Midway Congregational Church is in a rural area not far from I-95 in eastern Georgia. The area was settled by Puritans in the 18th century. The colonial architecture is unusual for the area and the current church was built in 1792, with the first having been burned by the British in 1778 during the Revolutionary War. The interior includes a large slave gallery and partitioned pews with doors. The building is part of the Midway Historic District which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The
Midway Congregational Church Cemetery located across the street is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Burials include two American Revolutionary War Generals, and a former state governor.
This church was organized in 1866 as Broadfield Baptist Church, located on the nearby Broadfield plantation in a south Georgia coastal location near Brunswick. The congregation soon moved to the current spot and the church was built in stages, with the oldest parts dating from the 1870s and the towers added about ten years later. The front porch area was closed in some time around 1930. There is also a one-room school that provided elementary education from 1907 until desegregation in the 1960s. The buildings are considered examples of early African-American vernacular architecture and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There was an interesting historical summary of the establishment of former slave churches in the south on the National Park Service site for this listing, so for convenience, I’m adding a portion of it here-
The Needwood Baptist Church formation and history is an example of religious development of African Americans in context of the Plantation Rice Culture. Early settlers found Coastal Georgia and South Carolina suitable for rice cultivation and began development of an extensive system of rice plantations. Slave labor was a necessary element of this system and Africans were imported for this purpose. Slaves were encouraged to become Christians by their white masters. African slaves in Savannah formed their own churches by 1822. In more rural areas of Coastal Georgia, they were members of the white-dominated churches and worshiped with the whites in segregated pews. In the 1830s and 1840s southern churchmen launched a movement to create plantation missions. Rice plantation slaves were the last to be confronted with the Christian religion. This was promoted as a means to control the African-American population which well out-numbered the whites in the plantation areas. This movement was largely successful among the rice plantations because the African-American preachers were accepted by the slave population. Although African-American slaves were aware that whites used religion as a form of social control, they preferred the less formal services held by members of their own race. Elements of Africanisms become part of the services, such as the “ring shout.” The “ring shout” is a religious dance where men, women, boys, and girls formed a ring and began chanting and shuffling, always in a counterclockwise direction.
The Civil War (1861-1865) disrupted the churches as well as the social and economic order of Coastal Georgia. With the offshore islands held by Union troops and the Union Navy blockading the ports, much of the coastal area was evacuated.
Slaves at the Broadfield and the Needwood Plantations, as well as others on nearby plantations, were mostly evacuated during the Civil War. They returned to the plantation lands after the war as freed slaves. Since they no longer were controlled by the whites to attend their church or the plantation churches, these freedmen formed their own church. Within the Baptist faith, they proceeded to form their own African-American Church Associations. The white churches seemed at a loss to understand the withdrawal of African-American churches from their associations. The Sunbury Baptist Association Executive Committee passed the following resolution in 1874:
“Whereas, for more than fifty years prior to the late civil war the colored churches of the Baptist denomination within the bounds of the Sunbury Baptist Association enjoyed, by delegation, equal representation with the white churches of that body, but for reasons unknown to us, have, since the war with drawn and formed association of their own And whereas, we still entertain for our colored brethren the same sentiments of Christian regard we then did and cherish the remembrance of them in the past as zealous co- workers with us in the advancement of our Lord and Master’s cause and now feel a deep interest in their civil, intellectual and religious welfare. Be it Resolved, That this association, and each church composing it, at such times and in such terms as they may deem proper, …pledge…harmonious co-operation in all matters touching our denominational interests.”
This church isn’t traditional, and I’m not sure how old either. But it had an interesting look and a great name, so I was compelled to take a photo. It’s located in the tiny town of Richland, in western Georgia.
Although Center Methodist Church has existed since the early 1800s, this is the third building, built in 1914. It features a pair of steeples and gothic stained glass windows. There is still a small congregation using the church today.
When I first saw a photo of this old church online, it was in a newspaper article that said it was scheduled to be demolished. So I made a point to get to Augusta, Georgia before that happened. As of now, it looks like there are still attempts to save the building, but its fate is uncertain. Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal was established in 1840 and this building was built in the 1890s, according to information online. That conflicts with the cornerstone on the church that says that it was rebuilt in 1921, so I’m unclear on the timeline. In the 1990s, it was discovered that there was underground contamination in the area from a nearby gas plant and the congregation moved in 1998. Since then, the building has been unused and continues to deteriorate.
Built in 1948, Lavonia Methodist Church is not as old as most of the churches I usually stop at, but it had a distinctive character that caught my eye when passing through this small town in the northeast corner of Georgia. According to a plaque on the front of the building, the previous church was built in 1907 and burned at the end of 1946.