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.
You may have noticed in the set-up, exterior photo that a front portion of the Chapel’s tin roof was lifted and is now allowing rain to enter the interior at that point. In this photo, we see that the right rear roof is even more compromised. The gaping hole reveals that the tin has been completely lifted exposing the interior beams, structure and all the interior floors, walls and furniture below to constant rain and wind. This beautiful 19th Century, single gable structure with its ornate Belfry and lovely cornice returns is in imminent danger of physical collapse.
The simple beauty of Jones Chapel is reflected and enhanced by this charming four-sided apse. In the later 19th century, this complex design would be more often found at wealthier, congregations. Given the many unknown/unanswered questions regarding Jones Chapel and its history, we think this feature provides support of the narrative of Jones Chapel having been originally a white church. Later into the 20th century, the evidence points to its conversion into an African American congregation. We hope to have a more definitive history in 2019.
The underpinnings and architectural elements at Jones Chapel are totally authentic and speak to/support a late-19th century construction date. The church was organized in 1889 and the footings, brick and rocks were certainly the most common materials used in that era. The fact that milled lumber, not hand sawed/adzed, is present in the photo offers further documentation of its 115+ years of existence.
This interior view of the apse and pulpit areas tells a sad story. You may remember that the exterior view of the apse presented a structural view that looked quite sound and solid. Here we see that very serious and damaging roof leaks are in the process of bringing the structure down. The growing structural damage presents an existential threat.
Here is more evidence of the serious damage being done by the elements at Jones Chapel. We can now see completely through the ceiling to the outside.
You may remember from an earlier exterior photo that some tin roof uplifting was taking place at the left front of the Chapel. This view from the pulpit reveals the insidious threats from those leaks. The problems look small from the outside but very threatening from the inside.
As you see in this photo, some of the 19th century pews remain undamaged. As you see here, though, broken windows join with roof leaks to create serious threats to Jones Chapel within and without. Above we see the vegetation creeping in. If allowed to continue, these vines and the rain will ultimately take over.
You have to admit that, even amongst all the decay and destruction at Jones Chapel, this sweet view of the curtains in the pink apse with piano and gas heater is somewhat inviting. “Perhaps they will return”!
Though we haven’t been able to adequately document this old church’s history, we have a helpful clue in this old piano. It is a Cabinet Grand made by Ludden and Bates in Atlanta. The company had a very short history. We have found old records that state the enterprise was started in 1885. Jones Chapel was founded in 1889, four years after Ludden and Bates. The Atlanta company closed and went out of business in 1895. One of its pianos found its way to Jones Chapel and the most likely date was 1890-1895! We will keep looking for more history…………..
A collapsed three hole privy is a remnant of days gone by. One of the reasons many of these old churches lost their congregations was lack of air conditioning and plumbing.
Webb H. Huff, Jr. enlisted in the U. S. Army at Fort Benning, GA on April 11, 1942. His army enlistment records give his height as 64” and weight 136 lbs. He served as a PFC in WWII and was released from service on Jan. 8, 1946. As a side note, a U. S. Veterans Gravesites show Webb H. Huff, Jr. buried at Black Rock AME Church Cemetery, Danburg, Tignall, GA.
Mose McLendon enlisted in the United States Army August 5, 1918 and was honorably discharged August 1, 1919. He served as a private in Company C, 342 Service Battalion, Quartermaster Corps. An application for a military headstone names the cemetery where he is buried as St. John Baptist Church Cemetery, Wilkes County, GA. The U. S. Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 shows Mose McLendon departed St. Nazaire, France for New York on 11 July 1919 and gives his place of residence as Danburg, Georgia. The name of the ship he traveled on as he returned from overseas service in WWI was Callao.
Jessie/Jesse Tucker is shown in the 1930 census of Wilkes County living in the Jenkins District on French Mill Road. Current maps of Wilkes County give the name of this road as Jones Chapel Road. The 1930 census also shows he was a veteran of World War I. WWI draft registration records show he was born in Goshen, Lincoln County, GA but at the time he registered for the draft, June 5, 1917, he lived in Danburg, GA.
The earliest recorded interment is 1924, which reinforces the 1920 establishment of the cemetery and the name change from Jones Chapel to St. Johns Baptist. There are many depressions indicating the presences of unmarked graves, a common occurrence in these old rural cemeteries.
Almost Gone But Not Forgotten
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I have some relevtives buried in a cemetery at friendship church in wills county can anyone tell me who could unlock the church so I could see the inside
The reference in the article to the “Lincoln Journal” is incorrect. The article was in “The News-Reporter,” community newspaper for Wilkes County, Georgia. Follow this link https://www.news-reporter.com/articles/historic-rural-churches-researcher-is-on-the-hunt-for-jones-chapel-info/
I love the history. I would also like to purchases some of the items left in the church. Beautiful church. A part of history.
Unfortunately we do not have a contact for Jones Chapel. Sorry.
I have the history of the church.The Church was built in the year of 1909.The people in the community had to walk to Mulberry Baptist to attend service.They bought the lot from Mr.Bennie Walton.It contained four acres.Mr.Bennie Wolf a carpenter helped build the Church.The first pastor was Rev.Hunter.They named it St. John Baptist Church Rev Hunter was preaching in schoolhouse named Jones Chapel on that same site.was a lodge house before school house .
My father and mother attended this church.Mose and Lizzie Rucker.I have some of the history and pictures of the school that was there We came to visit and was shocked at the condition I am hoping something can be done to save it.The school was named Jones Chapel.The last teacher taught there was in the fifties was Carrie Wynn.
do you ever find any old church pews for sale? I would love to have one and maybe the money could help save some structure
I would just go online and Google up old church pews for sale. There will be lots of them.
We found a piano similar to the one pictured in the house we purchased in Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island. After doing a little research, they are called upright grand pianos and were manufactured around 1900. You can actually google the piano name and get a good bit of information. There will be a number under the upper front cover. You can get in touch with the manufacturer and they can tell you the year this piano was made, approximate value unrestored and restored. There is a company in Tennessee that restores antique pianos. Thank you for all your research and wonderful information you share. I am a huge fan of HRCGa.
Thank you so much Penny. We appreciate the support. Spread the word.
Who is the current owner of this church?
We are not sure. Usually the church trustees or Deacons are the owners of record for the Baptist churches.
Anyway to see who’s paying the property taxes? I love the work y’all are doing and your concern for historic preservation. I love these old churches.
Good thought but the churches were tax exempt.
This looks like a church my daughter and I visited a few weeks ago. We were in that area and were looking for another church and found this one. We went inside it and felt what a shame that it is going down so badly. Thank you for the great work you are doing. I always enjoy seeing the churches and reading their history.
Yes. Too many of these old treasures are fading away.
try checking county school records for the school. in most small counties they are still kept.