The sweet little church you see above is located on a dirt road in far south Georgia close to the Florida line, where the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers converge to form the Apalachicola. The location of the church is close to what is left of Recovery Georgia near the historic site of Camp Recovery. This extreme location in the SW corner of Georgia has a lot of history that goes back to the very early 19th century. This early history is filled with Indian conflicts, death and disease. From a 2017 newspaper article in the Post Searchlight, we are told that Moses Chapel was organized in 1836 when three small churches in the same area came together to form Moses Chapel. Beyond that, we can find no more history and we are hopeful that some will emerge as a result of this work. The structure is very old and we are afraid that she won’t be with us much longer. Although simple, you can feel the love and respect that these early Georgia settlers had for their churches and schools that were always the very heart of the community. These images are a powerful reminder of life in the Georgia backcountry in the 19th century.
The first white people into this part of Georgia came in 1814 as a result of the Creek Indian treaty of 1814. By the terms of the treaty, the Lower Creeks were forced to cede 23 million acres of their territory in South Georgia and Alabama. Andrew Jackson had just defeated the Creeks in a decisive victory and the south Georgia cessations were the result. The first military occupation began with the establishment of Camp Crawford on a high bluff overlooking the Flint River in June of 1816. Camp Crawford was then replaced by Fort Scott, a more permanent installation where troops from the fort would play a major role in the first Seminole war. In November of 1817 the first shots were fired at a village called Fowltown, located not far from where the church is now. Andrew Jackson, fresh from his victory over the British at New Orleans, was sent to Fort Scott as a result and he soon invaded Spanish Florida to end the conflict. Fort Scott continued to became a major military buffer due to its proximity to Spanish Florida. However, the biggest enemy turned out to be the mosquitoes that swarmed around the swamps and infected the soldiers with malaria. Many of them died. As a result, Camp Recovery was established across the River in a location very near to where the church is now. Camp Recovery was thought to be a more healthy environment, but many soldiers continued to die, even in this new location, You can easily get more history on Fort Scott and Camp Recovery on the internet.
Decatur County was created by an act of the state legislature on December 8, 1823. The early pioneers who settled this part of Georgia and their children were the founders of many of of these simple, wooden houses of education and worship in the rural backcountry. Moses Chapel is one of the few to survive but without an intervention, she will not be with us much longer. We think these decaying monuments to the struggles and triumphs of our ancestors are important. As we often say, this is where we came from. This is how we got here. This is who we are.
Be sure to click and scroll the photos below for more commentary on Moses Chapel.
We believe that this exterior view is of the south side and apse area (light colored siding). The undergrowth obscures the foundation area but the deteriorated siding, collapsing window frames and general disrepair are proof that Moses Chapel is in dire, physical straits. We believe that it is in danger of collapsing soon. The presence of the tin roof is a positive. Though clearly beginning to rust out, it appears to be, at least on this side, keeping the rain out of the interior and that should slow the deterioration progress.
This southside exterior view shows the bell tower and its siding and the still effective heart pine sheathing. But, it also reveals that the north side tin roof appears to have lost a number of panels. This north side deterioration is common given the fact that most of the storms and bad weather in this area come out of the north/northwest.
Here we are looking at the northside, rear of the church (main building on right and collapsing apse on the left). Much damage is clearly visible at the apse where a tree has at one time fallen on the roof crushing that building. Worthy of note is the log holding up the north side of the Chapel. Instead of using some field stones as framing piers, the hard as iron, insect resistant, ubiquitous long leaf pine trunk is used!
The interior of the Chapel has pretty much been cleaned out. Here we see on the left an old rickety table in front of one remaining old pews. We also can see how much damage was caused by the tree that fell on the apse. The south wall is also leaning dangerously inward. On the other hand, the floors, walls and ceiling sheathed with four-inch, long leaf pine boards appear to be remarkably sound.
This is a closeup of the front door. The door and its framing show signs of rot and are clearly in disrepair. However, as we have seen elsewhere, the pine wood used to construct this door frame and the exterior siding of the church remains effective. How many years of no maintenance has this old chapel sustained? How many more years does it have to go before collapse?
This is an interior closeup of the south wall of the sanctuary. The bench sits in front of a broken window which is allowing some serious water damage to occur. It also faces the leaking and collapsed stove flue where rain water has been obtrusive. Remarkably, the battered old tin roof has remained relatively watertight in spite of its age.
Here we see the collapsing brick chimney that is a primary source of the rainwater damage we just saw and discussed in the last photo. This is a very old (150 years?) brick chimney and is certain to fail soon.
Here is a more detailed view of the collapsing apse and north wall we saw earlier. Though battered and old, the wood log foundation pillars remain effective. They don’t make pine trees like these anymore.
This wooden pier has probably survived for over well over a hundred years though resting in the sandy dirt of Decatur County. It still looks like new!
Finally, here is a wooden pier standing upright. It is a pleasure to be able to find, see, document and properly enjoy this old-timey construction feat!
We found this photo of Moses Chapel taken by Paul Kwilecki in 1982 in a Duke University archive. When compared to the following photo, the chapel has held up pretty well given the time lapse of almost forty years.
Finding and documenting a church such as Moses Chapel is a delight for us, and we hope for you as well. Of course, in days to come, we hope we will be able to uncover the rich history that rests here so we can document and share the personal experiences of the pioneers that settled this remarkable and historic area…..stay tuned.
Almost Gone But Not Forgotten
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Decatur County was hit hard by Hurricane Michael in October 2018. The hurricane was still a category 3 hurricane when it hit this area. The southern wall could have been damaged by the storm. As there are no dates shown for the photos, it’s hard to tell if this might be the case. If this damage was before the storm, unfortunately the structure may not be standing anymore.
The photos are recent. It does look like the back of the church received a good blow from either a tree or a large limb, likely as a result of the hurricane. She is still standing but won’t be for very long.
There are many old places of worship along the Flint River Road and in Worth County that have not been shown. I hope you will get to them. They are all very very old.
Thanks Pat. Would love to see a photo of some of them to see if they might meet the criteria.
I did a painting of this old church maybe 20 or so years back. If anyone is interested in seeing it, I”ll be glad to share it. The old church was one we just rambled upon during our back road drives. My late hubby & I traveled around just taking photos of places for me to paint. Since his death I have missed doing that.
Helen, if you can share it via email we can post it on our Facebook page for folks to see.
So glad you could photograph it before it is gone.