Historic Shady Grove Methodist Episcopal Church

In February 1999, the historic Shady Grove Methodist Episcopal Church building was added to the Alabama Register of Historic Landmarks.  The historic wooden church was constructed around 1892 in the Ruby community, just west of Logan, Alabama in Cullman County. The building stands today much as it did when it was completed.  There are no electric lights, indoor plumbing or running water.  Air conditioning is provided by opening tall windows.

The church and adjoining cemetery were built on seven acres of land donated by Richard and Jane McCain in December 28, 1882.  Mr. McCain’s grandmother Sarah McCain was the first person buried in the Shady Grove Cemetery.  Like so many others who lived in the hill country of what was then Winston County, McCain served in the First Alabama (Union) Cavalry, United States Volunteers in the Civil War. This is McCain’s marker in the Shady Grove Cemetery

In her Combing Cullman County, historian Margaret Jean Jones writes:

The Shady Grove Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in the early 1870s with J. J. McKissick, W. H. Martin and J. C. Vickery as trustees.  On December 28, 1882, Richard McCain and his wife Jane, who had homesteaded 159 acres of land earlier that year, deeded seven acres of land for the church and cemetery. (Richard McCain’s grandmother, Susana McCain, had been the first to be buried on this property in 1876).

The congregation met under a brush arbor until about a year later when a small church was built 2.5 miles northwest of Logan.  Taking note of the woodland setting, George W. Kilgo-who once told his son Charley that he made the first lick on the new church-suggested that it be called Shady Grove.  This church, which had a dirt floor and split logs for benches, was used as a school for three months each year.

In 1888, the Rev. Daniel C. Beltz, a man of many talents who had recently come from Cincinnati to labor in the Master’s vineyard, was appointed by the Methodist Conference to the Logan circuit.  A carpenter of great skill, he drew up blueprints and supervised the building construction.  Some of the people wanted the church built at the foot of the hill, but Uncle Sammy Leak, then 76 years old, held out for the summit.  His pledge of 100 days of free labor settled the matter.

The Shady Grove Methodist Church was disbanded about 1920, but the cemetery now contains about 250 graves is still used by descendants of the pioneer families.  An annual Memorial Day service is held each first Sunday in May.

The interior of the church structure designed by Daniel Beltz.

The church artwork at the center of the wall behind the altar area reads, “The Church of the Future, Christ Our Foundation.”

It seems that Jones used a short history of the church, written in 1970 by McAfee Matthews as her source.  That history of the church was posted on David Smith’s Cullman County GenWeb site and has been reposted here:

The Beginnings of Shady Grove

Just a few years after the close of the Civil War when the veterans of that war, both victor and vanquished, returned to their homes and families, this part of the country was a sparsely settled frontier. Un-entered government land was plentiful, but few if any, organized churches existed. As peace had been proclaimed and the Stars and Stripes waved hope, protection and patriotism to a reunited people, the desire and need of an organized church became apparent.

The Spirit of Wesley, The doctrine of Methodism as preached by John Wesley having already been firmly planted in the hearts and lives of our pioneer forefathers, the Methodist church in this vicinity was organized at Shady Grove. J.J. McKissack, W.H. Martin, and J.C. Vickery being appointed trustees. This began in the early part of the 1870s.

Richard McCain, an early pioneer of this country made application for 159 acres more or less, to the United States of America through a land office at Huntsville, Alabama. Homestead Certificate No. 1878; Application 544, Dated 1882. This land was granted to the said Richard McCain by the United States, signed by the President, Chester A. Arthur, and W.H. Crooky, Secretary. On December 28, 1882, Richard McCain and his wife, Jane McCain deeded seven acres of this newly purchased land to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church, J.J. McKissack, W.H. Martin and J.C. Vickery. Deed was signed by Richard McCain and wife, Jane McCain in the presence of Louis P. Peterson and G.W. Jaggers as witnesses and notarized by George Lester. No down payment was mentioned in this Warranty Deed, or how much the property cost. Some seem to think that it was given to the church by Richard McCain and wife, Jane McCain, but I have not found anyone who knows this to be a fact.

Anyway, after having acquired this land, two acres for the church and five acres for the cemetery, this little group of pioneers had very little money and was unable to build a church, they did the next best thing, a brush arbor served as a meeting place for worship until they could hew cut enough logs to build a church.

Along about the year of 1883 a dream was fast coming true. The trustees and everyone concerned met and decided to build the church. Someone asked where shall we build? George W. Kilgo (Uncle Charlie Kilgo’s father) pointed to a location, and said, “This is a nice level spot.” They all agreed on the site, then someone asked, “What shall we name it?” Uncle George said, “Let’s name it Shady Grove,” and so it was called Shady Grove thereafter. He told his son Charles Kilgo that he hit the first lick toward building the log church. Their tools being very crude and limited, it took many days with long hours and lots of muscle to hew out enough logs to build this first little church, but while it was being built, it was born with a faith in the future of this newly settled section and with a desire to serve the people of this potentially rich farming land.

This little church served as an educational center, split logs were used as benches. They had school three months out of the year. The little church floor was the Mother Earth.

Then about the year of 1888, they grew very ambitious and anxious to build a better and more spacious church. Sometime in the late 1880s, D.C. Beltz, a minister from Cincinnati, Ohio, moved to this part of the country. He seemed to have many talents, being a gunsmith, a carpenter, and a great sportsman. He did his work with precision and the trustees employed him as the architect for the building of the present church. He drew the blueprints which were the first to be used in this newly settled area. Some of the younger members wished to build the church at the bottom of this hill, but “our Uncle Sammy Leak” had such a desire to build it on top of this hill that he pledged 100 days of his time free, so on top of the hill the church was built. Uncle Sammy was born in 1812 and lived to be 84 years of age. He and his wife, Margaret Leak are buried out in this cemetery. It took many months to complete this church, but it was everything they had hoped for.

During the building of this church, or some time shortly thereafter the records show that the trustees borrowed money from the Board of Church Extension of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a Pennsylvania Corporation. The Encumbrances reads as follows:

Methodist Episcopal Church of Shady Grove

By: W.H. Martin, Richard McCain, J.W. Kilgo, T.W. Leak, and J.C. Vickery, Trustees

Kind of Encumbrance – Mortgage Deed

Date of Encumbrance – December 15, 1890

Date of Acknowledgment – December 23, 1890

Board of Church Extension of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a Pennsylvania Corporation

Date filed for record – December 23, 1890

Recorded in Mortgage Book 16, page 558-61

Consideration $200.00

Property Mortgaged

The South half of seven acres of the Southwest quarter of the Northeast quarter of the Southwest quarter of Section 26, Township 10, Range 5 West.

No Margin Entry . . .

When due: No time for payment specified, a condition of the trust agreement is that party of the first part shall not disassociate with party of Second part.

They only gave a mortgage on the acreage where the church is located. I judged from the records that they must have borrowed this money to finish the church and pay the architect. All the other labor was donated.

Among the early pioneers of this little community was Susana McCain, grandmother of Richard McCain, she was born in 1786, just 10 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed and she died in 1876. She lived to be 90 years of age. She is buried out in this cemetery.

The first graves as you enter the cemetery are unknown to us. My mother and aunt Dolly Ann Kilgo knew all the names, but we failed to make note of them. There are 231 graves in this cemetery, Charles Kilgo, Jr. being the last person buried here.

These dear forefathers made great progress and gave us a rich heritage. There were many gala affairs, celebrations, etc. held at Shady Grove – Fourth of July and other occasions. Our grandfather, Dr. Henderson Martin’s family was a musical family. They had a band of their own. Grandfather played the violin, Aunt Clem Brock the guitar, Aunt Ellen McAfee the organ, Aunt Belle Echols the banjo, Uncle Charlie Martin the drum, Uncle Jim Martin the horn and also violin. The other children did the singing. Mr. Elbert Kilgo made the statement to my sister, Etta Kilgo, “the first organ I ever saw and heard was in this church and Aunt Ellen McAfee was playing it.

We must not forget to mention the useful spring of water located about 250 yards Northwest down the hill. This spring supplied the church and the school with pure, cold water. During my childhood I recall my father and Uncle Bud Leak building a casing around the spring to protect it and keep it pure. It has disappeared, but it served it purpose.

Services were discontinued here about the year 1920, except for the Memorial we have on the first Sunday in May each year. As the country was being settled up at a rather rapid pace the population shift placed Logan a little nearer the center, but there are many, many people who will always hold Shady Grove near and dear to their hearts as I always will. My prayer is, may it always be held in reverence, by future generations.


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