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Century-old Dawson County church gets indoor plumbing
Salem pic 6
Carol Dooley stands in front of the newly-added space at Salem. - photo by Amy French Dawson County News

Salem United Methodist Church is not dealing with the dilemmas that many modern churches face-like should whether or not to offer more youth events or whether they should build a recreational facility or what kind of toys should be purchased for the nursery.

Instead, Salem is touting its newly-installed indoor plumbing that affords its members the option to use the facilities that are in the building versus the two-seater outhouse they've used since the 50s.

The indoor, running water for the bathroom sink is also nice.

One of the oldest churches in the county at 103 years this summer, Salem has had at least three, if not four buildings, since the early 1800s according to newly elected vice president of the Dawson County Historical and Genealogical Society, Carol Dooley.

When Dooley married into the Dooley family 28 years ago, she learned about her mother-in-law, Lora ‘Ma' Dooley and how she married into the McGuire family who's home church this had been since it was built in 1914.

Dooley's husband Benjamin Charles Dooley's great-great-grandfather, Wesley McGuire, penned his name on the 1846 property deed.

Dooley's affinity for her family and the church they helped established over a century ago has led her down a long and winding genealogical road and prompted her to begin to piece together the history of the property, the families and the community.

"Ma Dooley loved her family, her church and that ‘old house' as she called it so much that it rubbed off on me," Dooley said.

"I am just self-taught. I don't know a lot about a lot," Dooley said. "I'm just jumping in and trying to do and the folks at the courthouse are just so nice."

Though Dooley is not a member, she has had an integral role and has created a Facebook page for the church to help preserve it through memory and history and creating a living record.

Though Dooley says the church is dying out, it has withstood time and culture and curiosity.

Just this last year the donation of Pauline Ivey via her estate and its executor Betty Ann Bagley, provided the opportunity for the church to carefully add on the restroom facility with stone exterior to match. The facility was finished in January.

"Salem Church did not even have a restroom," Bagley said. "I found out and said how much would it cost?"

As the roughly 6-12 regular attenders had grown leery of the large, black snake that occasionally shares the outhouse, the addition was literally a welcomed relief.

"It's truly inhabited by at least one big, black snake," Dooley said. "People have seen it and I have found twice snake skins taller than me.

When Ivey passed away in April of 2014 she left money that was to be distributed to churches, schools and cemetery funds.

That money has been put to use all across Dawson County, from the Performing Arts Center at Dawson County High School to Lanier Tech and all the way out to Barrettsville to the dead end road where Salem sits.

The road was only paved about three years ago by the county and having access to water for the restroom was initially an issue.

Money was first donated from the Ivey will to the cemetery fund and Bagley's own father attended school in the building when he was young.

Bagley later came back with the offer to add the bathroom, but without a well and the closest water line over two miles away, it looked like it would not happen.

"We just couldn't find a way to do that," Dooley said. "Maybe a year went by and Betty Ann got in touch with a cousin at a funeral. That cousin called me and said ‘Betty Ann really wants ya'll to have this money for a bathroom.'"

A man building a house across the road had just applied for water.

"I think it was just God's timing," Dooley said.

With the water line taken care of, Dooley and the trustees took seriously the responsibility of adding on the facility in a way that would preserve the church's history and appearance.

Since the original exterior consisted of handmade bricks, produced by original member Jordan Anderson in 1914, finding an exact match would not be possible.

"I did my best to try to find something to match and of course that didn't happen so those over there they come in five or six sizes and different colors. We did the best we could. We are thrilled with the way it turned out," she said.

Dooley pointed out the beveled edges of the original bricks and flat face versus the rough faced straight edge of the addition, but to look at the building from the road, the difference is negligible and the appearance works.

A number of the original bricks have small-coin sized holes-penny-sized to be exact. For a reason that Dooley has not yet been able to uncover, someone inserted pennies into the face of many of the bricks at the time of construction.

All of the original 1914 pennies have been removed over the years and in some spots new pennies have been inserted. It's one of the intriguing mysteries associated with the building.

"When it was built, somebody put pennies. All of these holes had pennies. The only pennies that are here now are new pennies," she said. "It was just for folks to wonder why."

Another notable distinction in the bricks is that a few were stamped with the 1914 construction date, but a couple of those were laid upside down. In her research and conversations with some of the elder congregants, there has been no light shed as to why.

"Did they do this just for fun?" Dooley said.

There is also some minor damage to the original cornerstone, said to be from a gunshot.

The church has survived vandalism, haunting and even the possibility of an airport, according to Dooley.

The vandalism is readily attributable to its location at the end of a dead-end road. The road ends a short distance beyond the handful of parking spaces that sit across from the building and just at the spot where what was Lockheed property begins. There is no through-way.

In the early 90s, there was talk of an airport going in as the city of Atlanta had purchased the Lockeheed land and Ma Dooley and others protested the effort, but the airport did not materialize.

As for haunting, Salem does carry with it a number of urban legends.

"Part of it is because it's secluded," Dooley said. "It's supposed to be haunted. We've found a few people out here a few times."

It's quiet and the isolated location no doubt lend the building to eerie tales like red eyes in the dark and doors that open on their own.

Dooley said that in all her time there she has seen nothing of the sort. She has, however, seen the effects of vandalism that may also be the result of those kinds of stories.

"They would break in but wouldn't steal anything," she said.

Dooley's passion for history and the preservation of buildings and documents and tombstones is serving Salem and the Barrettsville community well.

"I have always loved old things," Dooley said.

Her husband said she was born in the wrong time period.

"Anyway, cemeteries get a bad rap for being spooky and creepy, dealing with death etc. They are the final resting places of our loved ones. We pick out special markers, symbolic things, special words for our loved ones. They are museums of sorts...especially the older they are," she said.

Dooley attended a workshop in Illinois to learn from one of the nation's top conservators, Jonathan Appell, the best methods for preservation and cleaning the headstones and monuments in the Salem cemetery.

Appell spent two days with Dooley and the pair worked round the clock to straighten, repair, re-set and clean several of the grave sites. Many now look almost new.

"I am humbled to know I can play a small part in trying to maintain them with ‘Do No Harm' methods for future generations to come," Dooley said.

The preservation and upgrades, like the restroom, will also hopefully encourage people to come back to Salem.

"Hopefully this will bring more people in," Bagley said. "But they aren't going to go to a church without a restroom."

There are still other mysteries to uncover for Dooley as she works to preserve the history and memories associated with Salem, including things like why it wasn't given a steeple.

For now, she and the congregants are content with the new indoor plumbing.