Bethlehem United Methodist Church
Bethlehem United Methodist Church, not far from Fairfield, is one of the oldest churches in Jefferson County, dating back to the work of Ebenezer Hearn in 1818. The land for the Church and Cemetery was donated to the Church Officials by James Rutledge in 1818. The original Church was built under the direction of Rev. James Tarrant, who was born in the Colony of Virginia, and who was a Captain in the service of the United Colonies in the War for Independence, who lived a while in South Carolina, and who possessed deep piety and fixed religious principles. Rev. Tarrant settled on a Creek in Alabama, about eight miles from the old town of Jonesboro.
Rev. James Tarrant, Mrs. Margaret Sadler Prude (wife of John Prude), and Nancy Sadler (Mrs. William Rose Sadler) organized the church. Rev. J. Tarrant was a saintly man and promised the ladies he would preach until a Circuit pastor could be found. (Information from Sadler and Tarrant records). Rev. James Tarrant died in the 1830s, at his home and was buried on his own premises, a few hundred yards from Bethlehem Church, and Adam, the Negro slave died in the 1880s. It was reported by Mrs. Josie Rutledge Ray that Adam was buried near the Rev. James Tarrant’s home.
William Sadler and his wife Nancy Sadler lived near Bethlehem and held their membership there. It is said that Mrs. Martha Rutledge, a member of Bethlehem was the first person to be buried at Bethlehem.
Rev. Tarrant brought with him to his new home in Alabama a young Negro slave whose name was Adam. He was noted for his religious excellence, and was an experienced builder. With the help of slaves of other settlers, the logs were soon cut, hand hewn, and hauled to the building site. A great “log rolling” took place, and the Church completed. From the first, Bethlehem was one of the centers of Methodism, and there Camp-meetings were held, and the Methodist host of the surrounding country assembled. Grand times were witnessed at that place.
The original Church was a one room log building and in the early 1890s the logs were removed to the floor and a frame building erected, using the old log sills and six inch board flooring for the floor. They are still in use (1973), well preserved, and are in the same location as they were in 1818.
In 1954 the Church was raised eight feet due to the building of a new 4 lane highway in front of it and the old log sills and six inch board flooring became a part of the ceiling in the dining hall.
In 1956 the downstairs area was dedicated to the memory of James Rutledge and named “James Rutledge Fellowship Hall.” Dr. J. D. Hunter, a former Pastor, was in charge of the Dedication Service with several descendants of James Rutledge present. From the beginning there has always been at least one member of the Church that was a descendant of his.
The Church has grown from a one room log building to one containing two large auditoriums, a large kitchen, fully equipped, and 13 class rooms all air-conditioned, and all are equipped with gas heating systems.
Compiled by Vivian Hayes Crump in 1973, from following information:
“A History of Methodism in Alabama,” by Rev. Anson West, D.D.
“History of Methodism in Alabama and West Florida,” by Marion Elias Lazenby 1960;
“Pioneer Scrapbook,” by Rose McDavid Munger;
and notes from Mr. Clyde Crane, received from George Rutledge, a grandson of James Rutledge.
The above article appeared in a booklet “A History of The Bethlehem United Methodist Church 1818-1974.”