We are grateful to Chris Reinolds Kozelle, Director of Public Relations, Berry College for the history of Barnwell Chapel and the story of the renovation. It is a tribute to the college that they are very careful with the preservation of the Berry legacy and that of Martha Berry. This little chapel is a jewel that will be around for many more generations.
Barnwell Chapel, located on the campus of Berry College, was built in 1911 by John Barnwell. He was a local architect who designed several of the Berry school buildings. Over the years it has been used as a chapel, classroom, study hall, library, music studio and a small store. It was built as a wood frame building with a log veneer and therefore the exterior logs are able to be removed and replaced, as they were done in a recent renovation. The chapel has been faithfully restored using logs from the many timber stands on the Berry College campus. The campus, the world’s largest, consists of 27,000 acres. The 2019 renovation was needed because there was serious rotting of logs and other structural issues. In the recent renovation, great care was taken to bring the chapel back to the original design and prevent future structural issues.
Captain John Gibbs Barnwell was originally from Charleston, SC, and prior to being an architect, he had been a sea captain. He had retired to Mt. Alto (near Rome) to read and reflect. He was leader of the Plymouth Brethren, a sect without ministers (MIRACLE IN THE MOUNTAINS, Kane and Henry). Martha Berry had to persuade him to be her architect. He declined initially, but finally decided that it was “the Lord’s work”, and agreed to do it. One story says that she once paid him $100, but later saw him at the post office sending the money to a charity, so she never paid him again. Boys who were students at the Berry School built the chapel, and it was dedicated on 11/11/1911. The chapel has four side rooms that have been used for various functions over the years such as a store, library, music room and a prayer room. One of the rooms is still used as a prayer room. The first 9 years the chapel was open, it had school desks instead of pews.
Be sure to click and scroll the gallery photos below to get more information about this remarkable structure. She will now survive for many more generations.
This remarkable building along with the Possum Trot Church built in 1850 have become recognized as the heartbeat of the famous Berry College Community. In this photo of the exterior, we are looking at hand-made, architectural history built from logs cut and hewn on site and primarily constructed and maintained by students. Barnwell is a tribute to and an example of the tenets of Martha Berry and her college where hard work, perseverance, cooperation, kindness and a “do unto others” morality thrived.
Here we present a rare original photograph of the entire college staff and students gathered together in front of Barnwell Chapel in 1915. Barnwell Chapel was serving as the girls school at this point less than five years after its dedication. In 1915, the exterior of the Chapel looked very much as it does today, but it would undergo several refinements over the next 100 years. The photo is courtesy of the Berry College archives. Note the perspectives in the before and after photos are very similar.
Here we see a stout, heart pine Gothic door. It is one of the originals, and it still serves its original function.
This is an interior view of the church from the pulpit area. As you can see in this photo, the Barnwell Sanctuary interior is just as remarkable and breath-taking as its exterior. The most eye-catching architectural and decorative elements are found in the rafters, roof and supports. Our historians tell us that this is a type of timber roof known as a “trussed rafter roof” and was developed as a part of Medieval English architecture during the 14th century. It was originally developed and utilized to give the appearance of greater height and impressiveness of a church’s interior. As you can see, the style certainly creates the desired impressive atmosphere within this narrow and smallish sanctuary.
Luckily, we have come across this interior photo from the 1920’s, courtesy of the Berry archives. The stark, black and white image intensifies the decorative, skeletal and geometric beauty of the trussed rafter roof. The photo also draws attention to the fact that this chapel has served many purposes over the years. At this point the chapel was the girl’s classroom area. We see the pews have been replaced with desks and several, portable chalk boards are present. You can also make out two of the 4 doorways that allow entry to four other rooms at Barnwell.
In this view from the pulpit, the warm and cozy nature of the sanctuary is revealed. Also, the presence of gothic images on the pulpit and the heavy gothic doorway remind us of worship as the primary mission at Barnwell.
This hand-made cross with carved escutcheon and initials is one of the more attractive decorative elements found within the Barnwell Chapel sanctuary.
We are told that the pews at Barnwell are all original and hand-made of wood from pine trees cut, planed and finished on the premises. The pew ends are all gothic. The wooden wainscot seen here is also a product of the college forest grounds and mostly shaped and finished by college students.
We close with this photo of the sanctuary taken from the pulpit area. It presents today as it was in the mid 20th century. The afternoon sun flows through the lovely, tall windows and the interior is suffused by the warm glow that reflects off the many dark brown wooden surfaces that are still present throughout this one-of-a-kind rural church. This place could never have been created without the vision and perseverance of Martha Berry and her legacy of support from many who felt the college and its major structures... as built… must be maintained. A serious renovation mounted by the Chapel supporters in 2019 was successfully undertaken and completed in January 2020. Jennifer Dickey, alumni council vice president for Berry culture said “We were in danger of actually losing the building. This preservation project should ensure that Barnwell Chapel stands well into the 21st century. “
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A jewel indeed. We know that God is everywhere but surely he spends a little extra time at this special place.
Keep up the good work.