Mt. Zion was founded as a Presbyterian Church in 1813. It was sold to the Methodist Church in 1903 and was active until 1958. The church is visible from the highway and is sited on a high piece of ground with a commanding view of the countryside. It is a proper location for a church designed in the Greek Revival style. The double door entrance leads to an interesting double aisle pew arrangement and the four large columns complete the majesty that is Mt. Zion. The community of Mt. Zion has a most extraordinary history, the traces of which have entirely vanished with one big exception: Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church.
Mt. Zion has a storied history as an education center beginning with Rev. Nathan Beman. Rev. Beman moved from Maine to Georgia in 1812. Shortly thereafter, he agreed to serve as the Headmaster of the academy at Mt. Zion as well as the pastor of Mt. Zion Presbyterian. At the time, the community consisted of the church, a two-story schoolhouse, many houses, and various other buildings. In a period of a few short years, Rev. Beman was able to turn Mt. Zion into one of Georgia’s most celebrated institutions. There has been a governor (William J. Northern, elected in 1890), as well as famous educators and writers associated with this small community. We are told that Mt. Zion barely lost out to Athens as the location for the University of Georgia campus.
Mt. Zion was originally a Presbyterian Church, organized by Rev. Beman in 1813. The present building is the original structure, constructed in 1814. This is unusual in that most churches in the rural backcountry started as ‘brush arbors’, then progressed to a log church, and finally to one or more versions of a framed sanctuary. The fact that this delightful structure was built in 1814 and still survives speaks to the wealthy planters who envisioned Mr. Zion as an education center of learning from the very beginning. Mt. Zion’s reputation as such was known far and wide. After the Civil War, membership dwindled until the building was sold to the trustees of a Methodist Church for $200 in 1903. The Methodists worshiped in the building until 1958. The building is currently owned by the Hancock County Historical Trust and open to respectful visitors. The Hancock Historical Trust keeps the building in its current state and makes repairs when necessary.
The foundation of Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church rests on stacks of native stone pulled from the surrounding property. The elevated foundation allowed for air to circulate underneath the structure, creating natural air conditioning and sparing the wood from water and bug damage.
12 over 12 glass windows with original shutters
The interior is striking in its simplicity of design as seen in this view from the rear of the church to the pulpit. We see a simple box construction sanctuary with few architectural accents and white on white motif. Even with the ragged, fainting paint job above, the interior seems to glow.
The sanctuary at Mt. Zion is a peaceful place for reflection.
Welcome to the House of the Lord. You can't help but wonder how many feet have trod this path for the last 200 years.
Mt. Zion Presbyterian Altar
There are two front entrances off the large porch. One door was for men and another for women and children. The resulting double aisle arrangement of pews, along with the placement of the rear windows and the wide Georgia pine floors provided a fitting entry into this sanctuary.
The cemetery consists of 70 documented graves, many of which are unmarked. The oldest interment is that of Rev. Oliver Hulburg dated 1814.
Electa Strong Storrs was born June 5, 1794 in Middlebury, Addison County, Vermont and died September 19, 1817 in Hancock County, Georgia. She was the daughter of Seth and Electa Strong Storrs. She went to Hancock County on September 30, 1816 and died there less than a year later while a governess at the Mt. Zion Female Academy. She has a cenotaph at Middlebury Cemetery in Vermont but is buried at Mt. Zion, Hancock County. This may be the oldest intact stone in the cemetery.
William Cranch, a native of Kingsbridge Devon, Great Britain was born September 27, 1794 and died July 5, 1820. On his tombstone are written the words “Sweet is the memory of the just”.
William Wiley was born in 1742 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and died January 12, 1827 in Hancock County, Georgia. He married Martha Laird Harris in 1769. They had five children. He served in the North Carolina Militia from the Salisbury District during the Revolutionary War. He received a land grant in Hancock County for his service in the North Carolina Militia. William and Martha and their children were charter members of Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church.
Josee Siuvers was born July 23, 1833 and died July 27, 1853. Her tombstone reads “To the memory of a departed child”. Also, “She was lovely in life and peaceful in death”. Some records give her name as Josephine “Josie” Shivers, daughter of Barnaby Shivers Deacon (1775-1851) and Sarah Hudson Little (1804-1881). The 1850 Hancock County census shows Josephine Shivers, age 17, in the household with Barnaby Shivers, age 75, and Sarah H. Shivers, age 45.
William D. Wiley was born in 1819 and died November 1, 1923. He lived more than 100 years. He was the son of Edwin Wiley (1785-1866) and Elizabeth DeWitt Wiley who was born May 3, 1797 and died April 7, 1865. Both of his parents are also buried at Mt. Zion Cemetery.
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I first visited Mt.Zion while working on my master’s at Georgia College in Milledgeville. We were taking a history class and our instructors took us there. The cemetery was extremely overgrown but I was able to read the grave marker of Electra Strong Storrs who was governess for the girls at Mt. Zion Academy. She died less than a year after arriving. I have returned several times to the cemetery and am so very thankful that it has been cleaned up.
I became interested in learning more about Electra Storrs and have found out her father, Col. Seth Storrs, graduated from Yale and was a founding member of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. It is still a thriving college. I also learned from reading from the Storrs family history that Electra was a beautiful young woman and died one month before her marriage. She died at the home of Rev. Beman. I’ve often wondered how she died. The last time I was at Mt. Zion around Feb. of this year, my husband and I noticed her tombstone is starting to lean forward.
Also, someone posted about the book Tokens of Affections which are letters from Maria Bryan Connell(also buried at Mt. Zion) to her sister Julia. I was able to get this book from Amazon and enjoyed reading it.
There is also an interesting book on Rev. Beman’s life, A Divine Discontent, which gives one an interesting reading on him. I believe after he left Mt. Zion Academy his brother became head master at the school.
Do you offer group tours of churches. I would be interested in attending one, if possible, and if south of Atlanta. My great grandfather was the minister of Pearson’s Chapel in Altamaha (near Reidsville) in 1895-1896 which you have included in your list of churches.
Hello Lynn…we don’t offer tours, but Georgia Tourism offers a tour semi-annually called Pews & Pulpits. They have one coming up in April. You can find more information about it here: http://www.historicpewsandpulpits.com/
Do you have map details on all of the Churches you present in your book?
I frequently travel up the east side of GA on backroads. I think a map detail would make it easy for your explorers to find the location of your churches. Although your printed version of the Historic Rural Churches is complete, the digital notes would be beneficial.
https://www.hrcga.org/plan-a-trip/ John, go to this link on the website and you will find all the churches embedded in a Google map. We think that will give you what you need. Good luck.
I studied this dead town, Mt Zion, for my masters thesis at GCSU backnin the mid-1990s and spent many days reading these gravestones and learning about the people who lived herenin the early 19th Century. In fact, I’d like to be buried one day at Mt Zion Cemetery, though I’m not sure it is still operating. Beautiful place, exactly 7 miles north of the rebuilt courthouse in Sparta on GA 15.
If you walk down in the woods to the west (left) of the church, you can see bricks that supported the once thriving academy in Mt Zion, run by both Nathan and later Carlisle Beman.
Interesting Jay. We always wondered exactly where it was.
This has been one of my favorite structures found on my church hunting expeditions. I also love that it’s the original. Hard to find that nowadays. Either they’ve been modernized, or they’re gone completely. I love this one!
To learn more about this church get a book TOKENS of AFFECTIONS, The Letters of a Planter’s Daughter in the South. edited by Carol Bleser. This gives a day by day happenings of life in this community in the early 1800’s
The writer’s grave is only a few steps from the church.
I got my copy from Amazon books.
Wow. Great find here Bob.
A great book
I met Carol when I was researching Mount Zion back in the 1990s. I spent a lot of time researching the Bryan family at the South Caroliniana Library in Columbia, too, as she did.
Beautiful, stately and simplistic. Much like the LaFayette Presbyterian Church in LaFayette, AL that is now used for a library.
Beautiful church. My 3rd great grandfather, Peyton Lundy is believed to be buried there, but most of the graves aren’t properly marked. It is hallowed ground nonetheless.
Yes it is. Plenty of unmarked graves in these old cemeteries.
Olin, was Lundy creek named after your family by chance?