Settlers who started Holly Creek Baptist Church 175 years ago would be amazed by growth, says Southern Baptist historian


CHATSWORTH, Ga. — With horse-drawn wagons full of farm implements and other necessities, settlers began arriving on former Cherokee lands along Holly Creek in northwest Georgia in the mid-1800s, establishing homesteads and, later, a church that will celebrate its 175th anniversary in mid-July.

Holly Creek Baptist Church, which began with a handful of farm families meeting in a one-room log structure, survived meager early years to become a major player in the spread of the gospel in this part of Georgia.

Pastor Danny Cochran muses about the major changes the church has seen since its founding. Paved parking lots have replaced the hitching posts where horses once stood. Furnaces replaced the church’s potbellied stoves. And air conditioners mean church members no longer have to rely on an occasional breeze to blow through open windows to keep cool.

Through all the change, Cochran said one thing has remained constant — a “supportive, encouraging” congregation.

“There’s a core of people who go back generations in this church,” he said. “They’re committed to this church and its ministry.”

Many of those people will gather at Holly Creek on July 16 for an anniversary celebration, remembering the meager beginnings of a church that began with five local farmers and their families and grew to a membership of more than 2,000 people, making it one of the largest congregations in rural Georgia.

“Our church has always been a stable part of this community,” said 70-year-old Rita Hawkins who first attended the church as a child when her father was pastor. “It has always been a very friendly church, a loving church. It’s not unusual for us to have people who come just to visit and never leave.”

The congregation survived the Great Depression and pulled together to support one another through a long series of wars involving local soldiers, including the Civil War, World War I and II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the War on Terror.

The church also battled through the recent COVID-19 pandemic that killed more than 1.1 million Americans, just as it did the Spanish flu that killed some 675,000 Americans in 1918 and 1919.

The original log structure has long since been replaced by a series of modern buildings on Holly Creek/Cool Springs Road a few miles outside Chatsworth.

“Most of the settlers had been there less than 10 years when the church started,” said Southern Baptist historian Charles Jones, basing that conclusion on when the Cherokees were forced west along the Trail of Tears. “Most of the settlers would have been subsistence farmers. They were largely of Scotch-Irish descent, moving into north Georgia from the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.”

Cochran said records from the congregation’s early years have been either lost or destroyed, but he said the church’s survival through tough times is proof that it has always kept an emphasis on evangelism and discipleship.

The number of people the church has reached with the gospel since its founding is anyone’s guess, but records maintained by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board show the congregation has baptized more than 1,350 new believers since 1972.

Cochran reflects on the church’s founding as a time when Georgia Baptists felt a greater reliance on God, trusting He would provide rain to nourish the crops that fed their families and that He would provide dry weather for the harvest.

“We see more complacency today as people have become more affluent,” he said. “I feel like that’s probably the biggest change in the past 175 years.”

Jones said the church's cemetery contains the graves of pioneering Baptists who "would be amazed to see what God has done" at Holly Creek.

“If those folks in that cemetery who had been here 175 years ago could see the impact that this church is having on the community and the world, they would say keep it going until Jesus comes.”