History – Churches
The First church in the new town was erected on what is now Church Street and was known as the Williston Baptist Church. Records show that the church was first a member of the Savannah River Baptist Association and was received through their delegate, William F. Matthews. In the beginning there were only nine members. The ‘Mother’ church of Williston Baptist was Rosemary Baptist Church.
The first pastor was the Rev. H. D. Duncan who had been ‘circuit preaching’ at Williston once a month for more than a year. The formation of the church and the erection of a house of worship were due to his energy and fidelity.
William F. Matthews and his son Gideon C. Matthews Sr. were the first deacons and J. B. Armstrong the first clerk. G. C. Matthews was killed in battle at Battery Wagner on Morris Island in 1863, at thirty-nine years of age.
In 1859, the church withdrew from the Savannah River Association and united with the Barnwell Association. The 1866 session of the Barnwell Association was heard in the Williston Baptist Church.
The original church building was torn down in 1908 and a larger building was erected on the same site.
The Rev W. R. Davis became pastor in 1923 and served the church for ten years. In 1924 the membership decided to build a larger and more centrally located brick building. The architect was Willis Irvin of Augusta,Ga. The old building on Church St. was sold and remodeled as a residence in 1944.
From a small beginning, the church has advanced steadily forward through the years. In 1855 there were nine members; in 1936, 535; in 1962, 884; and in 1968 the church membership was 862. Winfield Heights Baptist Church was a mission church formed from The First Baptist Church.
Methodism in Barnwell County goes bark to the early 1800’s when the Barnwell Circuit came into the Conference and Columbia District in 1844. The Rev. Q. M. Chrestyberg and the Rev. Peter W. McDaniel were the pastors that year, serving the Williston Methodists who were without a church building.
In 1859 Dr. W. W. Smith, early church leader and generous benefactor, granted a piece of land to the Methodist-Episcopal Church on which to build a house of worship. It is believed that work was begun on the Church St. building in the early 1860’s. The building was in use in 1866.
The 1873 Conference minutes named seven churches in the Williston Circuit (Williston, Springs, Copen’s Chapel, New Hope, Sharon, Pierce’s Chapel, Siloam), and lists two hundred white members and two [sic] colored. There were four Williston families named: W. W. Smith, Hugh. E. Phillips, H. J. Harvey, and W. W. Graham.
In 1879 Williston and Blackville Circuits were joined with D. Z. Dantzler serving as pastor. Later they were united with the Springfield Circuit. This alignment remained until 1915 at which time Williston became part of the Aiken charge under the Rev. Driggers. This arrangement lasted until 1952 when Williston was made a full time appointment as result of the construction of the Savannah River Plant. The Rev. Levy Rogers was assigned by the Conference and served the church until October, 1956. The Rev. Rogers led the membership in building a beautiful new church one mile from town on the Springfield Road. It was completed in September, 1956.
The Williston Presbyterian Church was organized by a committee appointed by the Charleston Presbytery and first met in the Williston Baptist Church on September 21, 1920. The initial membership consisted of Mr. J. A. Latimer, Mrs. W. E. Protro, Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Cunningham, Mrs. R. S. Martin, Mrs. H. R. Thompson and Mr. W. C. Cunningham. The Rev. Hugh R. Murchison, D. D. of the Columbia Seminary faculty was called as supply pastor. For many years the services, through the kindness of friends, were held in the Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Kennedy Hall, and in various homes of the members.
The Rev. Stuart came in 1938 to serve the churches in Allendale, Boiling Springs, Barnwell and Williston. At that time there were only thirteen members. A new building was erected on land donated by Mr. W. E. Prothro. The beautiful stained glass windows were formerly in the old Baptist Church building, and were given to the Presbyterians by the families of Q. A. Kennedy, Dr. J. L. Smith and D. L. Merritt. Mr. William Henry Belk of the Belk Department Stores gave the brick for the building. The pulpit was made from an antique organ by the Rev. William D. Stewart. The church was completed and dedicated to the glory of God on January 24, 1943.
The Rev. Cecil Brearly followed the Rev. Stewart as pastor and organized an active Church School.
With the coming of the Savannah River Plant in 1950, the membership of the church began to increase. Regular weekly services were begun with the Rev. Sterling Edwards serving the Williston and Barnwell churches.
In 1954 an educational building was erected. Later a Hammond organ was installed. The membership increased to fifty.
The Williston Church was separated from the Barnwell Church in 1958 and the first full time pastor for Williston was the Rev. Charles Cook. An addition to the educational building and a pastorÕs study were completed in 1962. A new Office for the Pastor and Hall were added in the 1970s.
Beginning with eight members the church had 125 in 1970. Louise Prothro Alderman, daughter of Mr. & Mrs W.E. Prothro, was the last surviving charter member of the Church upon her death in Sept.1975.
One of the Church’s finest hours was when a baptismal font was dedicated in 1967 in honor of Mr. W. C. Cunningham on his 90th birthday.