Old Ruskin Church

Ware County
Org 1895
Photography by Randall Davis

The story of the Old Ruskin Church will be an ongoing one and we will add to it as we go. The most interesting thing about the church itself is the Victorian architecture, complete with the most intricate finishes and details. One would expect to find something like this in an urban New England setting but not in the piney woods of Ware County. We cannot find the exact date of the church construction but a “sister church” located nearby – albeit in terrible condition – was built in 1899. It seems pretty certain that the same builder was responsible for both churches. The architecture and detailing of both churches are very similar and we think that Ruskin was built a few years earlier and was already here when the “Ruskinites” arrived. We are told the original church was Methodist and was part of the Hebardville Circuit. It is now a Body of Christ Church.

The other aspect of the Old Ruskin Church that makes it unique is the fact that it is all that is left of the town of Ruskin, which was formerly a small sawmill village named Duke. A very strange thing happened at the turn of the century that resulted in the name change and the establishment of the village of Ruskin, named for John Ruskin, an English art patron and socialist who espoused a utopian society that would ‘show that contemporary life could still be enjoyed in the countryside, with land being farmed traditionally, with minimal mechanical assistance’.

Georgia’s version of this Ruskinite colony was formed in 1898 by the American Settlers Association, a group of farmers looking for a better way to do things. They discovered the community of Duke, bought a thousand acres and changed the name to Ruskin. Some of these settlers were from a similar colony in Tennessee, formerly known as Cave Mills but also had the name changed to Ruskin. About 100 families arrived from Tennessee into the little community in October of 1898 to establish ‘a community of people on a cooperative basis of Industrial Brotherhood’.

At its zenith, Ruskin had ‘two newspapers, a printing press, a shingle and planing mill, a broom factory, cereal, coffee and leather suspender businesses, a large library, big farms, post office and a railway station with a big sign that read RUSKIN‘. Alas, Industrial Brotherhood was very difficult to achieve in practice and many problems soon arose. It all came to a sad end in August of 1901 when their newspaper, The Coming Nation, announced that Ruskin was being abandoned and its members were ‘scattering to their original homes’.

The sweet little church in the Georgia piney woods predated Ruskin and managed to survive all these years. There is nothing left of the community to show it ever existed. The sister church, Ezekiel New Congregational Methodist, discussed above has just about faded away as well. If you scroll to the end of the photo sequence (use the red arrows above) you will see that she is on her last legs. It makes you realize how fragile these old treasures can be and it makes us grateful for the love and care the members have given Old Ruskin for almost 150 years. Thank you for your stewardship.

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