Joyce Millsaps Bryson
Some of the happiest and saddest times of my life were spent as the Atco Baptist Preacher’s daughter. We moved there as the first “full-time” Preacher’s family. Our family consisted of My 39 year old Dad, 32 year old Mother, and 4 girls ranging from 8-15 years old. We moved from a 3 bedroom pastorium with a bath but no inside water so we had a well worn path, and a large country kitchen with a water pump just off the back porch. Our last move had been from a pastorium with water to the one without (common in the rural areas in the 40’s). This move to the new home the Atco Baptist Church had built for the new preacher with only two bedrooms, but a bathroom and kitchen with water, was the first bright side of our move. . We didn’t realize that only two streets in Atco where the church members lived had the amenities they had built for us.
The second bright side of our move was the Atco people. They greeted us with open arms. My Mother often spoke of Atco as being the most loving church she ever attended. They invited us into their homes for fellowship and food. Hindsight, I know it was a chore to have an extra family of six for a meal. Frances Rogers insisted I take her best dresses on my senior trip to Washington. When someone stole my sister’s clothes at college, Katherine and Alvie Mulkey bought her more clothes. Someone took care of us at every occasion. Life as a Pastor’s family has its challenges at every level, but I will always remember my years as the Preacher’s Kid at Atco as being a happy time.
The sad part of moving was leaving our friends at church and school in Epworth, Ga. We easily made friends at the church but the Cherokee Ave. Elementary & Cartersville High School was a different story. It was harder for my younger sisters than for me. I had friends from “home” who were old enough to drive down to visit me on week-ends. I had just celebrated my 15th birthday when we moved. I had completed two years high school at Epworth High which was the 9th grade. Georgia Schools were in the process of changing from 11 to 12 grades required for graduation. Epworth Schools had not implemented this yet, but the Cartersville City Schools had. At Cartersville the 8th grade that I had been in was held back in elementary school so for 4 years there wasn’t supposed to be a class. The transfer students which included myself were considered 10th grade but had to take 12th grade subjects. Then our 11th year we were considered Seniors, but had to take 11th grade subjects. I actually went from 9th grade subjects to 12th grade subjects in one year. I made mostly passing grades, barely, my junior year. The next year when I became a senior taking junior subjects I did much better at school, so life was better. We had 11 in our graduating class.
When Thanksgiving came the Goodyear Company delivered a basket with a turkey, fruits, and sweets to us. We had never had turkey and cranberry sauce before. I guess it would have been foolish for my parents to spend their money for turkey when my Mother could bake a hen with all the trimmings or make chicken and dumplings. I guess you could say Goodyear introduced us to Mr. Gobbler. Mother roasted the turkey along with corn bread stuffing and I haven’t had a Thanksgiving without turkey since. We liked it. At Christmas time The Company had Santa at the Club house with lots of toys for all the children. They gave both the Baptist and Methodist Preachers a large ham with all the trimmings along with a lot of fruits, nuts, and candies. By the end of 1948 we knew we had made a good move.
When I joined the Atco Baptist church in July, 1948 Leonard Ray led the singing while Eel Bagwell played the piano. Carl McMillan led the singing and Frances Morrow Harris played the piano for the Methodist services. Rev. Bartenfielt was the Methodist pastor and my Dad the Baptist pastor when we moved there. Both pastors and churches worked well together, however when the churches got their own buildings each congregation was as large as the one congregation in the shared building. Everyone was happy that there was twice as many of the Atco people worshipping each Sunday.
The Methodist and Baptist rotated using the church building in the Atco Village which the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company owned. The Deacons I remember who welcomed us were: Andrew Mulkey, Harley Watkins, J. D. Farmer, Harvey Silvers and Ed Jones. I’m sure there were others there as well but these are the ones I recall 57 years later. These men are to be remembered for their prayers and commitment to become an active full-time church. They put legs on their prayers when they built the new house for a future full time pastor, but needed to grow financially to pay a full time pastor. During the first months we got to go back to the mountains to the Hemptown Baptist church where my Dad preached every other Sunday until the Atco Baptist Church was able to support a full time pastor. Every Sunday morning cheers went up from the back seat when we reached the Fannin-Gilmer line going back “home”. We were all asleep by the time we reached the Gordon-Bartow line on Hwy 411 going back to our new home but there would have been no cheers if we had been awake. Preacher’s kid’s are said to be the meanest kids around (Dad joked, “because they had to play with the deacons kids”). They really do have a lot of challenges.
As the church grew financially they made arrangements to have church every Sunday and use the Atco School Auditorium for services on the Sunday’s the Methodist used the church building.
As the attendance and treasury grew the Church needed to make some decisions. They needed a building of their own. The Methodist Church with whom they shared Goodyear’s building also needed a place of their own. Frank Harris who was a Methodist steward and my Dad had the connection of being born in the North Georgia Mountains just a few miles apart. They discussed their problems and came up with a plan. Both churches voted to ask Goodyear to give the Methodist a church site to build a new building and sell the existing building to the Baptist. Goodyear gave the Methodist a site near the gate. They discounted the value of the land they donated to the Methodist from the price of the building they sold to the Baptist. The Methodists were happy to build a new building and the Baptists were happy to buy and begin renovating the old building. I never heard a complaint about the arrangement as both Churches became full-time churches.
During the late 40’s and early 50’s the Baptist Church had many projects to help raise money to pay for the purchase and renovation of the church building. The men worked all night cooking barbeque on huge grills at Wingfoot Park. The women made slaw and all the trimmings. Everyone sold tickets for the event with the proceeds going to the building fund. The Young Women’s Auxiliary set up Gospel Quartets concerts held at the Atco School. Everyone enjoyed the groups such as the Spear Family, the Harmoniers, and the Homeland Harmony Quartet, with proceeds going to the building fund. The Woman’s Missionary Union had plates printed with a picture of the Church, one of which I still treasure, with proceeds to the building fund. Many Church members saw the need to tithe. Though the checks from the mill were not above average pay, the tithe of all these average checks provided the means for above average programs to reach the young and old.
My Dad was a people person. He took everyone at face value and loved them just the way they were. He played Rook with the young adult couples. Several men became receptive to Church and eventually to Christ because they learned to trust him through the Rook Connection.
Clifford Green told the story about walking home from work with her husband and friends one day when Leon said, “There’s your Preacher under that house with his white shirt on working on a water pipe”. Dad didn’t know much about pipes but he knew the man who needed help.
There were several devout Christian women who brought their children to church regularly. They prayed daily for their husbands who definitely would not plan to be home if they knew the Preacher was coming to talk to them about their relationship to God. Dad would show up at their house at four o’clock as they got home from the mill for supper. They always invited him to eat with them. Dried beans and cornbread was a daily meal at most homes. My Dad, who always grew his own beans and ate them green, learned to like pintos in the process of making friends with the men. Many of them became faithful church members.
The church welcomed us with open arms. We were invited into their homes for fellowship and meals, and into their hearts as their preacher’s family. My Dad had aunts and uncles who lived In the area. His uncles, Walter Millsaps and the Rev. Sam Millsaps (Methodist Preacher), and Aunts, Nola Millsaps Davenport. Ida Millsaps Springfield and Ethel Millsaps Bearden had moved from Fannin County there when they were much younger. I especially remember his Aunt Ethel and Uncle Roland Bearden who were active in the Methodist Church. They couldn’t have been more proud of him even if he was a Baptist. I had been to their house a couple of times when my Dad brought his Dad, Mount Millsaps, to visit his Mother, Mary Ann Stepp Millsaps, who lived with them. It was a long trip to make during WW2 with gasoline and tires rationed. She was the only great-grandparent I ever saw. She died at Aunt Ethel’s house on Defender Street in Atco only a short while before my grandfather died in Fannin County in 1945.
My Dad had a 1939 Dodge car when we moved to Cartersville. It had survived nine years of hard driving. During the war years they didn’t make new cars. When gasoline and tires were rationed. my Uncle Woodrow Harkins, a sawmiller shared his ration stamps with Dad. Sawmillers got more for the war effort and Dad needed more to transport people in the Copper Basin, whose sons and husbands were in service, to get medical treatment. I remember going with him to Chattanooga on these trips. Sometimes he patched and repatched, as many as three flats during one trip.
Vennie Williams’ (Atco church organist) husband Wallace (a devout Presbyterian) owned a new car and he volunteered on several occasions for my Dad to drive his car back to the mountains for funerals. Dad also pastored Shoal Creek Church, in Cherokee County, with services on Sunday Afternoon. He left Atco after the eleven o’clock service, drove up a very muddy country road (as most roads in Bartow County were in the 1940’s) to preach at Shoal Creek, and then back over the muddy road for the evening worship service at Atco. He made the same trek on Tuesday afternoons for mid-week prayer service. Mary Jean Payne, who was afflicted with MS, and her Mother, saw how badly he needed a new car. They knew he couldn’t afford one on his salary with his size family so they got their home church, Shoal Creek Baptist to agree to pay half and the Atco Church to pay half for a new 1949 Dodge. He took it straight to the Atco Company Store and put Goodyear tires on it.
The church had no air conditioning at the time. The windows were raised during the summer worship services and for blocks around you could hear praises sung out of the “red books” and the Bible being preached. Hundreds of people were baptized in the pool under the choir. All the seats had to be moved and the floor over the pool removed for the baptizing service. Some of the people preferred to be baptized in the stream at Wingfoot Park. Rocks were put in the stream to make a dam to supply water deep enough to baptize adults. Etched in my memory is the
Church gathered round singing “Shall we gather at the River?” and then my Dad raising his right hand toward the heavens and saying, “Upon the profession of this my brother’s faith, I baptize thee, Harold Whitley, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen”. Fifty-five years later I sat at a funeral in a country church in Lumpkin County, Ga. while they sang “I’ll fly away” out of the “red book” at the request of the deceased, Harold Whitley, who had served the Lord the world over, while serving in the United States Air Force. He had completed the trip he began with Christ at the Atco Baptist Church. He joined Wallace Millsaps, Euell Bagwell, Leonard Ray and his parents from the Atco Baptist Church in their permanent home. This scene is happening many times over as we, the Atco young people of the 1940’s and 50’s, are reaching our sixties and seventies and moving beyond. Thank God for the good Atco people that provided the church of my youth!
Another plus provided by the lack of air conditioning in the homes was the swings and rocking chairs on every front porch. In the “cool” of the evening neighbors visited with each other. All of the windows were up during the day. Around noon weekdays you could walk all the way across the Village and not miss a note of the LeFevre Trio’s radio broadcast beaming from almost every house.
The Atco Baptist Girls Chorus was a group of girls who agreed to meet with Euell Bagwell at the Church and practice singing. And practice we did. Euell played the piano and his wife Lois who sang soprano, divided us into alto, soprano, and tenor groups. It worked! We sang gospel songs and traditional hymns. Every time I hear one on a Gaither tape my mind goes back to a group of happy girls singing our hearts out for a church that we knew loved us very much.
I remember the Church’s pride in helping bright young chorus members, Beverly Farmer and Dora Cornett, and Eugene Stafford go to Truett McConnell College. When any young person from the Village was recognized for an achievement in high school or college the Church showed their appreciation by recognizing them. Our senior year Marjorie Culberson (Simpson) and I played on a losing basketball team at Cartersville High, and they recognized us anyway. Atco practiced what they preached when it came to supporting their youth.
The two years I spent as a youth in Atco Baptist Church were my last two years at home. When I graduated from Cartersville High School in 1950 just before my seventeenth birthday I moved (in theory) to Atlanta. In reality I came home to my parents every week-end I could and attended Church. While I sang in the Girls Chorus and visited with my high school friends, I then felt I belonged in the adult world. After I married and moved to the Village I worshipped at the Atco Baptist Church, but being the Preacher’s kid there is locked in my memory in a different category. I never got over feeling I was being watched (and cared for) because I was the Preacher’s Kid.