Imagine Athens, Georgia in 1908, bustling with activity and commotion. The livery stable did a brisk business on the mostly unpaved roads around town, including Prince Avenue. Sporting events at the University of Georgia were limited to football games on Herty Field, a grass quadrangle on the historic North Campus. Two other Methodist churches already served the Athens community: First Methodist downtown, and Oak Street Methodist on the eastside. The time was ripe for a Methodist church on the west side of town.
During that year, a group of people began worshipping together on Sunday afternoons in a dusty, derelict cotton warehouse. As the congregation grew, they abandoned the warehouse and began meeting in neighborhood homes in an area off the Boulevard known as Cotton Mill Village. They also began making plans for the construction of a modest church.
The first church building was erected on the southeast corner of Chase and Nantahala streets, and held its first service on January 3, 1909 with 100 people in attendance. The church bell, which now stands on the lawn at the present church campus, was rung for the first time that day. On Oct. 17, 1910, Bishop Warren A. Candler dedicated the building.
Church membership grew steadily and in 1912, the minister, Rev. S.R. England, decided that the church should be moved to a more favorable site on the Boulevard, approximately 300 yards down the street. On Dec. 10 of that year, the church was placed on logs and rolled to its new location over a period of days. A Wednesday night prayer meeting was held in the church on logs in the middle of Chase Street.
As the church continued its growth, it added the Cobb Lampkin Annex to the rear of the lot in 1930, providing additional meeting space for the burgeoning congregation. Today, the annex building still stands and is currently home to the Urban Sanctuary Day Spa.
Following the death of Cobb Lampkin in 1942, his son Eustace bequeathed a large sum to the church in his father’s name, to be used for repairs or renovations on existing church buildings. Because of tight space considerations on the Boulevard, the church Board decided to use the funds to buy the Judge and Mrs. E.K. Lumpkin property at 973 Prince Ave.
On December 22, 1945, Young Harris Memorial bought the Lumpkin property. Plans were immediately put into action to restore the beautiful but crumbling mansion to its former glory. On the veranda, many pieces of the intricate lacy ironwork were missing, and replacements had to be forged. In the interior, the parlor was renovated to serve as a temporary place of worship, while the rest became a permanent church school building. Every effort was made to restore or replace architectural details from its 1853 construction, including the mahogany staircase, ornate plaster medallions, and elaborate scrollwork.
The Lumpkin home is also a notable because it was the site of the first meeting of the first garden club in America, which was founded in 1891. Over the years, the State Garden Club of Georgia and the local garden club have maintained cordial relationships with the church, which continue to this day.
On April 28, 1946, Reverend Max Whittemore preached the last service in the Boulevard church building, and on the following Sunday, May 5, the old Lumpkin house became the new home of Young Harris Memorial. With the larger facility and plenty of parking, more families and individuals flocked to the church than ever before.
Every church has its own traditions, and one of Young Harris Memorial’s favorites began on September 17, 1949. The Young Harris barbecue became a twice-yearly tradition that still continues, with a menu of barbecue chicken, potato salad, applesauce and light bread.
Another continuing tradition has been the music program. From the time that the first small reed organ was dedicated in 1910, music has been an integral part of both worship and fellowship at Young Harris Memorial. At present, the regular choir, a handbell choir, a consort, and special music events for children all make Young Harris Memorial a great place to be.
Continuing in its devotion to the congregation, on May 3, 1956, the church broke ground for the Fred G. Bell Educational Building, which connected the old Lumpkin home (renamed the Whittemore building in 1982), to the church sanctuary. Two stories tall, this addition contains a Fellowship Hall, kitchen, and upstairs classrooms and meeting areas. It was unveiled to the community at an Open House on Jan. 20, 1957.
With plenty of space to fill the needs of the congregation, the church saw further growth in membership and activities. The women of the church had first begun meeting in organized groups in 1910 as the Women’s Home Missionary Society, and eventually became the United Methodist Women. The Men’s Fellowship started in 1951, and changed its name to the Men’s Fellowship.
Both groups were (and are) rooted in service to the church and community, as well as being opportunities for fun and fellowship. A Boy Scout Troop was formed. The youth sold commemorative church plates to pay for the paving of the parking lot of the new church. Older women of the church made doll clothes, and filled a staircase with dolls for the Salvation Army. The whole church participated in dinners on the lawn, Old Fashioned Days where church members dressed in period costumes, and many more activities.
While the church campus met the needs of its members at the time, a long-range planning committee saw the necessity for a Family Life Center. In September of 2001, ground was broken for a new building, which would contain a gym, offices, rooms for Sunday Schools and meetings, and storage space. By September of 2002, the building was completed and the first Family Night Supper was served in the new facility.
Construction of this new building gave Young Harris Memorial ample space to become a part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network in September of 2008. It also made it possible to offer new meeting rooms to Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction support groups.
Although a place to meet is important, the church is much more than bricks and mortar. In 1998, the church adopted a mission statement, which says it best:
The Mission of Young Harris Memorial United Methodist Church is to embrace the life of Christ spiritually, physically, and financially so that we might be modern-day examples of Christ’s love and unselfish sacrifice.
The church shows that love through its long-standing, hands-on relationships with Our Daily Bread, the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, Grandview Nursing Home, the American Red Cross Blood Drive, and many other programs. We hope you will join us, whether for a single Sunday morning or a lifetime, and become a part of the continuing history of Young Harris Memorial United Methodist Church.