Historic Rural Churches of Georgia
Historic Rural Churches of Georgia was founded in 2012 by Sonny Seals and George Hart with a mission to research, document and ultimately preserve historic rural churches across the state. The movement started when Sonny inadvertently discovered his great grandfather’s grave in the old burial ground of Powelton Methodist, a long inactive church in the “lost village of Powelton” (click here). That discovery of his personal family roots and the related history of the little village of Powelton led Sonny and George to wonder about the old rural churches across the state and the disappearing villages. How many were there? What will happen to them? Does anybody care? Is there any way to save them? These questions are what led to the development of this website.
Georgia is blessed with many of these old rural treasures, but many of them are now gone and others are badly in need of assistance. HRCGA has recruited a group of very talented and passionate photographers to document these treasures in the style we think of as “reverential documentation”. Our group of talented photographers attempt to make these old sanctuaries come alive with beautiful photographs, while paying appropriate attention to the primitive architectural integrity of the structures. We try to capture the beauty of the sanctuaries, inside and out, but also the history behind them. We also use the haunting cemeteries to tell some of the stories of the rural pioneers who founded and built these treasures. Simply put, Georgia history in unique in many ways and Georgia history is rural church history…….the story of who we are and how we got here. The response of our followers has been remarkable and gratifying. We now know people do care and, while we will continue the research and the documentation, we are beginning to work with selected local communities to physically save some the churches that are badly in need of an intervention. We think some of these churches can be saved from certain destruction provided three elements are present i.e. a strong local group to lead the effort, some money for the project and finally, an end use for the facility that will keep it maintained for the future.
As a result of the success of this website and the companion Facebook page, the University of Georgia Press will publish our first book, Historic Rural Churches of Georgia, with a foreword by President Jimmy Carter. Due to be released in August of 2016, the book will feature forty eight selected churches across the state. We are very grateful that President Jimmy Carter wrote the foreword in a very personal way that describes his love for the subject matter and many personal remembrances of his and Rosalynn’s roots in Plains.
We are also presently working on a documentary entitled Saving Grace – Georgia history through the eyes of her rural churches, scheduled for release by Georgia Public Broadcasting in the Fall of 2016. A preview of the Saving Grace documentary can be seen here.
We will also be working with the Tourism section of the Georgia Department of Economic Development in order to develop a ‘Historic Rural Church Trail’ to promote tourism and economic development in rural Georgia counties. Each of our churches will feature a click here Google map for location and directions to the church in support of cultural tourism.
Along with our traveling museum exhibits partner, we are developing beautiful and educational exhibits that will travel across the south to set up in regional museums and local cultural centers to tell the history of Georgia through the eyes of her rural churches.
Finally, we will soon be working on selected preservation projects. It is our intention to assist and collaborate with those communities that can provide the leadership to organize the effort, manage the renovation phase and then use and maintain the facility. We are still in the preliminary stages of developing a process and methodology for these projects that can be replicated successfully. Part of the answer is finding seed funding for the project and we feel that the Crowd Funding technology that is being developed will provide at least a partial answer. To see an example of the template we have put together for Cedar Grove Methodist in Tattnall County, please click here.
We intend to research and document those churches in Georgia that meet our criteria for selection. Our featured churches must meet multiple criteria to qualify for inclusion. The process is somewhat subjective but we value the following:
Old – Most of the churches were organized in the 18th and 19th centuries and went through a transition from brush arbor, to log house, to one or more frame structures. The existing structure must be at least one hundred years old.
Historic – Some are more historic than others but we value those that have some interesting historical aspect. Sometimes that is the church, sometimes the location of it and sometimes the Tales from the Crypt that arise from the cemetery.
Rural – The more rural the better but some of our churches are located in rural villages that we define as having a population less than two thousand.
Architectural features – The church needs to have interesting exterior and/or interior architecture and most importantly, has not been so improved over the years that the visual links to the past have been severely diminished.
Cemeteries – Not all churches have cemeteries but they are a strong plus for us if the cemetery has pre-1900 interments. However, the older the better.
All churches on this site are organized by county and each follows a similar format. The church will have multiple photos of exteriors and interiors as well as architectural and construction features. Each will also have photos of the accompanying cemetery if there is one, as well as a click here map with location and directions. The cemetery photos will feature stories and “Tales from the Crypt” as well as a link to Findagrave.com where all the interments are documented alphabetically. All churches will have historical and architectural commentary that accompany the photos as well as a “comment” feature that will allow viewers to make comments or communicate with other viewers.