East Damascus Baptist is a classic North Georgia country church located in Gordon County in a very rural location, far off the beaten path. As far as we know, the church is original from the founding date of 1855 when two acres of land were donated by Myers Cochran, one of the first members. The first minister was William Flemming. The church was named “East” Damascus Baptist Church because there is another Damascus Baptist Church in Calhoun, on the west side of Gordon County.
Note the hand pump well in the front of the church. Not too many of those around…..and this one still works. Prior to the pump being installed, we are told the well had a bucket for drawing water. The local history also tells us that the church was also used as a school for a number of years. The beautiful cemetery is located in a bucolic setting just up the road and around a curve—a short distance from the church building. There are several Confederate veterans buried there and at least one Revolutionary War veteran.
Fortunately, the church is still vibrant with an active congregation. The photos below show an interior that has not changed much over the past 160 years. They were taken by one of our team photographers, Sam Ratcliffe, who has deep roots in this part of North Georgia. Some of the history for the church was furnished by Faye West Gibson, who still attends the little church in the woods. He tells us that he also has a maternal great grandmother who is buried there. His great grandfather is buried a short distance away in the village of Oakman because the roads were too bad to get his body to East Damascus for burial. Those old mountain backroads were difficult to maintain and frequently washed out.
We are indebted to the congregation of East Damascus for their stewardship of the history and protecting the historical character of the structure. Still going strong after 160 years of service to the local community that settled in these mountains in the early 19th century. Be sure to click and scroll on the gallery photos below for more history and information about some of these early Georgia pioneers.
The church is a simple, single-gabled, wood frame structure with a bell house on the gable peak. Notice the handsome cornice returns. One photographer has described the church today as, “The real McCoy of a mid-19th century Georgia, Country Baptist Church”. We have no argument with that description.
As one would expect, the interior of the sanctuary is very spare and unostentatious. Here we have a picture from within of the old double-doored entry way. The walls, doorframe and six paneled doors are fairly crude with little attention to “fit and finish”. The dangling bell rope is further proof of that attitude. But to our mind, the interior is in remarkably good shape given its age. The bell still works and rings clear in the North Georgia mountain air.
This is a photo taken from the center-aisle rear. Because of the sanctuary’s small size, we can see most of the entire interior of East Damascus. The lovely heart pine pews rest on matching pine boards that cover the entire floor with the exception of the chancel area. We see the chancel and apse area at the east end and also see two side doors that can be opened to provide good air circulation.
This is the view of the entire chancel and choir area. The choir area and its benches with gothic end escutcheons are seen to pulpit left with the amen corner in view at pulpit right. This entire area is well lighted due to the large clear glass windows seen on all three sides. When needed in warm weather, the large electric fans on the ceiling provide cooling from air conditioning that was installed during an earlier restoration.
Many of these old churches have a few or sometimes a large number of the original pews in the sanctuary. In an earlier restoration, the congregation at Damascus chose to remove their old ones and buy more elaborate pews. In this photo, we have a close-up view of the particularly handsome pews seen throughout the building. We are told that these very special heart pine pews were purchased from another church. They were all heart pine, machine manufactured with a scrolled arm and dressed out with the gothic escutcheon seen on each end.
In this view from the chancel, we now see almost the entire interior of East Damascus. Of particular interest is the two-part center beam that extends from one end of the building to the other. One of the locals stated that the two parts were held together by railroad spikes. You can clearly see the beam and the air conditioning vent in the ceiling.
This is the view from the pulpit all the way back to the entry double doors. Note that there are no ceiling, floor moldings, no decorative architectural elements, no pictures, etc. One of the tenets of the Baptists was minimal decorative elements within the building and “the simpler the better”. This sanctuary embraces that philosophy.
Here is the aforementioned two part beam. You can see the spliced area and(if you have great eyesight) some of the spike heads.
Here is a photo of the church that was taken in the late 1930's. The two ladies are Carolyn Faucett and Margaret Faucett. This very early photograph confirms that the present church building is pretty much the same as the original. From the two side windows flanking the double doors, the clapboard siding and the bell house… very little has changed. We salute the past and present congregations that have provided such wonderful stewardship to date. We appreciate and hope that their stewardship will continue and that they will love and protect this old church for generations to come.
John Cochran was born August 23, 1850. He was a brother of James Cochran mentioned above. John’s wife, Margaret Sanora Dobson, was born November 14, 1854. The 1910 Gordon County census shows they have been married 37 years and she has given birth to 9 children, 8 of them still living. John died July 18, 1913 and was buried with full masonic honors. Margaret died October 28, 1928.
William Coggin was born January 8, 1755 in Barnwell District, South Carolina and grew up in the Camden District. He was a Lieutenant in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was in several battles including Rocky Mount, Four Holes, Orangeburg and was in the Siege of Ninety Six. On July 17, 1850 he married Mrs. Cynthia Cox who was listed as age 60 in the 1860 census and he was listed as age 104. He did not apply for a Revolutionary War pension until he was 99 years old. He explained that he fought for Liberty and not for the gain of money. He further explained he formerly thought he would never apply for a pension but at 99 he was very old and infirm and could not support himself and his wife much longer. He died December 24, 1863 just days before his 108th birthday.
John L. McAfee was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina on September 12, 1812. He married Julia Ann Wolf (1821-1906) who is also buried at East Damascus. At the age of 48 years, John L. McAfee enlisted in the 6th Infantry, North Carolina on May 28, 1861. He was elected sergeant and was hospitalized in Lynchburg, Virginia. He deserted the Confederate Army. He died November 21, 1889.
William T. Coggins had an obituary published in the Calhoun Times, April 30, 1903. It states he was born in South Carolina December 24, 1842 and he moved to Georgia just before the “Confederate War.” He joined Company E, 40th Georgia Infantry March 4, 1862. He married Rebecca Brown (1843-1885) during the war and they had six children. Later he married Rebecca’s sister Sarah Amanda Brown (1845-1912) and had no children. William T. Coggins died March 19, 1903. He and both of his wives are buried at East Damascus.
James Cochran was born June 13, 1846 and died March 19, 1921. He served as a private in Company E, 8th Battalion, Georgia Infantry, CSA. He was married to Josephine Holmes (1848-1925). His father Myres Cochran (1812-1904), his Mother Phebe Rebecca Dickey (1821-1914) and four siblings are all buried at East Damascus. James and Josephine had at least seven children. The death certificate of James Cochran shows he died of paralysis.
Mollie McArthur was born July 6, 1893 and died as an infant on December 27, 1893. Her parents John A. and Martha K. Coggins McArthur moved to Texas and are buried near Fort Worth. Her grandfather was William T. Coggins mentioned above. Her other grandfather, Corp Leonidas Van Buren McArthur, died at Vicksburg, July 3, 1863, and is buried there.
Alice A. Silvers Holmes was born October 1, 1867, daughter of Silas and Sarah J. Silvers. She married Joseph L. Holmes (1858-1921) November 4, 1883 in Gilmer County, Georgia. The 1900 census shows they had been married 16 years and shows 8 children.
James Conley McDaniel was born in North Carolina on August 17, 1840 and died May 14, 1919 of paralysis in Pickens County, Georgia. He was married to Rebecca Jane Swann (1838-1912). The 1910 Pickens County census shows he is a farmer, they have been married 52 years, and had 9 children, 8 still living. He served in Company C, 65th Georgia Infantry during the Civil War but did not receive a pension after the war.
Giles H. Graham was born about 1814 and died in 1882. He married Elizabeth Duffy Taylor Mullinax (1810-1893) January 3, 1841 in Lumpkin County. Mrs. Mullinax’s first husband died while serving in the Indian Wars in Florida. The 1860 Gordon County census shows Giles, age 45, farm laborer; Elizabeth, age 51 and four children. Giles was paid by Confederates $19.25 for hire of horse team June 20, 1862. He was also paid $2.75 for expenses incurred in conveying conscripts from Cartersville to Camp in Decatur October 8, 1863. His wife Elizabeth is also buried at East Damascus. Her tombstone reads “A tribute of affection by A. P. Mullinax to his Mother and Stepfather.
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Have the privilege of living right next to this church. Those decorations on the Revolutionary War veteran’s grave are some that my kids put up because they couldn’t stand to see his grave bare on July 4th and Veteran’s Day. Would love to see more older pictures of the church and hear more history of the ones buried there!