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.
We have bet serious money that not one of you, after seeing the introductory, external shot, could have imagined opening the front door at Burnt Fort and finding the scene photographed above! As you, we were surprised and stunned by the remarkable architecture, tall gothic windows, open ceiling design, decorative elements, airy/inviting atmosphere and general fit and finish found throughout the Sanctuary. It is surprises such as this that keep us energized and excited about our mission at Historic Rural Churches of Georgia. Being able to expose and document the existence of treasures like Burnt Fort…as well as other less spectacular but interesting and worthy structures throughout the State… is a pleasure.
When the Burnt Fort Community set about reviving this landmark in 1976, they planned for the recreated, non-denominational chapel to be their bicentennial project. The photo above bears witness to their success. Let's quote from a local source : "The floor boards have a dark patina, and based on that, they could be original. The wall paneling consists of heart pine boards eight or more inches wide with a wide bead on both edges creating a 'double' bead where they meet. There is a simple chair rail and a second rail higher up. The purpose of the second rail is not known but could have been placed to help secure the wall boards and keep them flat. The ceiling boards are about six inches wide, probably tongue and groove, and are beveled on both edges. There are several steel cables, fastened at the top plate, spanning the building from side to side to prevent bulging. The pews are nicely crafted from wide yellow pine boards." No expense or detail was overlooked to insure the authenticity of this Sanctuary.
Since electric lighting came late to country areas, almost all 19th century rural Georgia churches where, in daylight hours, illuminated by ambient, natural light flooding through the windows. On cloudy days or after sunset, wicked oil lamps or candles were used. Here we see two lovely reproduction, clear oil lamps placed as sconces beside each window. Used throughout the church, the quality and style of these lanterns, reflects the desires of the present owners to maintain authenticity in every element of their rebuilt sanctuary.
This view, from the pulpit toward the church entrance, highlights the complex and geometrically decorative roof truss bracing and the ceiling area we see at Burnt Fort Chapel. This elaborate roof and ceiling support system became quite popular in the late victorian era and is found in both rural and city churches designed in the late 19th and early 20th century. Our architectural experts have described it for us as," A Post and Beam roof with intermediate, modified trussed rafters, featuring elongated cross members." Whatever it is called, it helps create a welcoming and almost magical atmosphere in this inviting little chapel.
This tiny, Mens outhouse is a charming relic of the past. Viewing it, we can perhaps better understand why so many of these rural churches were slowly abandoned by their congregations. In the 20th century, creature comforts such as heat and air conditioning, indoor plumbing and other improvements at new church buildings became a big draw. Churches such as this one did not have the money or perhaps desire to change the way things were. When the citizens of Burnt Fort joined together in 1976 to renovate and update this old jewel, they created a wonderful monument to their community. They also provided a permanent opportunity for all Georgians to visit and experience 19th century life as it was for generations to come.
Here lies John Rose Wells (1844 - 1922), who enlisted with the 4th Ga Cavalry in February of 1862 at the age of eighteen, according to a 1913 Confederate pension application. For some reason, his government headstone has his unit as the 26th Ga Infantry. John served for the duration of the war but was hospitalized in February of 1865 prior to his unit's surrender in April. In December of 1885, he lost his mother who was burned to death in a house fire and eight days after that he lost his wife, Susan, who died " from complications due to burns received 8 days earlier from a house fire when she unsuccessfully tried to save the life of her mother-in-law, Cynthia Seleta Cook Wells". Also in the records is a receipt from a local retailer who dealt in "Naval Stores, Cross Ties, Mill Logs and Pilings" for Mr. Wells burial expense in 1922. The expenses cover a coffin, a suit, one week for nurse, the doctors final bill and seven dollars for the grave digger. Total expenses were eighty dollars. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust and a hard life.
According to Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, Issac Lang Jr. was a very successful planter. He and his wife, Caroline, lived on their plantation called Langsbury, located seven miles west of Waverly and a few miles north of Incachee. They had nine sons and apparently eight of them served in the war.........all survived. One of them, William (1831 - 1892), seems to have been successful in his own right, judging from the prominent headstone and the fact that he was a Mason.
The crypts that you see above are some the oldest interments in the cemetery. The first one is that of Adam S. Goodbread, who died in 1842 at the age of six. A second grave of nearly equal age is that of Charles Nevel Drury (1784 - 1842) who also died in 1842, a few months after the death of Adam Goodbread. There are 20 members of the Drury family at rest in Burnt Fort Cemetery. More of the older graves include those of Sarah Elizabeth Brown, d. 1846, John Presley Heddleston, age 3 years, d. 1854, Sarah Jane Heddleston, age 5 years, d. 1859. There are many graves from the 1850’s, the 1860’s and later years. Most of the brick crypts are the resting places of children. The smallest crypt is marked simply “UNKNOWN”.
The peaceful cemetery scene is enhanced by a dogwood tree's red fall foliage. Some of the gravestones include a monument to members of the Patterson family including Elanor Patterson who died in 1859. The grave of Donald Patterson, a child who died in 1896 is on the left with a stone capped with a sleeping lamb. The resting place of Mary Watson, who died in 1877 at 39 years of age, is there. One of the two crypts is marked with a cross and an anchor and is the grave of Mrs. Christian Cole who died in 1855. For a full documentation of Burnt Fort Cemetery interments click here.
restored in 1977 to 1890s facade
Baptist, Episcopal, Hosted-union, Methodist
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I would love to visit there
I remember being in the original building as a 3 or 4 year old.
My daughter was married in the “new” chapel in 1985.
Family member helped restore the church.
They did a beautiful job. Obviously a labor of love.