Andrews Chapel Methodist is an African American church in far north Georgia just south of the Tennessee border. It is quite significant historically, since the congregation was formed in 1872 right after the Civil War. When you think about emancipated slaves beginning to form their own version of religion and spirituality during this part of the 19th century, it was only a thirty year window, so this one is pretty rare. This was a difficult time in our state’s history and, as always, the church was the center of everything for these early congregants.
The church now known as Andrews Chapel was organized in Red Clay, Georgia in 1872 by Henry Andrews. Andrews, a former slave, resided on the plantation located in what is now Apison, Tennessee. He would walk the seven miles from his home to Red Clay where he served as minister of the newly formed church. Around 1923, the building was moved with logs and mules to its present location in the Town of Cohutta, two miles south of Red Clay on Red Clay Road. The cornerstone of the building lists the trustees of the church that were instrumental in the relocation and setup of the building. The list includes, Reverend J.S. Williams, W.M. Prater, J.A. Prater, B.H. Prater, T. E. Prater, W.L. Cregmiles, and E.D. Barett.
As the congregation dwindled, Sunday services were shared alternately with the Baptist church across the street, one Sunday worshiping in the Methodist church and the next the Baptist. Finally there weren’t enough members of either church to support their ministry. After the Methodists discontinued services, the building was used by several other denominations. In 2016, the last remaining member of Andrews Chapel and caretaker of the building, Billy Prater, a descendant of B.H Prater, arranged for the African Methodist Episcopal Church to donate the building to the Town of Cohutta. When Cohutta received the deed it was pleasantly surprised to discover it included half ownership of the one room black schoolhouse across the street. The town has since acquired full ownership of the school and is in the process of restoring Andrews Chapel, which will be used as a cultural center for the preforming arts and the school building for classes in art and history.
We are grateful to the citizens of Cohutta and the leadership of the town for the respectful re-purposing of this historic old structure. This part of Georgia history can be difficult to come by and it is good to know that a church with this proud history in the foothills of Georgia will live on.
Our knowledge of the physical history surrounding Andrews Chapel’s 140 plus years of existence is quite limited. The details are few and far between. So, verifiable comments concerning structural authenticity, design features and such that we normally present are not possible. But, we do know its continuing presence today is a shining example of how a failing and foundering church can be revivified and preserved for future generations if the locals/owners want it to happen. That success story is what this Andrews Chapel post is all about. We do know that Andrews Chapel presents as a basic, center gable meeting house with a bell tower at the left front corner. That design is quite different from many of the African American churches of the era. A visitor or congregant enters the church through the double door then passes through a minuscule foyer directly into the sanctuary. At that point, as the photo shows, just to their right they will see the single aisle that ends at the chancel. Of course, many changes have been made as the sanctuary morphed into a cultural center for the performing arts and school building for art and history classes for the village of Cohutta. The interior is small but accommodating, has a cozy atmosphere and can be easily reconfigured to accommodate a myriad of uses.
This close up highlights the lovely four over four sashed windows, their handsome, wooden frames and the lovely wainscoting. It also gives us a chance to appreciate the very lovely period pews and see that, since they are totally movable, reconfiguring for any event is easily accomplished. This flexibility allows an old church to become a totally useful structure for many, many activities. At HRCGA we promote and support adaptive reuse of these historic treasures.
Look at this warm and inviting room. What would it cost to try to build such a charming and unique venue in Cohutta today? Could it be replicated at any reasonable cost? The original, vault-like suspended truss ceiling and the brick chimney flu for a pot bellied stove provide an authentic look back at real history… and will do so for generations to come.
Aren’t we glad that the historic structure we see above has avoided the sad fate which has befallen so many such landmarks throughout Georgia. We should all thank Billy Prater, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the governmental officials of Cohutta who joined hands to see that the old church will remain an active and useful asset in Whitfield county for generations to come.
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Do you have any idea where Andrews Chapel was located in Red Clay? Was it perhaps adjacent to Red Clay State Historic Park?
We do not know where it was located. Only that it was moved to Cohutta by mules and logs. It was amazing what they could do with manual and mule labor back then.
I’m a graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University researching Andrews Chapel as part of my dissertation. Would you be willing to share your sources on this church with me? I’ve located the original location and cemetery in Red Clay, thanks to the rangers at Red Clay State Historic Park and the mayor of Cohutta, GA. Please feel free to reply via email.