Brian Brown’s Vanishing South Georgia tells us that “Before it was known as Arp, this community on the Irwin-Ben Hill County line was known as Isaac. The name was changed sometime between 1910 and 1915, and judging by the burial dates in the adjoining cemetery, I would estimate that this church dates to about 1910. Since there was already an Isaac Baptist Church, the small African-American community here named their church Mount Isaac, to distinguish it from the the white church. And though Arp is located in Irwin County, the church and cemetery are just over the county line in Ben Hill.”
Our photograper, Steve Robinson, spoke to one of the locals who backed up this meager information. We do not know if the white Isaac church still exists, but it seems that the area around the church, now known as Arp, was once called Isaac. We think the church was constructed in the early 1900’s. The Findagrave website lists ten interments but there are many more than that as well as many unmarked graves. The earliest we could find was a lady named Carrie Thomas who died in 1921 and was listed in the 1920 census as as being 67 years old and living alone. There is a large family plot for the Player family but we can find no record of them. Perhaps some more information will emerge at a later date.
Lots of people were born, died, saved, and married in this sanctuary. It was a place of refuge and joy and was the center of activity in this remote rural community. These old structures are a vital part of our southern history. Built only a few decades after emancipation by people struggling to carve out a life in a land that was in decline………….devastated by war, the boll weevil and the rise of the industrial cities that were emerging. The old church will soon disappear like so many others have over the years. The only thing left will be the remnants of the cemetery among the weeds and scrub pines. This is a pattern we have seen so often in the rural south. Whole villages just disappear with only the churches and the cemeteries left to remind us what was here. We think our mission of documenting some of these old icons of the past is important. She is almost gone but not forgotten.
This old church is on its last legs, but we are pleased to have found it in time to photo-document its existence. Mount Isaac’s black congregation is long gone and will not return. Hear we see the usual culprits of leaking roof, open doorways, open windows, crumbling foundations, rotten framing and deteriorating siding which combine to doom abandoned structures like Saint Isaac. This church will soon slip into our “gone but not forgotten” category.
The large rear door opening has been inviting the wind, rain and other destructive elements of nature into the rear interior of the church for years. A few pews remain but scavengers have hauled off the pews and other furniture. The hole we see in the roof provides a continuous drenching and soaking of the wooden ceiling, walls and flooring which feeds the rot and decay. Resuscitating this old church with no congregation is an impossibility.
In the 20th century, a congregation tried to upgrade the interior by installing composition ceiling tiles. Here we see where they have fallen to the floor revealing the old vertical ceiling boards. We also see that the walls are painted to present as a kind of wainscot. The color used is known as “Haint Blue”. According to our photographer, Steve Robinson, “Haint blue was thought by the Gullah to ward off haints, or ghosts, away from the home. The tactic was intended to either mimic the appearance of the sky, tricking the ghost into passing through, or to mimic the appearance of water, which ghosts traditionally could not cross. The Gullah would often paint not only the porch but also doors, window frames and shutters. As Gullah culture mingled with southern culture, the practice became more widespread, but today it has lost most of its supernatural significance. This room and church is a repository of history that will soon be lost.
Here we see that much attention to detail was paid by the congregation to create an attractive, traditional chancel, pulpit and apse for the Mt Isaac congregation. These parishioners took their church and religion seriously and wanted their sanctuary to reflect that dedication. Unfortunately, in the early, mid-20th century, hard times set upon the community as it, and much of rural Georgia, entered a still-present era of depopulation. With no congregational support, Mt. Isaac and countless other rural churches were abandoned. Saving these victim-churches is impossible, but we do strive to document their existence, importance and the critical role they played in the lives of many Georgians black and white.
We were able to find at least some information on Carrie Thomas who died in 1921. In the 1920 Ben Hill County census she is listed as 67 years old and living alone....occupation wash woman.
Here is a large family plot for the sur name Player. There seem to be quite a number of family members interred here but we can find no record of them. What a shame it is to have these sacred grounds all overgrown and the community citizens who built the church, worshipped and sang there now lost. At least this meager documentation will record the fact they were here. Rest in peace.
Here is another view of the Player's final resting place. A lot of effort went into the construction of this family burial ground. The Players must have been quite prominent and well respected in this rural community. Share cropping and manual labor would have been the only work available to the folks who were here at the turn of the 20th century. The fields are slowly taking back what was once a vibrant church.
What a sweet and simple little headstone for the child who is buried here. These homemade headstones are quite moving and reflect the fact that these recent decedents of slaves were doing the best they could with a hard life and meager resources.
John Allen Player died in the 1940s when he was in his 30's. He lies in the family burial plot in the lee of the family church that will soon be reclaimed by the fields that once sustained this community. He leaves no record and the church will soon be gone but it will not be forgotten. At least this meager documentation will record that it was here. We have now received the following from one of our followers - "Meanwhile, the traffic bureau listed as the fifteenth fatality of the year, John Player, negro, 31, of 378 Angier Ave. N.E. who was brought to Grady Hospital in critical condition last Friday and died Saturday. Asst. Police Chief G. Neal Ellis, in charge of traffic, said an investigation revealed that Player was injured when thrown from a motorcycle on Myrtle Street near Linden Avenue."
Almost Gone But Not Forgotten
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