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.