Hartwell First UMC Asks for Prayers, Letters as Railroad Files to Condemn Portion of Church Property


Hartwell First UMC in the Athens-Elberton District is asking for prayers as the congregation braces for a decision on a long-unused railroad line that goes through the church property and terminates two blocks from the church.

The Hartwell Railroad (Great Walton Railroad) has filed with the Georgia Public Service Commission to condemn the strip of church property adjacent to the mainline track to make an active runaround track to serve an existing customer rather than alternatives that would leave church property intact. 

The church property spans the unused railroad track, with the sanctuary, fellowship hall and Sunday school building on one side and the parking lot and gym and ten additional acres for future ministry on the other. The church fears that an active railroad line would be a hazard to the congregation, the preschool (which uses facilities on both sides of the tracks), and community members who use the facilities.

The church has owned the property for 10 years and has been involved in a years-long process to try to permanently remove the tracks. 

Hartwell First recently issued a letter (read below) to the community and others who care about the congregation explaining the situation and outlining its concerns for safety and the ministry of the church. The congregation is collecting letters in support of their position to present to the Public Service Commission. (Those letters must be received by January 14.)

The church shared in the letter that under Georgia law, railroads have the power to condemn land needed for their operations but the condemnation must be approved by the Public Service Commission. The church has requested that the Georgia Public Service Commission not approve the taking of church land.  A hearing will be conducted January 23 with a decision expected within a few months.

"This has been a very long and very complicated process with a number of parties involved," said lay member Joe Whittemore. "We still have a long way to go."

Click here to read a letter on the matter shared by the church.