This area, once part of Houston County and now in Macon County Georgia, was originally inhabited by the Creek Indians before they ceded the land in the early 1820s. Parcels in this part of Georgia near the Flint River were acquired through the land lotteries of the 1820s. By the end of the decade, white settlers from North Carolina had arrived in what would become the town of Marshallville. The following decade, they were joined by more settlers, mostly of German descent, who came in from Orangeburg South Carolina.
Many of these early families brought enslaved people with them and when they arrived, cleared the forestland and planted cotton, establishing large plantations here. As the cotton economy and surrounding community grew, both Baptist and Methodist congregations had been established near their plantations.
By the 1840s, Marshallville was at the crossroads of north-south and east-west travel routes, bringing business to the small town. In 1850, the Southwest Railroad laid tracks through here, helping to establish the emerging community, and by 1854, Marshallville was officially incorporated. Multiple stores, a blacksmith’s shop, a public well, and a depot were built in the following years and soon, the community recognized the need for more centralized worship locations.
A hardshell church was built in the town where three denominations originally worshipped: the Hardshell Baptists, the Primitive Baptists, and the Methodists. The earlier congregations, which had been established near the plantations that surrounded Marshallville, merged congregations and moved into town where they would meet in this universal church until they built their own structures.
In early 1861, the Primitive Baptists completed their own wooden frame building on the site of the current brick structure that stands today. This congregation was formed from the union of three earlier churches, Greenwood Baptist (org. 1848), Gloris Hope Church, and Mount Vernon Primitive Baptist.
But change was coming quickly for this congregation and its town as the Civil War broke out the same year. Many left to fight and many didn’t return. The town of Marshallville, like the rest of the country, would face many shifts over the coming decades.
In the years immediately following the war, cotton continued as the premier crop for a short time, until the town and greater region began to make a shift towards fruit-based commercial agriculture. This shift would help to bring Marshallville out of the post-war years in relatively good condition, as evidenced by the impressive structures they were able to build in the early 1900s.
The original wooden church that the Baptists built in 1861 burned in 1911, but the congregation was determined to build a new, much more impressive place to worship. By 1920, this significant brick church was completed and is still in use today by an active congregation.
The people of the community of Marshallville have left an indelible mark in more ways than just their buildings. Samuel Rumph, regarded as the father of the Georgia Peach, planted and studied different varietals of peaches at his orchard in Marshallville that earned Georgia its reputation for the fruit. Today, the oak trees and camellia bushes the early settlers planted still flourish, the latter of which are 10-12 feet high and 18+ feet across. Today, the American Camellia Society continues an almost 80-year tradition, hosting the Camellia Festival here in Marshallville every year.
This is an exterior photo of the church’s façade, a large belfry, a smaller matching southwest corner tower and, as well, the southern wall at First Baptist. It is hard to believe that this magnificent, pristine brick structure remains perfectly intact today and is sitting in the same place where it was first dedicated in 1920. Despite having to survive over one hundred years of social strife, boll weevils moving into the cotton fields in the early 21st century, a devastating world-wide economic depression in 1929 and other disasters, this temple remains standing. Thanks to excellent congregational stewardship over the years, we today find no signs of neglect or decay. We marvel that this breathtaking, late Victorian castle dedicated to the Baptist Church has survived and is still accessible for all to visit and see.
We cannot document the claim but are willing to bet that the number of high quality stained glass gothic windows at Marshallville Baptist is the largest to be found in the rural churches of Georgia. Here we see just one example. An enormous window that sits between two buttresses flanked by two lovely small windows.
In the first, exterior photos, we have viewed the architectural masterpiece that is Marshallville Baptist. We have now entered the sanctuary and this photo reveals the equally magnificent and totally unique sanctuary. We have not seen any other old rural church sanctuaries that are configured as this one. Upon entering, we have a view of the sanctuary from the center aisle all the way to the chancel and its gothic vaults.
We have now stepped forward up the center aisle and nearly reached the chancel. In this close up, we see to the left a movable, high open door leading to a Sunday school or other such room. Above the School house ceiling, we see a false balustrade that provides a handsome decorative element. The chancel itself is reached by three steps and the apse is formed by a Victorian, Gothic vault. A similar Vault on the right side of the Chancel provides an area for the Choir. A large piano can be seen therein.
This is a photo of the sanctuary taken from the Sunday School door toward the south wall. The beautiful curved pews were machine manufactured and were quite common in wealthy rural areas in the late 19th early 20th century. The plethora of beautiful and expensive stained glass windows we see in this one photograph are proof of our claim that Marshallville Baptist is home to a large number of such windows.
This is a close up of the choir loft that is Pulpit left. Even this small, tucked away space has its own lovely stained glass gothic window which sheds colorful light within.
All of the pews were manufactured and included the Trinity carving as well as the flower decorative arm
This very large gothic window is a memorial to a family who chose to buy and dedicate the window to many members. You can make out names of each member memorialized in the rectangle medallions seen at the foot of each segment. Also, medallions are often placed in the upper segments that are meaningful to other family members. You see three such memorials in the three ellipses at the top segment. Dedication windows was a serious undertaking and reflected the family’s upper class status.
We have avoided discussing the ceiling of this sanctuary up to this point. You can see why when looking at this photo. At its center, we see the interior of a cupola that we know rests on the roof. The other structural ceiling elements and types of trusses for the vaults, etc are not known to us and hidden by the ceilings. This complex structural and artistic ceiling is unlike others we have seen. No one at HRCGA is comfortable undertaking a valid description. Rather than attempt to explain its complexity, we close with a wish that some of you will send us an appropriate description which we will add to a future presentation and captioning.
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What a beautiful church. I’m glad it’s still in use. Also, the commentary and the photos were great.