Cold Water Baptists

I’m not sure how many cold-water Baptists are still around. Elizabeth Dunaway, Mary Joyce Dunaway, and my mother, Margaret Joiner, are in the most senior group. They were baptized in childhood at Mock Springs, each of them having made professions of faith at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

When I was a child in the 1950’s, Mock Springs had long been the main place to beat the summer heat in the Pulaski County area. Somebody told me the water temperature stays around 68 degrees. To me it felt much closer to the freezing mark. It’s possible they used a faulty thermometer.

The boil, as it was commonly called, spewed thousands of gallons of water. The cold water filled the big swimming area then overflowed through a large metal pipe. The overflow poured out forcefully, dropping several feet to ground level where it formed a crystal-clear stream.

The push of water coming out of the boil was strong enough to keep children from getting past the opening. Tan colored electric eels also served as guards. I’ve heard that two young men with scuba gear swam nearly a mile in the underground stream. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I never considered trying to go past the electric eels. Daddy taught us to avoid mixing electricity with water, a lesson I still find helpful today.

When you went from 98 on the sand to 68 in the water, it would take your breath away. There were only two somewhat sane choices for entry. You could run in and do a shallow dive or you could go off the springboard. The board was my preference. Once you committed, there was no turning back.

Gradually wading into the chilling water never made sense to me. It worked okay for some people, mostly teenage boys who were trying to impress girls. I figured if that’s what it took to impress them, that I might stay single. As Clint Eastwood said, “A man has got to know his limitations.”

We’d go there on Sunday afternoons after church, and occasionally would have a Sunday School dinner on the outdoor picnic tables. Dinner was followed by a predictable lesson in patience. In the 1950’s our parents had a strict rule: No swimming until 30 minutes after eating. We would take turns asking if it had been long enough, optimistically searching for an adult with a lenient watch.

Our parents were convinced that rule protected us from cramps and likely drownings. We couldn’t even wade in the edge. The children knew that knee deep water was safe. Our parents, however, knew that temptation often starts in the shallow end.

Bethlehem Baptist Church was originally near Elizabeth’s childhood home. The back half of the building served as Junior High School. It was only one room that included the first through fifth grades.   Elizabeth and Mama both attended there. They don’t know why it was named Junior High. Maybe it started out with more grades, or maybe someone planned to add some later.

Bethlehem built a new church in the early 1940’s on Mock Springs Road. The ladies from my grandmother’s generation helped nail the interior boards that were sawed from local poplar trees. By the late 1950’s the church had dwindled to a few members, most of them having a lot more years behind them than ahead. On a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1958, Reverend Britt baptized Elaine Calhoun at Mock Springs. She was nine years old and perhaps the last person to join Bethlehem. Elaine still remembers the minnows being attracted to the white socks she wore. I was a five-year-old spectator. I mostly remember hoping it wouldn’t take too long. All swimming had been suspended.

Bethlehem closed the doors in the early 1960’s. Elizabeth, Mary Joyce, and Mama had already married, moved their church memberships to Harmony Baptist, and started families. Elaine’s family moved to Double Branch Freewill Baptist. She later married Covie Langford, a cold-water Baptist from a different stream. Covie was baptized in the spring fed waters of Double Branch.

Those four ladies from Bethlehem have faithfully worked, witnessed, prayed and loved their neighbors. That kind of commitment seems harder to find lately. It makes me wonder if we’ve made the water too comfortable. Maybe we need more cold-water Baptists. Maybe it’s time to go back to Mock Springs.

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15 Responses to Cold Water Baptists

  1. Karen Mangham says:

    Daddy was also baptized at Mock Springs….many church youth trips there in my past.


  2. Melanie says:

    David’s Mama was also baptized at Mock Springs. She grew up around Mars Hill. We remember the fun days at Mock Springs when we were growing up.


  3. Frances F Williams says:

    You are so talented. As I read your column tonight, it brought back some very fond memories of my teenage years, I could almost feel that bone chilling water. I love it when you write about places and people I know. I must admit I have never heard my Mother talk about her baptism but now (after reading this article) I am certain she was baptized in a cold water creek so I guess this makes her a cold-water Baptist. I am proud to say I know she is in good company.
    This is being added to my list of favorites.


  4. Carol Stewart says:

    I enjoyed this article…remembering the days of long ago when Papa Clemons would take David and me to Mock Springs on hot summer afternoons. I remember going to Double Branch Freewill Baptist Church with Granny Black and going into the woods behind the church where women were baptized…Seems like they wore white gowns for the service back then….or was that in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”


  5. Barbara Burk says:

    I also enjoy reading your articles Neil of old times gone by. Daddy told me of the times he and his friends had at Mock Springs as a boy. He said they went one time in February. Guess it wasn’t that bad since the temperature stays at a constant temperature all year. Know it was rough when they got out though!!!! I am almost sure Daddy was baptized in Sandy Mount creek. I also took 2 of my grandchildren this year to get the “Mock Springs Experience”. They had so much fun and at the time the water was up a bit and very pretty. I remember swimming there many times as a child. I guess my grandchildren make 4th generation swimmers there in our family. I remember so many of the things you wrote about in your experiences there. Such an interesting article and wonderful to know that your Mama and friends were baptized there!


  6. Connie Peavy Henry says:

    Have always thought the world of these ladies and have such fond memories of swimming at Mock Springs. Just love to read these stories written by Neil Joiner (my fellow bus rider) about growing up in Dooly County.


  7. Shirley H Harrison says:

    Another great story ,i have lots of memories of Mock Springs, i remember going there with my best friend Kay Hightower and her mom Betty Ann , good memories


  8. June Prince Brannen says:

    I enjoyed this story so much! I love those ladies named. They have definitely influenced my life for better. I also grew up swimming in Mock Springs, as you know. I never braved the diving board or got
    near the boil. I was a run in and shallow dive girl. Being a Harmony Baptist Church girl, I remember going to Bethlehem for revival a time or two. Remember our outside baptismal pool at Harmony? Well, I was baptized at Pinehurst because it was winter. I always enjoy your stories. We were lucky.


  9. Carl B. Shurley says:

    Neil—wonderful column! I have read and reread this one. The Shurley boys had some good times at Mock Springs! I remember Mr. Levi Shelton bringing his bar of soap and bathing off in “the spring” as it was called. I was at Elaine’s baptism also. Lots of good memories! Great column!


  10. Melody Newby Harrison says:

    What a wonderful article. I remember going with Vienna Methodist MYF to Mock springs Yes it would take your breath. I didn’t know it was still open. My mother Marie Porter Newby was baptized in Sandy Mount creek. I so enjoy your stories.
    Melody Newby Harrison


  11. Sonya Calhoun Popken says:

    My mom, Gayle Calhoun was the pianist at Bethlehem when it was on Mock Springs Road. The first I ever sang was there. I was two years old and stood on a piano bench and sang “Jesus loves me.” We went there until it closed. Mom is now 81 years old and still playing piano for a church. Thanks for the memories.


  12. Judy says:

    I understand the cold water baptism. I was baptized in Bluff Creek’s freezing waters.


  13. Jean Ann Gregory says:

    I have really enjoyed your stories Neil.I have a friend that told me that is the only reason he gets The Cordele Dispatch to read your good stories.


  14. says:

    Very good! Keep up the good writing. I appreciate your sending me a copy .



  15. Fran says:

    Great post, Neil. Better than most sermons I’ve heard. I think you could have a career in the ministry!


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