Burnt Fort Chapel

Camden County
Org restored in 1977 to 1890s facade
Photography by Randall Davis

Our usual qualification criteria for HRCGA is that the present structure must be at least 100 years old, but we are pleased to make an exception for this beautiful sanctuary, since it was faithfully restored from the 1890’s original in 1977. In the 1940’s the original church was abandoned and had all but disappeared, but the people of the Burnt Fort Community decided to rebuild it and the result is the unusual and magnificent structure you see above. To the right of the church, you also see one of the last one-room schoolhouses remaining in Camden County. Since the church was built in the latter part of the 19th century, it has hosted Union, Episcopal, Methodist and Baptist congregations.

The history of Burnt Fort is fascinating and dates back to 1755 when a man by the name of Edmond Gray came to Georgia “with a following of debtors and outlaws”. Mr. Gray was determined to settle in what was known as the “neutral” area, consisting of that land south of British holdings north of the Altamaha River and north of Spanish land south of the St. John’s River. He and his ragged band of followers arrived at a spot “30 miles up the Great Satilly (Satilla) River” and named it New Hanover. Plans for a town were made and they proceeded aggressively, even though is was strictly illegal to do so. The English were concerned to find this rough and tumble collection of settlers had started a town in the disputed territory, and the Spanish were equally concerned over the intrusion into what was Creek Territory. One can also be certain that the Indians were unhappy about as well.

Both the Spanish and the English set about to expel the upstart “Gray’s Gang”. Gray ordered his followers to abandon the settlement and some refused to leave. The English then destroyed the settlement but a few buildings were left that eventually became a fort and a trading post. Sometime in the early 1800’s the fort was burned, some say by the Indians. Thus the name evolved from New Hanover to Burnt Fort, and her continued existence was due to the timber industry’s terminal located at Burnt Fort. Log rafts were floated down the Satilla where they were met by ocean going ships at Burnt Fort and readied for export to destinations all over the world. The Wiregrass region of Georgia produced some of the finest lumber in the world after the Civil War, peaking in the late 19th century.

By 1947, the old church had no congregation and fell in to disrepair. By the 1960’s the structure was in ruins. In the 1970’s, with some help from bequests of past congregants, the community became determined to save the old chapel. A building committee was formed and the decision was made to rebuild the church exactly as she was on the same location but slightly larger. And further, to use local pine lumber for the structure and the pews. We are told the logs were salvaged from the river, but first the church had to be reclaimed from nature’s undergrowth that had virtually taken over. A short walk away is the beautiful and historic Burnt Fort cemetery, which predates the church by several decades. This is an enchanting place in a historic location and we owe a large debt of gratitude to all who made this part of our Georgia history a new reality.

+ Read More