Isle of Hope Methodist

Chatham County
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Org 1859
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Photography by Bryan Stovall

Established as a retreat in the 19th century for the elite of Savannah, Isle of Hope provided a refuge from the intense heat and outbreaks of malaria prevalent throughout the summer months. Originally owned by Henry Parker, the land was divided into lots in the 1850s and 1860s. These were sold to prominent Savannah families who built palatial homes along the water. A small African American settlement in the district dates from after the Civil War when freed slaves from Wormsloe Plantation settled in the town. In 1871 a railroad was built connecting Savannah with Isle of Hope and by the early 20th century many residents were living in the town year-round.

Isle of Hope United Methodist Church was organized on December 18, 1851, on the mainland but was later moved to the “Island,” called Isle of Hope. The site was a gift from Dr. Stephen Dupon by deed dated June 29, 1859. The edifice was constructed from funds contributed by residents of the Island and the citizens of Savannah. The original building was a vernacular-style church composed of a rectangular structure with gable ends. The gallery was built was the seating of enslaved people during worship services, and the straight-back pine pews are the original pews in the church at its construction.

The church building that stands here now was erected in 1859 and its architecture is similar to that of the early churches at Midway and Ebenezer. 

During the Civil War, a Confederate battery stood on the church lot, mounting two 8-inch Columbiads and two 32-pounder cannons. The church was used as a hospital for Confederates stationed in the area, the pews (still in existence) serving as beds. Thirty-three Effingham County soldiers were laid to rest in the adjoining churchyard.

For 90 years, the Church was a “Circuit” and was served by a part-time pastor, who served various churches. During this time, horses and buggies were tethered in the churchyard while services were held. With the development of the Island in 1950, a full-time pastor was appointed. The Sanctuary was moved to its present location beside the road in 1957. The present wall lamps were installed at that time and the building was painted.

In 1983, a major expansion of the Sanctuary was initiated. The planned expansion provided a vestibule, a new front porch, a hallway connecting the Sanctuary and the Cramer Building in the rear, a 24’ extension of the rear Sanctuary wall to allow for the addition of 9 pews, and a new copper roof. During the construction, all furnishings, including the original pews, chancel rail, lamps, and furniture, were removed and stored. The expansion was nearly complete when, on February 22, 1984, the structure burned due to an electrical fire, despite the heroic efforts of the Isle of Hope and Southside Fire Departments. Plans for rebuilding began immediately, and contributions poured in from all over the state. The present structure was dedicated, free from debt on February 10, 1985. In 1998, two transepts were added, increasing the seating capacity by 200. The Sanctuary was also refurbished with new paint, carpeting, and the installation of a new Rodgers organ.

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