The First Presbyterian Church of St. Marys is a stunning piece of architecture and is also one of the oldest Presbyterian Church buildings in the state of Georgia. The church was non-denominational until a young Presbyterian Missionary, Horace S. Pratt, from the Presbytery of New Brunswick, N.J., came to St. Marys in 1821. He found religion in the area to be in a ‘very low and languishing state, having existence in name only’. In 1828, by an Act of the Georgia Legislature, the church was incorporated under the name of “First Presbyterian Church of St. Marys”.
The church is a perfect compliment to the historic village of St. Mary’s, located on the St. Marys river in Camden county. The St. Marys Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The city was first settled in the mid-16th century by the Spanish. It was formally established by an act of the state legislature in 1792. Established on the site of an abandoned Timucuan Indian village, Tlathlothlaguphta, St. Marys sits on land confiscated from two brothers of royal governor James Wright. Their Royalist sympathies resulted in their banishment after the American Revolution and the loss of their huge estates. After the departure of its royalist owners, the land belonged to Jacob Weed, an early planter and state legislator. Weed sold 1,672 acres along the St. Marys River to nineteen other men, and the twenty laid out the new town together in 1788. Early maps show the streets were 100 feet wide, interspersed with two 16-acre public squares. Each one of the twenty founders was authorized to use the squares and received a mixture of good, marshy land in his purchase.
The strategic location of St. Marys on the Atlantic Coast just above Florida led to its involvement in several of the major military conflicts in U.S.history. Troops were sent from New York to the area during the American Revolution. It was captured by the British during the War of 1812, and Union gunboats shelled its waterfront buildings during the Civil War. The losses to the city’s population caused by the calamities of war were serious, a combination of casualties sustained during attacks and the migration of frightened civilians inland to avoid danger. In addition to war, raids by smugglers and Native Americans, and epidemics of yellow fever repeatedly occurred throughout the nineteenth century, killing many and causing others to leave. Today, the picturesque village of St. Marys is a perfect location for the this historic example of tidewater architecture that has been lovingly cared for over 200 years. Services are each Sunday at 8:45 and 11:00 am.
It is quite a treat to visit the sanctuary of St. Mary, clearly one of the most historic churches in Georgia. You enter by walking up the western staircase to the open vestibule which sits at the base of the center-steepled meeting house. Since the structure was originally chartered and built in 1808 as a non-denominational place of worship for the citizens of St. Mary's, there is only one wide entrance door. Most of these early churches were for Methodist or Baptist congregations which usually had two front doors, one for men and one for women and children. It was through the door shown, that early congregants entered. As you stand at the door sill, you can just feel the presence of the thousands who have entered for over two hundred years and breathe in the drama and history surrounding this earliest of Presbyterian Churches in Georgia
This interior view from the pulpit toward the entrance door shows us how comfortable, intimate and still old-fashioned the small, lovely meeting house sanctuary feels. It also provides a chance to show off the exceptionally wide, heart pine floors. We should note that, all of the materials used in the construction of this church were harvested, sawed, and joined within the community. The unusually fine craftsmanship on display at St. Mary's was made possible by the the fact that prosperous rice growers and cotton farmers had available... at their beck and call... a large force of skilled men and workers. The inland churches of the early 19th century were rude structures in comparison to this jewel
This photo from the rear of St. Mary's illustrates just how high above ground level the floor of the sanctuary is. The church's location so close to the Atlantic Ocean and vulnerability to flooding caused the builders to insure it had a very high, sound foundation. We can also appreciate the placement of a lovely rose window over the altar/pulpit.
This church is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of church architecture of that period in Georgia. The exterior views remain as lovely and pleasing to the eye today as when the building was constructed toward the end of Thomas Jefferson's Presidency. As you see from the view above, the basic interior design and decorative elements of that era remain in place today as well. You see a welcoming, wide center aisle flanked by early-19th century style simple pews. High, 12 by 12 sashed windows with plain glass panes. A simple chancel with altar and pulpit behind. You also see the results of two centuries of careful maintenance, renovation and modernization. It does not look just as it did in the 1800's. We see electric lights, air-conditioning vents, carpet and other historically, 'non-conforming' intrusions. But by providing the creature-comforts demanded by 21st Century congregants the church stands today, over three hundred strong, with a thriving and vibrant congregation still finding its spiritual way here ….just as their 19th and 20th century forebears did.
St. Mary's stands today as a marvelous example of low county architecture that has over 200 years of loyal stewardship through three wars and a lot of bad weather. It has undergone some external and internal changes, but it remains today a faithful memorial and monument to the people who conceived it, built it, cared for it and will continue to do so for centuries to come. We as citizens are blessed to have such a unique and historic landmark available for all to visit, learn from and simply enjoy.
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My 3rd great grandfather, Alexandre Deblieux, “Monsr Deblieux” was among the First Subscribers of the St. Marys Church. While residing in St Marys, he was granted citizenship of the United States on “this 7th day of June, 1808.”
Beautiful church. I am new to St Marys come Christmas time and got the chance to visit while relocating my husband to the area. So excited to find my new home and get involved with your congregation. Kim Powers
Sunday School/Adult Education at 9:00 AM
Worship Service at 10:00 AM
Fellowship at 11:00 AM
The Reverand Rick L. Doouylliez, Pastor
We are a Stephen Ministry congregation.
Update by Barbara Dickman, a Ruling Elder currently on Session responsible for Outreach.
What is the policy for weddings at this church? Is it possible for non-members?
We don’t know what the policy is. You would need to contact someone at the church.
I will once again be in Kingsland Georgia in May and hope to make a visit to this beautiful old church in St Mary’s! Fell in love with the town and it’s historic places especially this church!
Thanks for the message Pam! We hope that you get the opportunity to visit St. Mary’s! Share any pictures that you might take on our HRCGA Facebook page.