Axson Methodist has its origins in the railroad station of Red Bluff, renamed McDonald in honor of the large sawmill operated there. The town became known as McDonald’s Mill and by 1900 the population was reported to have been 150 people, along with a money order post office, express and telegraph offices, and several good mercantile establishments. When Atkinson County was formed from Coffee and Pierce Counties in 1917, McDonald’s Mill was renamed Axson in honor of President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, Ellen, a native of Georgia who died in 1914. Ellen accompanied her husband on a whistle-stop tour during the 1912 presidential campaign. They certainly stopped at Waycross and perhaps McDonald’s Mill as well.
No certain date for the building of Axson Church, formerly known as McDonald’s Mill Methodist Episcopal, South, has been established. A brief mention in a Waycross newspaper dated January 11, 1896 states: “The new church being built at McDonald’s Mill by Messrs. Lott and Bailey is nearing completion, and when finished will be a good, substantial house.” Messrs. Lott and Bailey were bankers/developers doing business in Waycross. We believe the reference is to McDonald’s Mill M. E., South Church that eventually became Axson United Methodist Church.
The steeple you see in the photo is not the original steeple. At some point, probably in 1944, a hurricane took the steeple of the church. That year was an active hurricane season with several major storms effecting Georgia but the storm that removed the church steeple could have been a storm known as the 1944 Cuba-Florida Hurricane. After it made landfall at Sarasota, Florida, on October 19, it continued northeastward over the southeastern United States and Axson lay directly in its path. The hurricane caused $100 million in damage (1944 dollars), as well as 300 casualties. Despite extensive efforts to locate the steeple it was never found. Before they were destroyed, one by a storm and the second by lightning, there were two huge water oak trees in front of the church. With such a bounty of acorns there were numerous squirrels that provided a negative impact on the church structure. Among other damage they chewed the bell rope and when the replacement steeple was constructed it was done so with the exclusion of water and squirrels in mind. The lost steeple was replaced with a simple square structure that now serves to house the church bell. The bell no longer calls the community to church service but is rung on special occasions. It was rung by long-time member Mrs. Ilee Delk at the death of President Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, who died in 2004, and for whom the bell tolled forty times.
Today the church has only six members and only two of them live locally and are in regular attendance. The general congregation numbers eight or ten in regular attendance. The church has enough funding to continue for another two years – after that its fate is uncertain. Mrs. Delk, 52 year member of the congregation, stated that “it is impossible to keep going but we are going to go” (continue). We thank Mrs. Ilee Delk and members of the Lang family, particularly Mrs. Sarah Lang, for their diligent work to insure preservation of this old church. Services are held once a month on the 3rd Sunday. The pastor preaches at other churches so the service is held at 8:45 AM. The congregation is composed of warm and friendly people and guests are welcome to attend services.
This view of the interior of Axson Methodist Church shows the near original condition of the building. There once was a dividing wall approximately four feet in height that divided the men’s and women’s seating. The wall was probably removed in the 1940’s and the ends of the pews that had been attached to the wall were rejoined to make one long, continuous seat. The off-color pew nearest the point of view escaped the last painting.
There are several churches in the general area that have characteristics in common that are noteworthy. The pews and communion rail in Axson Church are precisely the same as those in Old Ruskin Church in Ware County, twenty-odd miles from Axson. Nearby Kirkland Church, though its interior has been nearly completely remodeled, retains its original communion rail which is a match to the rail seen in this photo. A 52-year member of the Axson congregation told us that after her marriage she moved from Kirkland to Axson and that she had attended Kirkland Church until the time she moved. She stated that she immediately felt comfortable at her new church in Axson because it was just like the Kirkland church. Interestingly, Axson Church has no cemetery, nor do Old Ruskin, Ebenezer or Kirkland Churches (a cemetery was established in recent times at Kirkland).
What a sweet turn of the century church that sits in a small rural neighborhood. Axson has served the neighborhood for well over 100 years now, and though her congregation is dwindling, she is still standing tall. We are grateful for the stewardship that has preserved her for subsequent generations.
Elaborate moldings and turnings characterize the style of the times in this view of the pulpit at Axson Church. The cross and chair are later additions. A member of the congregation stated that there were once ladder backed chairs stored in a back room. Those may have been the original seating for the pastor and guest speakers.
James McDonald, owner of the large sawmill for which the town was named, not only gave the land for the church but, we were told by a member of the congregation, gave the church building as well. Mr. McDonald also donated the leather bound bible and a print of Jesus in an ornate frame.
Though propane space heaters and a window mounted air conditioner have been added, but the open doors and ceiling fans provide ventilation during services in mild weather. The screened doors allow ventilation but exclude insects and the occasional bird that might attempt to enter the sanctuary. The church was never locked until recent times. The modern locking door knob was installed because the building could not be insured without security measures. The rope hanging from the ceiling is the bell rope.
Rooms were added to the church to serve as Sunday school rooms. The area occupied by the doors adjacent to the altar was once occupied by windows. A member of the congregation said that she assumed the benches in the Sunday school room were brought there from another church. The benches are nicely made and have seats of a single pine board. The front edges of the seats have been damaged their entire lengths by whittling (presumably) with a pocket knife, suggesting the benches may have been used elsewhere and brought to the church to provide seating for the Sunday school attendees. Instruction in the Scriptures was a matter to be taken seriously and it is doubtful that whittling on the church furniture was tolerated, suggesting that the benches may have served in some other capacity before being moved to the church.
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There is a church in Atkinson County in the woods off highway 441 between Pearson and Douglas,it is a block church.It replaced an old wooden church that had a sawdust floor.There are graves there .We all called it Tysons Tabernacle.NO one goes there ,I helped build the block church in 1961,but have never went to church in it.The old wooden church had wooden windows, sawdust floor,old wooden pews.I attended church there many,many times.Maybe you would like to check it out.
Thanks Donald. Any idea how old the old wooden church would be?