Two hundred and twenty five years ago, worship services at Turkey Branch began under a brush arbor in the area of the cemetery. According to records of Mr. Hinton Morgan, in 1785 a man named Gideon Mallette came to the community from Purysburg, S.C. He was a Frenchman who had served in the Revolutionary War and received a land grant.
He and his wife, the former Hannah Elizabeth DeRoche, built a home about a half mile from where the church now stands on what was known as Middleground Road. He soon set out to build a house of worship that sat about 300 feet south of the present church. The log structure called “Turkey Branch Meetinghouse” served as a church and place for public assembly.
By the fall of 1785, the church was organized as a part of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Others who were members were Luke and Jerry Wilson, who lived west of the church and Elder Tryune Pace, who lived a few miles away on Runs’ Creek.
It is believed that Mallette probably did the preaching until 1790 when Hope Hull was assigned as the first preacher. He was a circuit preacher and is one of the founders of Methodism in Georgia.
Hull went on to be associated with the University of Georgia and was, along with Rev. Asbury, instrumental in establishment of the Methodist Denomination in this area. In 1793, the name “Savannah Circuit” was given a large area of the Methodist domain including Chatham, Effingham, Screven and Burke counties.
Gideon Mallette and George Powledge built a campground near Turkey Branch circa 1790 on a tract of land owned by Powledge and later Mallette on the former Tillman Arnsdorff place about where Floyd Zettler resides today. This place established what may be the oldest camp meeting in the U.S., according to one of the church histories. re were family tents (shed type buildings for temporary housing) on the site. Families would come and live there for about a week during the series of daily worship services every October.
Little is known of the second church presumably erected on the site but written accounts state that it was built in 1813. “The first house of worship,” built during the year James Russell was pastor, was dedicated to Bishop Asbury on Sunday, Nov. 21, 1813, and it was known as “Wesley Chapel.” It was likely on property that Christopher and Grace Bayley deeded to the church or property later deeded to the church by Daniel Mallette.
The 1846 Springfield Circuit Conference records list eight churches, including Turkey Branch. By then the church was no longer referred to as Wesley Chapel.
The construction of the church as it stands today was begun in 1858. Just before the Civil War the lumber was sawn on a water mill nearby and a framed house of weatherboard with a floor and overhead ceiling was built. This land on which the current church stands was given by Lewis Mallette in 1861, consisting of three acres and 30 poles.
During the Civil War, the old campground was burned and destroyed. When the men returned from the war, despite the state of things, they reestablished camp meeting.
Turkey Branch hosted camp meeting in the years 1865 and 1866 under a brush arbor near the church. Following that, camp meeting was moved to a Springfield Camp Ground and later relocated to the outskirts of Springfield on the land it now occupies. Turkey Branch still participates in camp meeting now held annually in July.
The first Sunday school was organized by Ben Griner at Turkey Branch in 1875. When the first Sunday school convention of Effingham County was begun in 1879, Turkey Branch was one of 15 schools represented.
Building on the church was resumed in 1894 under direction of a building committee composed of Bud Mallette, J.A. Wilson, J.T. Mingledorff, G.S. Pace, and N.H. Morgan. They raised $500 from friends of Mr. Mallette and church members. Mr. Johnnie Arnsdorff planed the lumber by hand for the ceiling. Pews were fixed with aisles down each side and a partition down the center. The women sat on the left side and the men sat on the right with separate doors for entry into the church, as was the custom of the times.
Around 1940, the pews were changed, and a central aisle was established along with the addition of an entrance hall and two Sunday school rooms. Wooden roof shingles were replaced with a metal roof. Venetian blinds were placed in the windows in 1949.
In 1951, additions and improvements were made under direction of stewards and trustees: N. H. Morgan, Irvin Edwards, Howard Wilson, Rudolph Wilson, Frank Arnsdorff and Wilton Arnsdorff. Improvements included renovation of the interior of the church with sheetrock walls, celotex ceiling and the addition of a choir loft. Pews, pulpit furniture and carpeting around the pulpit were added. A new social hall, kitchen, Sunday school rooms, new steps and siding were added. The work was completed in fall 1952 at a cost of $10,000. Three years later, an additional $3,000 was spent to enlarge the social hall, build restrooms and to drill a new deep well and purchase an electric pump.
In 1960, three more classrooms were built, the social hall was further enlarged and kitchen appliances were purchased. The necessary funds were contributed by members of the church. Many furnishings and gifts enhancing worship were donated through the years.
In June 1962, Clyo, Mizpah, Turkey Branch and Silver Hill joined together to form the North Effingham Charge and shared a minister.
In June 1962, the “Workers for Christ” Circle was formed. Miss Eva Crenshaw came to serve the charge as a rural worker of the church and community serving from 1963 through 1970 when she retired. Miss Olive Hicks filled the vacated position.
The adult choir formed in 1963.
In 1968, a gift of 25 acres of adjacent land was received by the congregation as a memorial to Lula Mallette by the last will and testament of Thelma H. Mallette.
On April 30, 1972, the congregation voted to go independent. A court suit ensued seven years later to determine ownership of the property with the court decision favoring the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. The minority voters returned to Turkey Branch and continued membership led by former pastor, Rev. Kell Hinson, who came out of retirement to serve as a supply pastor. The members remained steadfast to their faith and history.
During the next few years improvements were made to the church including installation of air conditioning and carpeting. Many gifts too numerous to list were received. New siding was placed on the exterior through donations by Mr. Frank Arnsdorff and storm windows were installed through individual donations.
In 1995, the first steeple was added to Turkey Branch and dedicated to the memory of Barbara Pace Edenfield, a member who lost her life in an accident.
The women of the church have prepared a new cookbook to commemorate the 225th anniversary. The ladies at Turkey Branch have always been known as great cooks and they are sharing their recipes in “Heavenly Delights.” The book is available from members for $10 a copy.
This congregation has continued to update and maintain the property and the congregation holds onto its rich heritage. The history is reflected in the cemeteries of the church and that of the Mallette family maintained across the road from the church. The markers on the graves of the forefathers in the shadows of the church are a constant inspiration to those who are now the lifeblood of the congregation. This group is steadfast in their service to the Lord and they continue to work together to the glory of God as did their forefathers through 225 years of determination and perseverance exercising their privilege to worship in this same location.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. Information came from several Turkey Branch Church UMC histories by members since 1785. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.