Philadelphia United Methodist Church
by Louise Pettus
Many of our local churches have created the office of church historian. The historian's duties are generally light--until a landmark date is reached. In this area that date will likely range from the 25th anniversary of the founding of churches into several centuries (the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church in Lancaster County celebrates its 240th year of existence this year).
Many churches, as they approach an important year in their history, will plan to publish a history. The historian, who may have a committee appointed to help him in his task, is immediately confronted with some questions. When was the church founded? Where was the first church located? Who were the founders? Who were the ministers? How many church buildings have we had? What major events have occurred in our church history? Are there records, and, if so, where are they located? Have other churches of the same denomination written histories? It can get complicated and the research problems will vary from church to church. Let us use one church as an example.
Philadelphia United Methodist Church in Fort Mill township of York County demonstrates some of the problems facing the church historian. When was Philadelphia founded? The church 's historian, Mrs. Ruth C. Adkins, was immediately faced with the fact that the name "Philadelphia" first appeared in Methodist records in the First Quarterly Conference of Sugaw Creek Circuit, March 17, 1832. It would seem that the founding date is clear, but the entry actually read, "Philadelphia, formerly Felts". Indeed, in the previous year, 1831, there is a reference to "Felts Meeting House." The name William Felts turns up in Methodist records both before and after 1832. In 1819, at Harrison's Methodist Church (in Mecklenburg County, south of Pineville), William Felts, steward and class leader, was disciplined. It seems that Felts "...had not renewed his license according to the Discipline . . . ." So, some time before 1819 Felts led a congregation of Methodists. Further research by Mrs. Adkins showed that on October 25, 1816, when the Sugar Creek Circuit met at Harrison's, the note was made that, "There is one from Thyatyrah Society, Brother William Felts, who is not present on account of sickness." Thyatyrah Society?
Indeed, there is an account in 1815 that mentions William Felts of Thyatyrah Society. Mrs. Adkins comments, "We do not know where the Thyatyrah Society was located, but we do know that Mr. Felts owned the property where the first Philadelphia church building was located." Further research placed William Felts' property at a spot near the present-day crossroads of Hwy 160 and 21 Bypass (close to Springs Farms' New Peach Stand). William Felts' name as representative of Philadelphia church appeared in the Quarterly Conference reports until the year 1857. So, we have three names for a Methodist congregation in the same vicinity--Thyatyrah Society, Felts' Meeting House and Philadelphia-- and dates ranging from 1815 to 1832 as candidates for the founding of Philadelphia United Methodist Church and at least two locations.
Mrs. Adkins chose the least debatable date, 1832, as the founding date and titled her history, 150 Years of Methodism in Fort Mill, S. C. 1832-1982. If she had chosen 1815 as Philadelphia United Methodist's founding date she could have claimed her church to be the oldest Methodist church in York County--older than Yorkville's 1824 founding by Rev. William Gassaway and Rev. Joseph Holmes.