Glendale Chapel Methodist Church located in the Big Texas Valley in the foothills of northwest Georgia, stands today because a community came together, and through unwavering determination, saved the chapel from a fate that has befallen so many of our rural Georgia churches whose disintegrating remains dot our Georgia backroads. Glendale’s restoration is a story of respect for the people who fashioned our Georgia agrarian roots, and of their reverence for the role of religion in forming their community life. The story of Glendale Chapel helps us all form a more complete narrative of Georgia’s early rural history. Founded in 1875, Glendale Chapel came to the notice of Historic Rural Churches of Georgia in 2014. Originally the church worshiped in a brush arbor located nearby. There was another log structure on the property for a short time and in 1889 the first services in the little chapel above took place.
Like so many good things that happen in life, serendipity played a role in saving Glendale Chapel. Annie Shields and Patricia York, equestrian therapists for the deaf, bought the property that bordered on the chapel’s land. While looking for more space to exercise her horses, Shields came upon Glendale Chapel. She and York decided they would find the owners of the land, buy it and set about saving the Chapel. Along the way, they found former congregants, the Johnson sisters, Ms. Annie M. Johnson, Mrs. Jennie Johnson Jones, and Mrs. Alva Johnson Battey. Through them and their family the rich history of Glendale Chapel has been brought to life – the joyful gatherings, as well as the painful hard times its congregants shared inside those walls and around that churchyard.
For African American congregations in the early 20th century, their churches served the additional purpose of being the local school house, the only school facility available for many of the rural black citizens in Floyd County. The church schools were recognized by the county board of education and their teacher paid by the county, but the rest of the cost was borne by the local African American community. The Johnson sisters remember their school days in their church, bringing their lunch, sitting around the wood burning stove, learning the basics and also learning about their African American heritage. Eventually, the church school closed due to loss of county funding. However, the community came together again and paid for a teacher working out of a local home for two years before the parents arranged for the children to attend the only elementary school for African Americans in Floyd County over 25 miles from the Valley. Jennie Johnson Jones remembers that as a time of confusion and distress. However, her experiences in the Glendale Chapel school and the pain of the loss of those two years in a formal school, inspired her to pursue a life time of learning, eventually earning her Masters Degree in Education.
As the chapel’s restoration plans were being formed and implemented, the story took what could have been a tragic turn. The stresses of time, weather, and neglect had taken its toll on the structure. During the renovation, Glendale literally fell apart, turning that compelling old church into yet another heap of wood by the side of the road. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the small group decided to persevere. They discovered that the original church had been unpainted and was constructed in the board and batten style from white oak trees cut from the property. It turns out the little church had been covered with siding and painted white in the early 1900’s. The group decided to go forward with the original construction style and use as much material from the remains as they could.
Fortunately, we have good photographic documentation of the before, during and after process as you can see from gallery photos below. The church has been restored to its original glory as you will appreciate when scrolling the photos. The first photo in the series is an interesting historical contrast to the restored chapel above. The restoration of Glendale Chapel Methodist has gifted us with a glimpse into the lives of people like the Johnson family, who are entrusting us with the responsibility to preserve and pass on their rich tradition. Kudos to Annie Shields and Pat York for the vision and perseverance it took to do it. We owe all of them a debt of gratitude for their stewardship. For a deeper history of Glendale Chapel and the Johnson family, click here and here and here.
We are looking at a 2015, vintage photograph of a very dilapidated Glendale Chapel. This pre-restoration view highlights the state of disrepair this old church was in at that time. We see an abandoned 19th century church with no congregation, no front steps, fragile foundation pillars, broken windows, missing front and side doors, a failing chimney, rusting and compromised, old tin roofing, encroaching and damaging trees and vegetation…. a real discouraging mess… and we haven’t even entered the structure to peer inside. Despite these facts, Annie and Pat made the decision to attempt a total restoration to bring the venerable building back to life. What an adventure they had in store.
Here is an early-on photo of the multi racial team that came together in Floyd County to restore and preserve Glendale Chapel. They were to become like family as the project progressed. Not a wealthy family but a doggedly determined, highly motivated and persistent group. Pictured here are Brenda Budlong, Annie Shields, W. Leddell Kinnebrew, Annie Johnson, Alva Battey, Jennie Jones and Pat York.
Well here you go. Sunday morning at the Little Church in the Wildwood in 1958. Lets hope that after a hiatus of over fifty years these gatherings can be resumed sometime soon in this, the 21st, century.
Here we have a close-up view of the Chapel taken during 2015. The extent of the disrepair is more dramatic in this image than in the previous one shown also taken in 2015. This view of the south wall reveals even more damage than in the earlier one. It is going to take a lot of courage and effort to revive this carcass. Most people seeing this photo would consider Glendale Chapel as…" just too far gone"... to bring back. This view gives you some idea of the scale of the project. Remarkably, the chimney still stands but will need to be stabilized. Though damaged, the floor sills and joists can be replaced/repaired. The roof though leaking in one place remains sound and can be repaired quickly. The overall condition is far worse than just cosmetic, but this building is down but not out. Annie and Pat have their work cut out for themselves.
Among other things, this interior view provides a superb tutorial on 19th century backwood construction techniques. The raised ceiling is made possible by using the suspended truss design which you can clearly see above. This is actually pretty sophisticated trussing. You can also see that the "bones' of this church roof are still in relatively good condition… the, old, thick tin roof covering gets credit for this fortunate state of affairs. It appears that the wooden interior, structural 2 x 4's and flat , vertical wall boards are sound. The floor is a different, ugly but not tragic story. Yes, the right (north)side of the building has begun to fail, but the problem is primarily with the foundation piers/supports. These can be repaired and the joists and sills leveled. A positive prognosis for restoring the building stems from the fact that there is not overwhelming water, rot and decay damage throughout the structure.
This is another view of the task at hand. The situation is not as bad as it looks. Clearly, behind the broken and damaged horizontal interior wall boards, we find a sound and solid frame remaining.
Here we see evidence of why the northern side of the building is sinking as was evidenced in one of the preceding photos. The foundation stones/piers along the wall are failing. Using simple jacks the north side sills can be raised to level and the floor joists replaced. Replacing the floor after that operation will be a much easier task than it appeared to be in the earlier photo. This Temple of the Lord was built with what was at hand and affordable for freed slaves in the 1870's..........rocks and wood. Using modern restoration techniques, Annie and Pat can effect a reasonably priced fix of this seemingly unsolvable problem.
Throughout 2015, the progress on the repair/restoration project moved smoothly ahead. On December 30th , the last day of 2015, disaster struck. The entire building collapsed while the crew was working. Luckily no one was injured. All involved asked, ”What to do now?” Annie Shields wrote, “All of us agreed to view this setback as an opportunity to give our building a proper foundation and to rebuild it stronger than ever.” How about that for pluck! They were shortly back on the job.
Here is a 2018 view of the finished sanctuary. The 8 pews are exact replicas of the originals in design and structure and sit proudly upon vintage floorboards salvaged from original materials. The interior, wide horizontal wall boards and vertical thin ceiling boards are painted light green. You can see that the whole interior is illuminated by the bright ambient light flowing through the large, 6 over 9 clear glass windows. The trussed rafter ceiling rises to create a cathedral-like atmosphere within the sanctuary. It is hard to believe this church’s transformation from a wreck into a treasure.
This is a close up view of the simple but elegant chancel and pulpit. The pulpit is particularly revered because it had gone missing for over 40 years. It was re-discovered, refreshed, repaired and then proudly returned to its proper place at Glendale Chapel.
This shot provides an opportunity to look closely at one of the eight pews. It is the epitome of function and simplicity … less is more. It is also the product of an enthusiastic shop class at Coosa High School. When Annie, Pat and friends ran across an original pew in storage, they approached the Shop Class and asked if they could help. They responded by making eight identical replicas for the church. We also get the chance to enjoy the excellent fit and finish of the horizontal wall boards, wooden window frames, wide molding and old wood floors.
Here we get a glimpse of the old bell tower. The original bell had been stolen. Somehow, as you can see, an appropriate bell was sourced and effectively installed in the tower. Now, with the pull of the rope, a lovely bell rings again to cheerful announce that Glendale Chapel is back in business thanks to a dedicated group of loyal supporters.
This is the pier/foundation pillar for Glendale’s South West corner. It look pretty substantial and strong. The old, deteriorating foundation pillars and wood framing were replaced and improved after the collapse of the structure. True to their word, the Glendale group provided their church, “With a proper foundation and to insure it will be stronger than ever.”
In keeping with their desire to create an authentic atmosphere at the chapel, the sanctuary is heated by an old-fashioned wood burning stove. The older congregants will be pleased to feel the warmth of that “wood heater” on colder days in northwest Georgia…. “Just like the old days”.
This black and white photograph of a church reeks of nostalgia; it appears to have been lifted from an old church annual, scrapbook or newspaper from the late 19th century. To the contrary, this shot was taken at the Chapel site a short while ago by one of our photographers. The restoration team had decided that they did not want to replace the white, painted lap siding that had been applied at Glendale Chapel during an early 1920’s remodeling. Instead, they chose to turn the clock back further to earlier times and apply the board and batten siding that had been used at the church when it was first built. Now this historic building is available for all who wish to see it… looking as it did in “the old days.” Hats off to Annie Shields and Pat York who along with Annie, Jennie and Alva, daughters of Mordecai and Annie Johnson, who compiled the Glendale Church history and with others joined the movement to save this treasure.
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Note the comment from Annie Shields below regarding visitation.
I grew up in Texas Valley & have returned to my roots & settled in Texas Valley again. I remember Annie Johnson’s delicious buttered biscuits with a sprinkle of sugar she shared when Dad would take me to visit. Also, Malt Johnson’s annual cane syrup cooking. Nothing like the taste of hot syrup right off the trough. Hope to visit Glendale Chapel soon. Thanks for preserving this part of our rich heritage!
Kay, thank you for that special memory.
My great grandparents, Green and Rachel Johnson were among the founders of Glendale Chapel. My sisters and I are so grateful that Annie and Pat undertook to honor them with this restoration. I know they look on proudly from the spirit world as do my Grandparents Luke and Jennie Smith Johnson and my parents Mordecai and Annie Hoskin Johnson and all the ancestors who kept the Faith when Faith was all they had.
Hi Jennie. We join you in saluting Annie and Pat and we so pleased that this tribute to your family and their contribution to Georgia history will now be passed on.
Thanks so much for these stories of the churches in your emailed messages. I enjoy them so much, and save every one so that I can reread and hopefully visit one day. I would love to go on one of the tours. Someday I hope to buy the book.
Thanks also to all those who worked on restoring Glendale Chapel.
Thank you for the support Judith.
For anyone wanting to visit Glendale Chapel, email Annie at [email protected] to make arrangements. You will not be able to find the chapel by riding down the main road.
My wife and I planned to visit all 5 churches in floyd county this past weekend on the motorcycle but we only got to posseum trot at berry college. But we will get to glendale as soon as possible. We enjoy your book and have been enjoying you emails when they come out. We have rode to all 159 counties and wished we could have visited all of the churches back then.
Sounds like a great road trip.
What a work of love, great job!!!! Thank you for the story and to those who did all the work <3
Thanks for the support Jeanna. Spread the word.
What dedication! Thank you.
Grew up in Texas Vly but never knew about this until in recent yrs. thank you so much to the dedicated people who worked so tirelessly to bring this church back to life.
Thanks for the story. My ancestors first came to Georgia in the 1820s. Some of the names are West, Adams, Spence, Reid, Lee, and Coursey. Many of them were Primative Baptists. I believe they mainly lived in the Social Circle, Temple, Carrollton and Atlanta areas.