Oak Grove Baptist
The plain, shingled structure you see above looks unimpressive on its on – but when viewed in the context of Georgia history, hardworking early settlers, remote location and a focal point for this rural community on the banks of the Satilla River, it comes alive with stories of love, community, salvation, life and death. There are many of these across our state but the simplicity of Oak Grove is striking…..and we almost missed it. It has been here for over 125 years, on a remote sandy road, serving the local descendants of the tough settlers who moved into the wiregrass country to scratch out a living from the sandy soil. Camden County is the eighth oldest county in Georgia, created in 1777 where the early inhabitants created a legacy of rice, cotton, indigo and slavery – all focused on coastal plantations.
The collapse of this system after the Civil War left the county devastated, but soon the inland wiregrass region rose to prominence on a new legacy……timber and turpentine. The little church in the wiregrass was born within this ecosystem. Every church has many stories, mostly unrecorded and lost to the vagaries of time, but not Oak Grove. We are fortunate that one of the descendants of the early pioneer Drury family wrote a history of the church. Most of this information comes from A History of Oak Grove Baptist Church, Camden County, Georgia published in 1979 by Shirley J. Thompson. The church is located close to the Satilla River and a short distance from Beasley Lake, where Baptisms for new members took place (see the click here map at the bottom). Beasley Lake was also one of “launching sites” for the large logs that were sent to the mills and ships at Burnt Fort, a few miles downstream on the Satilla. It should also be mentioned that Oak Grove was one of first Baptist churches in the coastal wiregrass region, almost exclusively Methodist heretofore.
The church was constituted in 1890 but there are earlier graves in the cemetery, many of them unmarked, leading to the conclusion that there was probably an earlier meeting house or brush arbor on this site. The building, though now covered with siding, is original and is supported by vertical pine footings, an unusual construction feature for this part of Georgia. It has never had electricity, just kerosene lamps on the sidewalls and a wood burning stove. The history tells us that the Great Depression and the decline of the timber industry took its toll on the community and preachers became difficult to come by. The little church was abandoned for years until 1946 when one of the residents, Milton Drury, accepted the call and decided he wanted to be Baptized at the old church. He rallied support for it and the church became reborn with new life, a pastor and a congregation. The structure was in bad condition but the floors were soon repaired along with the chimney, and that is when the siding was applied. We are told that vandals removed the kerosene lamps, the original organ and the wood burning stove in 1974. Not only was this a terrible blow in the aftermath of the heartfelt fundraising campaign for the organ in the late 1890’s, it put the church into another period of serious decline.
There are still reunions and homecomings held at the church and she is still watertight and in good repair, though no longer served in the old style by a preacher who was required to travel by rail from Waycross to Atkinson on Saturday, where he was met by a member. After preaching on Sunday, he spent the night with one of the congregants and was then taken by wagon back to Atkinson for the return trip to Waycross. We are grateful for the stewardship of this rural heritage by the descendants of the early settlers in the cemetery, many in unmarked graves. We are hopeful that Oak Grove will be standing and telling her stories for many years to come.