received by the church about a year after their deaths. There was another addition in 1994 that increased by half the size of the fellowship hall and reworked the kitchen, adding a commercial dishwasher and oven. A deck was added on each side of the fellowship hall and using split-level construction, classrooms, bathrooms and a session room/pastor’s study were added to the building.
From 1927 to 1953, several pastors filled the pulpit of Nacoochee Presbyterian Church including: J. MacDowell Richards (1928-1932, leaving to become president of Columbia Seminary at age 30); John A Simpson (1932-1943); John Knox Coit (1944-1945); Charles E. Bell (1947-1948) and Robert D. Alexander (1949-1953).
The 1950s were lean years once again for NPC and the congregation was served by student supply pastors except for a one-year (1955-1956) supply pastorate provided by George W Powell. In 1960, Nacoochee relinquished Church Extension support and was able to hire a full-time pastor who was not yoked to other congregations. In 1961, a manse was constructed on land donated by Mrs. Minnie Turk Lumsden with help from the Athens Presbytery. John M. Crow, who served from 1960 to 1964, was the first pastor to live with his family in the newly-constructed manse. Charles Ansley served as stated supply from 1964 to 1967, followed by another year of supply student pastors from 1967 to 1968. Richard S. Frazier became stated supply in 1968 and served until 1977 with the help of 32 student supply pastors from Columbia Seminary. Other supply and interim supply pastors included John Homer, Dick Austin, Shannon Morgan, and Richard Scoggins.
A New Era of Growth
1981 brought Jerry Brinegar to serve at NPC. He was instrumental in attracting a number of new members throughout the 1980s. Under his leadership, the church became actively involved in issues concerning the environment and thoughtful stewardship of the earth. Rev. Brinegar served as pastor until 1988. The growth of the congregation in the 1980s enabled the church to hire John Dale Hobbes as full-time pastor in 1988. Under his leadership, the congregation underwent a building campaign to expand the building with an enlarged kitchen, fellowship hall and Sunday School wing and to donate one-tenth of the funds to the Bean Creek Baptist Church. As the PCUSA enlarged its response to peace and justice issues, so did Nacoochee Presbyterian Church with guidance from Reverend John Hobbs. Hobbs remained as pastor until 1997 after which the congregation was once again served by a number of interim pastors, including Reverend Tom Query, George Porter, Reverend Rebecca Young, John Odum and Reverend Joy Pruett.
In 1998, the congregation called Reverend Robert W. Prim as full-time pastor. Rev. Prim served as pastor from 1988 until his retirement in December
, 2021. During Rev. Prim’s tenure, NPC programs and outreach continued to expand including but definitely not limited to the following: Noshers ( small group dinners to encourage fellowship amongst church members and friends), 5th Sunday potlucks, book clubs, annual mission trips to Guatemala organized by Stan and Dottie Foster, Convivio outreach gatherings for our Latino friends and neighbors, Souper Bowl of Caring Sunday fundraisers sponsored by the youth, CROSS youth mission trips, Appalachia Service Projects for youth, a This I Believe program during Lent of 2012, participation in Family Promise, Habitat for Humanity offerings and participation in local building projects, Blessing of the Animals service, installation of solar panels to minimize the carbon footprint of NPC, the Women’s Spirituality Group, Men’s Breakfast Meetings, Ladies Lunch Bunch, Fair Trade Coffee, Loaves and Fishes food pantry, Christmas Angel Tree to provide gifts and financial assistance for local families in need, and Education for Ministry.
Music has always been an integral part of the NPC worship service. Most recently, Rhonda Hinson served as pianist and music director (2002 to 2007) followed by Barbara Luhn (2007 to present) who continues to provide the wonderful music that is enjoyed by the congregation today. Under Ms. Luhn’s leadership, a beautiful contemplative Taize service was started in 2007. The Christmas Eve Folk Choir service was also started in 2007 and continues to be a much-loved tradition at NPC. In 2011, a fundraising campaign was held to purchase handbells. We now have a 3-octave handbell choir directed by Clarissa Evans which adds musical depth and beauty to many of our worship services.
During the past 25 years, NPC has also been fortunate to have several pastors who have served as Parish Associates or Parish Affiliates including: Rev. Joy Pruett who joined 1998, served as Parish Associate and is now Parish Associate Emeritus; Reverend Keith Nickle, Parish Associate 2002-2016; Reverend Gerald Jenkins, Parish Associate 2002-2007; Reverend Frank Cooley, Parish Associate 2008-2010; Reverend Francis Womack, Parish Associate 2014-2022; Reverend William Jackson, Parish Affiliate 2016-2021; Reverend Sheryl Marshall Moore, Parish Affiliate 2016-2022; Reverend Robert Standifer, Parish Affiliate 2016-20118; Reverend Linda Standifer, Parish Affiliate 2016-2018; Reverend Gary Bagley, Parish Associate 2019-2022; Reverend and Barry Whittemore, Parish Affiliate, 2022-present.
Under Rev. Prim’s leadership, church membership and attendance continued to increase, necessitating the addition of a second worship service in 2006. In 2009, a board of six Congregational Care Deacons was established to assist the pastor with outreach and ministry to church members. As our church family continued to expand, the need for change became even more pressing. Parking was limited to the small area in front of the church, or alongside the edge of the road, or across the street. Access to the sanctuary was difficult for people with mobility issues, especially during inclement weather. But we were land-locked and options were few. Then, in April 2015, the church was able to purchase 16.8 acres of pastureland adjacent to the church using funds obtained from the sale of the manse in 2002. With the wonderful addition of this property, the ability to provide the needed changes was now possible.
The session authorized the formation of a Vision Task Force in 2015 and work was begun to identify how to proceed with making our church more inviting and accessible to all. The task force identified two important projects: expansion of parking and handicap access. In May 2015, contractor Ron Cantrell was engaged to develop a proposal for this expansion. This exciting phase of growth was entitled, “Widen the Welcome ” as we worked to “Make our space match our spirit.”
The planned expansion was divided into three phases beginning with an on-site parking area, ADA compliant ramps and bathrooms, and an additional covered entry. The second and third phases would include additional classroom space and ultimately, an enlarged sanctuary to provide additional seating. A Capital Campaign to secure financial support from the congregation was soon underway, assisted by Horizon, a church fund-raising organization. As of July 10, 2017, commitments for the Capital Campaign totaled $777,894.16.
In June of 2017, Ron Cantrell Construction presented a tentative contract to the church and in July 2017, a formal contract with this company was approved and signed. The work began but progress was initially slow due to frequent rain. Bit by bit, the project gained momentum and on October 28, 2018, a joyful celebration was held to mark the completion of the new parking area and church addition. Phase 1 was finally complete. In February 2022, the debt was paid off and NPC was debt free. It was a wonderful day for NPC!
During this time, plans were being made for a 2020 Homecoming Celebration to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Nacoochee Presbyterian Church. But on March 8, 2020, the Presbytery began to discuss ideas on how to deal with the emerging Coronavirus and celebration plans were shelved. On March 18, 2020, public worship at NPC was suspended though April 5, 2020. A virtual worship service was videotaped and made available online with filming and editing performed by skilled church member Becky Portwood and then by Linda Harding. Services were then suspended through May. Then June, July, September, December. It was a time of great uncertainty for our church. The Homecoming Celebration was postponed until August
, 2021, but this celebration has yet to take place. Linda Harding continued to film a weekly service conducted by Rev. Prim and pianist Barbara Luhn which was then posted online. Outdoor fellowship gatherings were scheduled to provide an opportunity for church members and friends to be together in a safe environment. Virtual worship continued through April 2021. In-person worship resumed in May 2021 with physical distancing and the use of masks encouraged. The service was also live-streamed and posted online through our YouTube channel for those who did not feel comfortable returning to in-house worship, a practice that continues today.
On June 13, 2021, Pastor Robert W. Prim announced his retirement effective December 31, 2021. It was a sad time for our church as Bob and his family had been very important in the life and ministry of NPC for 24 years. Following his retirement, (complete with a big, exuberant and sometimes tearful retirement party), NPC began a new church life chapter led by the Session, Presbytery and others. On December 27, 2021 the Session approved the selection of Reverend Teresa Franklin as Interim Pastor, to begin her active ministry March 1, 2022. Rev. Franklin was known to many members of our congregation, having been ordained in our church February 2010. Since Rev. Franklin began work as our Interim Pastor, she has been skillfully leading our congregation in the steps we need to take to eventually select a permanent pastor as well as providing a strong and steady presence in the pulpit.
And that’s where we are now, forging ahead through the process of identifying and ultimately choosing a pastor who will help us continue as a strong force for God’s goodness, a church with open doors and open hearts that seeks to do God’s will in our own individual lives and also through the life of our church. Nacoochee Presbyterian Church has a long and storied history of outreach and ministry to all God’s creation. We look forward to our next chapter as we strive together to make this world a better place for all.