McCaanan Missionary Baptist is a lovely historic African American church located in rural Burke County. Rev. Frank Cooper organized the first congregation in 1875, not long after the Civil War. The church membership included many families who worked as sharecroppers at the nearby Millhaven Plantation which was, and still is, one of the largest farming operations in the eastern United States. Millhaven’s history dates back to 1769 when Francis Paris began purchasing land along Brier Creek. Originally, the cemetery that was associated with McCaanan was located on the Millhaven Plantation. Burials of church members took place there from the 1870’s until the 1930’s when the current cemetery, next to the church, was started after a bridge over Brier Creek leading to the cemetery washed out in a flood.
Following emancipation, the church was often the first and most significant building constructed by African-Americans. In subsequent years, as congregations grew in size and means, early church buildings often were replaced by larger and more elaborate structures. The McCaanan congregation prospered and the original 1875 church was torn down and replaced with a larger structure in 1890 on the same site. In 1912, the sanctuary you see above replaced the 1890 church. McCaanan Missionary Baptist was one of five churches that were organized by Rev. Cooper, forming the Frank Cooper Missionary Baptist Association. This was a significant achievement, since Baptist Convention regulations then allowed an Association to ordain ministers.
Many descendants of the original congregants are still located in the area, including those of Rev. Cooper. In fact on October 3, 2014 the Cooper Family Farm received a “Centennial Family Farm Award” that recognizes farms in Georgia that have remained in the same families for at least 100 years. Rev. Cooper acquired the original farm land in 1885. Over time the farm prospered and the family still owns the land that has grown to include about 300 acres. The Cooper family is still deeply connected to the church and they remain active members. The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 and is still going strong after 140 years of service to this rural community in Burke and Screven counties.
It is important to remember that this church was founded by freed slaves, designed and built by them and, since its beginning until today, loved, maintained and sustained by them and their ancestors. It is a significant landmark building and congregation, a monument to the courage and persistence of those who faced reconstruction and all its continuing vicissitudes from 1875 into the 21st century. This sanctuary, the third one for the congregation, remains true to the 1912 plan drawn out by the church leaders. The lancet/gothic windows illuminate the unique, original decorative tongue-and-groove board ceiling that consists of five diamond patterns applied in wood bordering an interior "cross" that run the length of the ceiling. We've not seen this decorative element in any other of the rural Georgia churches we have featured to date. These were… and are... proud, independent and creative folks who worked hard to create and preserve their "church home" for generations to come.
In this view from the pulpit, we can experience the fresh, colorful and inviting atmosphere within the sanctuary. The large colored glass windows and mostly white ceiling and walls engender an aura of piety, joy and gratitude… it has been a perfect place for prayer, preaching, solace, song and reverential worship for this congregation for over 100 years.
This is an interior view of the choir area and just one of the lovely, wood framed, gothic/lancet windows that are prominent features within the McCaanan sanctuary. The old pews have been replaced and now provide comfortable seating for the congregation.
Here we see the wooden framed window featured in the last photo from the outside. Here is revealed the fact that these lovely frames and mullions were painstakingly hand formed and joined… probably by some talented members of the congregation. Quality craftsmanship that has endured for over 100 years.
McCannan has welcomed and served successful and thriving congregations for over 130 years while the present sanctuary at this site has been "home" now for over 100 years. Perhaps the continuing appeal of the church has been its noble heritage and history. But, another reason for its vitality and longevity could be the fact that it has adapted to the changing needs for modern creature comforts while remaining true to its original simple architectural and cultural heritage. This view from the rear displays the non-obtrusive, small addition added in 1977 to provide interior restrooms and a study. Subtle modernization efforts such as these in the oldest, rural Georgia sanctuaries… along with central heat, electric lighting, air conditioning, etc. … help to continue to attract the traditional flock in this era of mega-churches. We salute their efforts and wish them another century or two more of such success.
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Frank cooper was,my great uncle, Great grandfathers brother…my great grandfather was Isiah cooper.
Frank Cooper was my great grand father. It is pleasing to know that his legacy live on.
Hello Frank Cooper was my great great granddad… Lucy if you will please contact me. trying to find family info.
Hello Lucy if you will please contact me. trying to find family info. Frank Cooper was my great great granddad…