Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church

Effingham County
Org 1733
Photography by John Kirkland

The Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church is located on the banks of the Savannah River about 30 miles above Savannah. The historic brick edifice is the oldest church building in Georgia and sometimes it is called the oldest public building in the state. The church was organized in Augsburg, Germany, in 1733 with the Reverend John Martin Bolzius and the Reverend Israel Christian Gronau as pastors. Both are buried in the church cemetery. The members had been exiled from their homes in Salzburg, Austria, and were looking for a place to live and worship. In England the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge sponsored their passage to the new world and the first ship arrived in Savannah on March 12, 1734.

The Salzburger exiles were led by General Oglethorpe to their new homes at Ebenezer. This site had been chosen for them on Ebenezer Creek several miles inland from the Savannah River. However, the settlers suffered severe hardships at this site. The soil was infertile and many succumbed to sickness and death. They requested of General Oglethorpe that he allow them to relocate to a new settlement on the banks of the Savannah River. General Oglethorpe agreed and in 1736, they were allowed to move to the present site at New Ebenezer, located where Ebenezer Creek runs into the Savannah River. The town of New Ebenezer was laid out in a similar fashion to Savannah and the Salzburgers propered there. They were successful in agriculture, raising cattle, lumbering and silk culturing and by 1741, the town had grown to a population of twelve hundred. These early settlers built the first saw mill in Georgia on Ebenezer Creek (1735), the first orphanage (1737) and the first rice and grist mill in Georgia (1740). They organized the first Sunday School in Georgia (1734) and constructed the first Church of any denomination.

The church above is the oldest Church building in the Georgia backcountry and the oldest rural brick church by decades. The Salzburgers were wealthy, industrious people and the church architecture and construction reflect this in many details. The church was built from handmade bricks made of local clay from 1767 to 1769. The walls of the church are 21 inches thick and some of the original panes of glass are still in the windows. The bells were brought from Europe and are still rung before each service. All that now remains of the original settlement is the church building and cemetery.

After the British invasion of 1778, during the American Revolutionary War, the town was severely damaged and never fully recovered. It was made the county seat of Effingham County in 1797, but two years later the seat was transferred to Springfield, taking much county business with it. By the time Ebenezer was abandoned in 1855, the town covered only 1/4 square mile. The Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church is one of the few buildings that has survived in Ebenezer. Jerusalem Church is still a very active congregation and, historically, it is the oldest continuing Lutheran congregation in America worshiping in the same building. Presently at the Town of Ebenezer, one will find the Jerusalem Lutheran Church, the Cemetery, a Salzburger home built in 1755, and the Old Parsonage built in 1835. The Georgia Salzburger Museum is, also, located at the settlement. Come by for a visit when in the Savannah area.

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