In 1876, the same year that Taylor arrived in Georgia, a church was organized in the present Georgia-Cumberland Conference territory in Tennessee as a result of the work of Orlando Soule, who came to visit a Seventh-day Adventist friend named Wetherby, who had moved from Michigan to Sparta, Tennessee, on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau. Asked to lecture there, Soule remained to preach in several places, was ordained by D. M. Canright in May, and built up the first church in the conference area, the Mount Gilead church, not many miles from Sparta. He organized the church in the autumn, with Patrick D. Moyers, his first convert, as elder. Moyers, one of the earliest Southern-born Seventh-day Adventist preachers, was a strong pillar at Mount Gilead and later at Graysville, Tennessee.
Early in the history of the Quitman, Georgia, group of converts, one of the members, Samuel Mitchell, was arrested in July 1878 for plowing in his field on Sunday. In poor health, he could not endure the damp cell and became ill after serving 15 days of his 30-day sentence. Refusing on the one hand to take money that a member of Congress offered for his release, and on the other to promise that he would not work on Sunday if he were released, he died a martyr to Sunday law enforcement on Feb. 4, 1879.
Two colporteurs, George A. King and Charles F. Curtis, came to Georgia in 1885 to sell the books Daniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith, and Sunshine at Home, and returned North with enthusiastic reports of future prospects for the South. At the 1886 General Conference, Curtis, a student at Battle Creek College, and his fiancée, whom he married shortly thereafter, were asked to work in Atlanta with George W. Anglebarger, who was to head a city mission. Curtis was to look after the canvassing work, Mrs. Anglebarger was to be the “mission mother,” and Mrs. Curtis the Bible instructor. The two couples reached Atlanta March 3, 1887, a few months after the arrival of Charles Bliss, the minister in charge of the Georgia mission field, who had already won one convert in meetings conducted in Jonesboro.
After five weeks of a damp spring in Atlanta, Anglebarger, whose health had failed, moved with his wife to Colorado. A few days later, they were replaced by three Michigan Bible instructors, Clara Conklin, Anna Thomas, and Mrs. Charles Swartous, and Charles Swartout, a colporteur. Curtis took charge of the city mission.
The group conducted meetings in Atlanta and Fort Valley. On the advice of S.H. Lane, who replaced Bliss in Georgia and Florida in 1887, the Atlanta mission was closed because of a depression, and the workers moved to a less expensive home and in it conducted Sabbath and weeknight meetings. Later, the headquarters were moved to the southeast section of the city, where a church was organized in the fall of 1888. Curtis, then Georgia Tract Society director, was also assigned Florida and South Carolina.
A Review and Herald office was established in Atlanta in 1889 and remained active until the Southern Publishing Association in Tennessee was formed in 1901. Lane and his half brother, Dr. O.C. Godsmark, held a tent series in Athens, Georgia, in 1889. That same year, Georgia’s first Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting, with about 60 in attendance, was held at Reynolds, where a few people were already observing the Sabbath. Also in that year, two ministers, M.G. Huffman, of Indiana, and L.T. Crisler, of Florida, conducted tent meetings at Alpharetta, Georgia, and organized a company, which later became a church.
With the help of P.D. Moyers and J.W. Scoles, E.R. Gillett built a church in Graysville, Tennessee, a small town 30 miles north of Chattanooga, to which he had moved in 1885. J.M. Rees organized a group of ten members there on Sept. 8, 1888. The following year, the General Conference Committee appointed R.M. Kilgore president of District No. 2 (Southern District), and in 1890, he came to the South with his secretary, Arthur W. Spalding, and made Graysville his headquarters. The town remained headquarters for the Southern District for the next 12 years.
Eastern Kentucky and eastern Tennessee were organized in 1889 as the Cumberland Mission. GeorgiaSouthern Mission. G.T. Wilson, conducting tent meetings, was responsible for establishing a church in 1890 at Barwick, Georgia, not far from Quitman. The 1892 General Conference authorized A.P. Heacock to conduct tent meetings in the Cumberland Mission and Wilson in Georgia.
The Southern Training School, founding at Graysville, Tennessee, in 1892 and later moved to Collegedale, Tennessee, was the parent of the present Southern Adventist University.
In 1893, churches were organized by J.W. Scoles at Webster, Roane County, Tennessee, by W.A. McCutchen at Gainesville, Georgia, and by Grant Adkins in Knoxville, Tennessee. Also at Knoxville, following quiet house-to-house Bible studies, a company of African-American converts was organized. On Nov. 19, W.A. McCutchen and E.C. Keck, who had recently arrived from Battle Creek, were arrested for building benches for a new church school in Gainesville, Georgia, on Sunday. The case was tried twice and finally dismissed on the grounds that the labor performed by the men was not of their ordinary calling. The school was opened in 1893 and accepted children in elementary, and for a time, in secondary, grades. By June 30, tithe for the previous 12 months in the Cumberland Mission had risen to $844 and in Georgia to $898.
Late in 1894, there were 20 Graysville and Dayton, Tenn., members jailed for Sunday labor and sentenced to the chain gang. The controversy temporarily closed the Graysville school.
CUMBERLAND CONFERENCE AND GEORGIA CONFERENCE ORGANIZED
At camp meeting, in Harriman, Tennessee, Sept. 14, 1900, the Cumberland Mission was organized into the Cumberland Conference, with Smith Sharp as president. There were 450 members, one ordained minister, and two licensed ministers. Tithe amounted to about $3,800 that year. Between Aug. 9 and 19, 1901, at camp meeting in Austell, Georgia, the Georgia Conference, embracing the state of Georgia, was organized with C.A. Hall as president.
A church was organized at Macon, Georgia, in 1898. Later, churches were organized in Tennessee at Brayton (1901), Cleveland (1903), Daylight (1904), and Chattanooga (1907). The Southern Sanitarium at Graysville was completed in 1904. Another denominational sanitarium was established in Atlanta in 1903 near the conference headquarters. During the next ten years, privately operated treatment rooms and sanitariums were opened in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and at East Lake in Atlanta, the last named operated by Dr. D.F. Curtis. The Cumberland Industrial School was established by Clifford G. Howell at McMinnville, Tennessee, in 1902, and in 1907, it had an enrollment of 23. In 1905, another intermediate school was developed from a church school at the Alpharetta, Georgia, which in 1915 reverted to the local church.
When the Southeastern Union Conference was organized, Jan. 12, 1908, the Cumberland Conference was reduced to include only eastern Tennessee (with the western boundary on the west side of the counties of Clay, Jackson, Putnam, White, Warren, Grundy, and Marion), and was left with a membership of 530, with 12 churches and 5 elementary schools. By 1909, the following counties in northwest Georgia: Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield, Murray, Fanin, and Gilmer; and in Tennessee: Dekalb, Smith, and Macon, were also listed as belonging to the Cumberland Conference.
Churches were organized in Athens, Tennessee (1910), Savannah, Georgia (1911), and Lenoir City, Tennessee (1912), Greeneville, Tennessee (1913), and Stonewall, Georgia (1914). Also in 1914, a self-supporting school was established at Reeves, Georgia, near Calhoun, with a church of 31 members, most of whom had moved there from California. In 1915, churches were organized at Fitzgerald, Georgia; Johnson City and Bristol, Tennessee. Work in Johnson City dates back to the work of J.M. Rees in 1887.
As a result of large-scale evangelism in Atlanta by C.B. Haynes in 1912, 1914, 1917, and 1918, more than 150 were baptized and a new church was built. In 1915, there were 491 members in 15 Georgia Conference churches, and 604 members in 15 Cumberland Conference churches.
In 1918, the counties of Echols, Clinch, Charlton, Ware, Pierce, Wayne, Camden, Glynn, and McIntosh in the southeast corner of Georgia were transferred to the Florida Conference, and the northwest GeorgiaMurray, Finnin, and Filmer were returned from the Cumberland Conference. A year later, 18 western counties of North Carolina were added to the Cumberland Conference (none of which were retained after 1932, except Cherokee). In 1922, the conference headquarters was established adjacent to the Atlanta First church on Cherokee Avenue. Then in 1924, seven more northwest Georgia counties of Whitfield, counties went back to the Cumberland Conference.
Self-supporting medical institutions were prominent in several localities: a sanitarium at Reeves, Georgia, from 1915 to 1920, reorganized later as the Scott Sanitarium; the East lake Rest Home, operated by Dr. C. F. Curtis, taken over by Dr. J.F. Schneider from 1923 to 1927, replaced by the Georgia Sanitarium, on the west side of Atlanta, until 1958; a sanitarium at Douglasville, Georgia, opened in 1918 by Chalres Jones and his wife in connection with the Flat Rock School (1916-1923; from 1920 to 1923 a conference-owned school).
The General Conference, through Dr. J.R. Mitchell, arranged for Seventh-day Adventist students to attend the Atlanta Southern Dental School in 1934 and operated a student home until 1948. Additional self-supporting hospitals include in Tennessee, Little Creek Sanitarium, Hospital and School (organized in 1940) at Concord; Laurelbrook Hospital and School, Dayton. Takoma Hospital at Greeneville, Tennessee, built by Dr. L.E. Coolidge in 1927, was given to the Southern Union in 1954. Wildwood Sanitarium was organized in 1942 at Wildwood, Georgia. In 1958, the conference assumed the operation of two county hospitals in Georgia—Watkins Memorial Hospital at Ellijay and Louis Smith Memorial Hospital at Lakeland. In 1974, these were transferred to the Southern Adventist Health and Hospital Systems, Inc.
GEORGIA-CUMBERLAND CONFERENCE ORGANIZED
The Cumberland Conference was combined with the Georgia Conference in March 1932, forming the Georgia-Cumberland Conference, with H.E. Lysinger as president, and with headquarters at 547 Cherokee Ave., SE., Atlanta, Georgia. The 24 churches in the Cumberland Conference and the 23 in Georgia made 47 churches, with a total membership of 2, 490. In 1938, there were 49 white churches with 2,781 members and 9 African-American churches with 772 members. When on Jan. 1, 1946, the African-American churches of Tennessee were taken into the South Central Conference, and the African-American churches of Georgia and the Carolinas and all of Florida, except that portion lying west of the Apalochicola River, were taken into the South Atlantic Conference, there were 61 churches left to the Georgia-Cumberland Conference, with 3,000 members and 18 ordained ministers.
Conference properties acquired in the 1950’s included a youth camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of north Georgia (Atoka Springs Camp, 1955) and the Hurlbutt Farms (1959) with nearly 600 acres, where the Scott Sanitarium had been situated. These were near Calhoun, Georgia, and were purchased for a site for the Georgia-Cumberland Academy (GCA). With visionary planning, enthusiastic fundraising (including a memorable conference-wide Penny Campaign in which 3.4 million pennies were collected to help construct the music building), and a host of volunteers, construction began in 1961, and GCA opened its doors to 166 students in August 1965
In 1977 the Georgia-Cumberland Conference purchased a property in North Cohutta Springs consisting of approximately 550 acres. Two years later ground-breaking ceremonies were held for a $5 million dollar convention center project.
The initial phase of Cohutta Springs Conference Center was completed in 1983 and featured an auditorium, one motel unit, cabins, a cafeteria and gymnasium. A dam was built and a 50-acre lake was created for boating, swimming and fishing. Horses were brought in for horseback riding and hiking trails were forged. Over the years the conference purchased additional tracts of land and built up the complex chartering Cohutta Springs Youth Camp in 1980. Today, Cohutta Springs consists of 750 acres along with a 50-acre lake.
The Georgia-Cumberland Conference has now grown to over 39,000 Adventist members and employs more than 400 individuals (including part-time) in roles such as pastors, associates, seminarians, chaplains, ministerial directors, teachers, and support staff. The conference seeks to model Christ in all aspects of ministry by "Growing Disciples Through Shared Leadership."