Almost Gone But Not Forgotten
Another beautiful rural church that is now in the Almost Gone But Not Forgotten category. She could still be saved but time is running out. The church you see above is located on Jones Chapel road, a remote rural dirt road in Wilkes County close to the Savannah River. It is another of the African American churches located deep in the piney woods far off the beaten path. It is now known as St. John’s Baptist but we think that this was the original Jones Chapel Church that the road was named after. There are several questions we have been unable to answer. Was this building built as a white church or African American? From the architecture and style, it would appear to have been built as a white church and the footings and floor supports would be compatible with a construction date in the 1890’s or thereabouts. The pews seem to be original and would be in keeping with similar pews we have seen constructed of single piece heart pine in the late 1800’s. We have seen many of these across Georgia. Georgia’s Natural, Archaeological, and Historic Resources map (GNAHRGIS) shows a “Religious Building” at the site on Jones Chapel Road that was built in 1889, but it also shows another church on the same location built in 1920 on four acres of land.
Researching the histories of these old churches can be difficult and especially so with African American churches since so much of the history was never written down. Here is what we know as fact. As you will see when you look at the map, St. John’s Baptist is located on Jones Chapel Rd. It has a cemetery with the oldest recorded interment in the 1920’s and the latest in 2002. We know there was a school located at the church that was known as Jones Chapel in the 1930’s, and that is where the mystery begins. One of the local residents thought that Jones Chapel church was probably at another location on the dirt road and that there was a Jones Chapel cemetery to indicate the location. We have been unable to find it if it does, in fact, exist. We also know there was an African American school on the St. John’s church property but the name of the school, according to an 87 year old attendee, was Jones Chapel school. Both were located on Jones Chapel Road. Naming roads after a church located there was and is a very common practice.
We have have put a lot of effort into this one, because it has some very interesting aspects that we think are important. Here is our best supposition of the sequence of events. We think that Jones Chapel was built as a white church in 1889. It may or may not have had a school associated with it then. We think the church ownership then changed hands to African American ownership in or around 1920 and renamed St. Johns Baptist. We think the cemetery was started at that time on the four acres deeded to the church. We know an African American school, named Jones Chapel, existed on the site as well in the 1930’s. The school is now totally gone. The few facts that we do know seem to support this hypothesis.
It is very likely that this church will be gone in the near future. The roof has been seriously compromised and unless repairs are made very soon she will be destined to collapse and then disappear altogether, and the history that she represents will disappear as well. This story has been repeated many times as this part of our history slowly slips away. We take our mission of research and documentation seriously and we think it is important to document this historical treasure while we can. These wonderful old structures tell us so much about ourselves and where we came from. They deserve a better fate. We ran an article in the local Lincoln Journal asking for some help with the mystery of Jones Chapel. So far, nothing substantive but we will update our history here if something emerges.
Please let us know if you have anything to contribute to the mystery of the old church on Jones Chapel Road.