At least once a year one should be a tourist in one’s own town, and company this week allowed me the excuse to do just that, with a visit to the Rose Lawn Museum in Cartersville. This was the home of Samuel Porter Jones (1847-1906), billed as “the Billy Graham of his day.” The house was not built for Jones, and it had a couple of private owners after his wife died in the 1920s, but by the 1970s it was abandoned and purchased by Bartow County for use as a museum and event venue (you can rent it for weddings, receptions, etc.). Otherwise, it stands as a testament to the life and career of Samuel P. Jones, the famous nineteenth-century revivalist preacher and Cartersville’s most famous resident. Although he came from a line of Methodist ministers, his path to evangelism was circuitous: he trained as a lawyer, became an alcoholic, lost his young daughter and then his law practice, and worked a number of odd jobs. His father, on his own deathbed, told him point blank that he was worried that they would not meet in heaven, and this was enough for Jones to turn his life around. Jones gave up alcohol, became a preacher, and was licensed by the Methodists and given a circuit of five churches. His style was so appealing that he was soon leading revivals in major cities throughout the country. Like most good Methodists in the nineteenth century, and given his own personal history, he preached vehemently against alcohol, which meant that he incurred the ire of saloon owners. One of these, a certain Thomas Ryman of Nashville, once came to one of Jones’s meetings with a couple of thugs in order to teach him a lesson, but was so moved by the preaching that he gave his heart to Jesus, and subsequently constructed the Union Gospel Tabernacle* for Jones’s use. (This building, later named Ryman Auditorium, was for many years home to the Grand Ole Opry.) Ryman’s was by no means the only soul that Jones saved.
At Rose Lawn a contemporary poster advertising one of Jones’s revivals was on display; on it was graffiti reading “He is a slinger of fine slang” and “choke him.” I would have been interested to know more about any anti-Jones sentiment from his own day but I can understand why the museum wouldn’t want to dwell on that. I do think that the shrine-to-the-Confederacy room was a bit misplaced, however. Jones’s father fought in the Civil War, but Jones himself, at age 14, was sent to Kentucky during the war for his safety (i.e. he was not “swept into Kentucky by the Union army,” as the timeline put it).
I was curious to learn about Rebecca Latimer Felton (1835-1930), Jones’s piano teacher and, as it happens, the first female senator in the United States (for one day, in 1922). I’ll leave you to read the linked article if you want to know how this transpired. On display at Rose Lawn is a dress Felton made for the occasion out of drapes – the tour guide claimed that this inspired Felton’s friend Margaret Mitchell to have Scarlet O’Hara do the same thing in Gone With The Wind. Rose Lawn does not, however, draw any attention to the racial views of this pioneering feminist and suffragist (see article).
* I was curious to learn that a “tabernacle”, around here, is simply venue for preaching, usually quite large and often open-air. Thus Tabernacle Street, where the Bartow County Library now is. This is where Jones would preach when he was in Cartersville; Sam Jones Memorial Church was not completed when he died of a heart attack at age 58, i.e. it was never his home base, contrary to popular belief.