Kelleytown Baptist Church: Overview
The official organization of Kelleytown Baptist Church, located in Hartsville’s historic Kelleytown community, dates to November 18, 1923. By then eight decades had passed since 1843, the year Jacob Kelley donated land for a “graveyard and a meeting house.” This delay coincided with the Civil War and its aftermath, both of which presented dire obstacles to residents of the small village.
Nonetheless, the congregation not only persevered but prospered. While members of Kelleytown Baptist now meet in a modern brick building, the original edifice was constructed of woodlap siding painted white. Congregants first worshiped at their new church on June 22, 1924. Here, you can see a photo of the first church, dated August, 1951.
By 1953 and 1954, the church’s membership had increased such that a new educational building was needed. At this time, the historic church was veneered in brick (see below) to match the new educational building (not shown). The church originally featured two single doors at its narthex. One door was for women, and one door was for men. Each door was in turn accessed by a separate flight of stairs, framed and divided by rectangular brick columns. These distinctive features were replaced during its 1953-1954 renovation by a broad porch, a wide flight of stairs, and double doors. The latter reflect new attitudes towards the segregation of sexes. The intriguing and lovely stained-glass windows, which hinge in the center, remain.
The current church was not completed until 1979. Designed by Gilliland and Associates, Inc. of Rock Hill and built by Dan Askins, Jr, the brick-veneer church mirrors many modern Southern Baptist sanctuaries of this era in its Greek Revival design. Of special note is its steeple and cross, the latter of which stands guard over Kelleytown at nearly 100 feet.
Kelleytown Baptist Church: Windows Through Time
The first image below shows the windows that grace Kelleytown Baptist Church’s current edifice. The two images that follow it show the stained glass windows in the old church building.
This window (below) hinges at the center, its top half tilting into the church to allow air flow. This design, as well as its stained ombre glass, make it especially pretty and unusual.
The seal on this window reads, A Million Men for Christ with a large B in the center. The B stands for Baptist Brotherhood, whose “mission is to build Christian men, one boy or one man at a time.”
Kelleytown Baptist Church: Detailed History
The following article was contributed to the South Carolina Picture Project by Bill Segars, Kelleytown native and Kelley family descendant. Bill is a lifelong member of Kelleytown Baptist Church and wrote this history in 2019.
Even though Kelleytown Baptist Church – building or congregation – is not nearly as old as the origin of the Kelleytown community, the Church’s founding members have had a tremendous impact on the Kelleytown community. This unwritten influence predates the Church’s official November 18, 1923 organizational date. Kelleytown’s namesake, Jacob Kelly, came to this area in 1820, at the age of 40. He realized that the area would eventually need a “graveyard and a meeting house,” so he gladly donated a tract of land near his home (Jacob Kelley House) for that purpose in 1843. Due to many circumstances well beyond his control, the original intent was not realized for several decades.
As progressive as Jacob Kelley was for the area, he had no control over the tragedies of the 1860s and 1870s, the War between the States and its aftermath. Much of what he worked to accomplish and obtain was lost during these times. Finally in 1874, at the age of 94, Jacob Kelley died of old age and heart break, residing now in the land that he donated for a “graveyard and a meeting house,” later to be known as Kelleytown Baptist Church Graveyard, even though the sign reads Cemetery.*
Like many rural Southern areas, the late 1800s in Kelleytown proved to be a struggle just to exist. Unfortunately struggling times will breed a certain degree of lawlessness. Many have said that during these times, the Kelleytown area was not a “nice place to live.” Many of these stories, tales, and folklores may be best left for another story.
By the early 1900s, order seemed to be restored in Kelleytown due to prospering times and certain people moving back into the area. James Whitfield Gardner, a descendent of Jacob Kelley, had been left a good portion of land in the Kelleytown area, but due to the post-Civil War conditions in the area, he chose not to live in Kelleytown. When his daughter, Terah, married Gosnold Gillium Segars in 1900, Gardner offered them land in Kelleytown if they would move there.
Even though there was not a church in Kelleytown, the people that were moving back to the area were Godly people. The sparsely settled residents attended nearby churches like Liberty Hill Baptist, Gum Branch Baptist, and First Baptist in Hartsville. Terah Gardner Segars and her cousin Leland Segars Hungerpiller attempted to begin a short-lived Sunday School in the community in 1909. Although this attempt was somewhat of a failure, a seed was planted – the seed of the need for an organized religious facility in the area.
By 1911 J. W. Gardner realized that Kelleytown had improved and that it may not be as bad of a place to live as it once was. So he and his remaining family moved back to the Kelleytown community and built a house, which stands today at 2555 Kelleytown Road. In 1915 J. W. Gardner consulted with Major J. L. Coker, of Hartsville, concerning the advisability of beginning a church in Kelleytown. For some reason, Major Coker advised against building a new church building at this time, but assured Mr. Gardner that someday there would be a church in the community.
The Lord very often works in mysterious ways. The next chapter in the establishment of Kelleytown Baptist church is described in a history of the church written by the Reverend Carlos Watson in 1964. The final chapter is not written anywhere else, but has been told to this writer many times by people who witnessed it.
The Reverend Watson’s account is of a man by the name of Robert L. Lundy, a farmer in the area with very little or no education. He was known to be a heavy drinker and used profanity profusely. To quote the Reverend Watson’s account:
It is reported that Rev. Bussey, pastor of Gum Branch Baptist Church, visited him (Lundy) one day to talk to him about his soul. Mr. Lundy was plowing. He refused to stop plowing in order to talk to the pastor. So Rev. Bussey just followed along as Mr. Lundy plowed, talking to him about Jesus Christ. One day the Holy Spirit got hold of Mr. Lundy and saved him. Mr. Lundy then felt called of God to preach. He could not read the Bible, but his wife would read to him and teach him the Scriptures. He would memorize his text verses and develop his sermon around them. He went from place to place preaching and holding tent revivals.
It was at one of the “Reverend” Lundy’s tent revivals in October of 1923 that 21 members of the Kelleytown community stood in support of forming a new church in the community. These 21 names consisted of eight Kelleys, four Segars, three Gardners, two Gaineys, two Marshalls, one Brown, and one Polson.
The final factor in the formation of Kelleytown Baptist Church is an assumption of this writer; I have not seen it recorded elsewhere. Given the research that I have done, coupled with the personal knowledge of the people involved, I refuse to believe that this timing is coincidental. The fact is that on October 6, 1923, a meeting at Gum Branch Baptist Church (now Hartsville Presbyterian) was called to discuss Mr. Henry K. Segars, the owner of a swimming pool and dance hall. Written minutes of that meeting state:
For the purpose of the case of H. K. Segars who had and was at this time operating a swimming pool and dance hall he was a member of this church in good standing and a great worker in church affairs and Sunday School being teacher of the men’s class but the pastor, Mr. H. M. Hodgen, and some members of the church thought it wrong that he should continue with the resort which was sinful and still belong to the church. His was agreed and noted. He was found guilty and turned out of the church.
H. K. Segars was in fact operating Segars Mill Swimming Pool where men and women were allowed to swim together (oh how sinful!). H. K., Henry, Segars was a brother and cousin to many of the Kelleytown people already interested in forming their own church in Kelleytown, about a mile from the swimming pool.
As I knew these people – Kelleys, Gardners, and Segars – I offer to you: Kicking Cousin Henry out of the church may have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” the driving force to go ahead and form their own church. Henry Segars being voted out of Gum Branch on October 6 – Kelleytown Baptist formed six weeks later on November 18, a coincident? I don’t think so.
Anyway Kelleytown Baptist was established and action was taken immediately to build a building. As was the practice with most country churches, everyone pitched in to support the construction process in any way that they could. Mr. Elias Kelley donated the timber for the framing lumber. Mr. H. K. Kelley (owner of that “sinful swimming pool”) sawed the timber at his mill. Mr. J. W. Gardner drew the plans and built the pews from lumber given by Mr. Sam Clanton, Mrs. Nira King Blackwell, and Mr. W. C. Stokes. Mr. Evans Webb was the builder.
The Reverend R. L. Lundy preached the first sermon in the completed building on June 22, 1924. When the building was completed, it had a value of $8,000. The building was dedicated, debt free in less than three years, on January 9, 1927.
As the Kelleytown community grew, so did Kelleytown Baptist Church – its ministry, congregation, and physical plant. By the late 1940s, after Word War II, people seemed to be moving into the Kelleytown area. Kelleytown Baptist was willing to meet the challenge of new residents in the area. Between 1953 and 1954, the Church enrollment increased from 208 to 292. This precipitated the need for a new educational building which was completed in 1954 for a cost of $20,000. It was during this building program that the original wood siding church building was brick veneered, transforming this once-country church into a more modern church building.
In 1955, when a new public school building, West Hartsville Elementary School, was built, the original old school building and its property became available for sale. This property is at the intersection of Kelleytown Road and Tema Road, adjoining the Church property; so it was only natural for the Church to buy it. This building was used as recreational space for the youth until 1964.
During the early 1960s, attendance again increased to the point that a newer, larger educational building was being discussed. By the end of 1964, a new two story educational building was completed by Dan Askins, Sr. from plans drawn by John Everhart at a cost of $62,000.
It was during this same time period the deacons of the Church realized that they did not have a deed for the property that they had been building on for so many years. Through the work of lawyers and the persistence of Graham Segars, the Church was able to obtain a legal deed to the gift of property from Jacob Kelley for a “graveyard and a meeting house” that had been given 121 years earlier.
From this time on, Kelleytown Baptist Church has not stopped growing. On June 17, 1979, the Church members marched from the original 1924 sanctuary into a new sanctuary designed by Gilliland and Associates and constructed by Dan Askins Jr. The design of this building, which stands today in Kelleytown, was discussed at some length with the overriding thought that its design would need to have a steeple. The general conscience was that the Church in the community needed to be a focal point of the community and what better way to prove that point than with a tall steeple? So the steeple today stands 55 feet tall on a 40-foot high brick base on the ridge of the roof.
Each time that an addition was made to the physical plant, renovations were done to the existing buildings. All of this was done to meet the growing religious needs of not only Kelleytown Baptist Church, but the Kelleytown community. Jacob Kelley must be proud to witness from his resting place in the Kelleytown graveyard not only the birth and growth of his “meeting house,” but also the organized growth implemented by many of his decedents in his community of Kelleytown which is now 200 years old.
*Cemeteries are burial grounds that exist independently of a church. Graveyards, or churchyards, are burial grounds that are attached to churches.