Needwood Baptist Church, originally named Broadfield, was organized in 1866 shortly after the end of the Civil War, and became part of the Zion Baptist Association which had formed in 1865. The church was organized by former slaves of the Broadfield and Needwood Plantations located nearby. The church was originally located on land belonging to the Hofwyl – Broadfield plantation, now a state owned historical site located one mile away. The church continued at this site until it was moved to the present location sometime in the 1880’s and the name changed from Broadfield to Needwood. It is believed that the original structure was built in the 1870’s, according to the National Register, and the towers were added sometime later in the mid 1880’s.
Architecturally, the church is representative of many African American places of worship constructed in the decades following the Civil War—simple and lacking in ornate ornamentation. On the inside, wooden “tongue and groove” boards compose the walls and the ceiling, and plywood covers the original wood floors. The pews are original. The frame itself was constructed in the “modified post and beam/balloon” style, which was popular in the 1870s. Believed to have been cast in 1884 in Baltimore, the bell in one of the towers is perhaps the most iconic and significant treasure in the church.
On the same plot of land as the church lies a one-room schoolhouse, believed to have been constructed prior to 1907. Very few of these one room schools built to serve rural African American children survive today. The school was originally not part of the Needwood church, but the church acquired the school property in 1954, after the school was closed. Prior to integration, schools like these were the only access rural African Americans had to education. The only support from the county was the teachers salary. Black children were not allowed to ride on county school buses. When the Needwood School students graduated from the sixth grade, they attended Risley Elementary in Brunswick but they had to use commuter tickets each day on the Greyhound bus to get there. Many of the Needwood church members recall relatives attending the little school, which was so important to the community.
The Needwood Church and School was placed on the National Register in 1998. You can access the document here. It is a tribute to the congregants and the original families who have kept the facilities in decent repair. However, the familiar story of declining congregations and limited funds are taking their toll. Needwood is arguably one of the most historical examples of the post Civil War African American experience in rural Georgia. She is a treasure that must be preserved so that these stories can be told properly for generations to come.