We have very little history on the little chapel in the Piney Woods, other than the fact that it was organized and built just after the Civil War in 1868. The community in that area was known as Altamaha. It has had three post offices, the first is the building behind the John Pearson house, the second was destroyed, and the third is in Reidsville. According to local legend, Sherman’s troops camped on the Philips property, just down the road where the ‘hooligans occupied a nearby house and behaved in their typical thieving and senselessly destructive manner’.
We are told that there was a parsonage and a school on these grounds at one time but were torn down by locals who wanted the lumber. The only other history we have is from a Methodist reference book that states the church was organized in 1868 under the leadership of the Rev. W. M. C. Conley and was named after Elizabeth Richardson Pearson. It also stated the church was ‘built from big pine trees that had never been drained of turpentine. The boards are two inches thick and eight inches wide’. There is a small cemetery on the property that is listed on Findagrave as the Swain-Summerling cemetery
We also have this from a text written in 1908:
The church “Is located in the Southwestern part of the county (Tattnall), between the Ohoopee and Altamaha rivers. This is a fine country in which reside some the best citizens of Tattnall. The post office is called Altamaha. Pearson’s Chapel was organized by Rev. W. M. C. Conley, in 1868. Its history has been that of the typical country church. It has been the spiritual source and life of that community. This Church has a membership of sixty-three. The house of worship is valued at $500. Its trustees are J. S. Lanier, L. Pearson, B. J. Stripling. Nearby is located the Altamaha circuit parsonage, valued at $800. The Sunday school has a membership of thirty-five. J. S. Lanier is superintendent. The present pastor is Rev. Gustavus A. Davis, a member of the South Georgia Conference and a graduate of Emory College. Mr. Davis is an efficient worker and has a bright future in the pastorate.”
The little Chapel is in first rate condition and they have services the first Sunday in every month. Come by for a visit.
When standing behind the pulpit of this totally authentic, 19th century Meeting House, the view is of a pristine, 1880's rural sanctuary. Today's Pearson's Chapel is a lovingly preserved… not restored... and still useful 1860's era church. The structure, interior and exterior, was built by local parishioners using the ancient heart pine trees that dominated the forests of this area of Georgia at that time. Yes, electricity has been provided to provide light and heat, but historically correct, oil-style lanterns still provide interior illumination. The 6 over 6 clear glass windows provide light on sunny days. This is the way that it was. Worship Services are still held every 1st Sunday and the sign out front exclaims that "All are Welcome".
This close up of an original pew, the floor, window frame, mullions and wall boards displays how heart pine lumber provided the essential building blocks for all of the churches in this part of Georgia into the 20th century. Looking at the pew we see that each element is crafted from wide, 8" or larger hand hewn pine boards. The pews are held together not by nails but by mortice and tenon joints. A close look at the back of the pew reveals the hand planing that was used to shape the boards and reduce them to a uniform thickness. In higher quality "plantation" construction, these boards would have been further finished using a smoothing plane. Here in the backwoods, what you see above was "smooth enough". We think the tell-tale planing marks provide proud evidence of their authenticity!
We are told that there originally was an academy and parsonage on the Pearson's Chapel site but that they were torn down to provide building materials. Church records state that some of the the school benches were used in the church. One of those supposed old school benches is shown above. It is plain, smaller and appears to be less comfortable that the predominant pews in Pearson's Chapel. Still, it is a classic, austere, almost shaker-like piece of furniture and a perfect example of a style of that time.
The chancel, altar and pulpit area of Pearson's Chapel is a perfect reflection of the pure but plain motifs that dominated doctrine and religious architecture in most rural Georgia churches throughout the 19th century. Religion in most of these churches was about showing up, following the rules, loving one's neighbor and living by the "word"… not showing off. We are so pleased to be able to provide you with a look at this fascinating chapel that in the 21st century still looks… and is… the same as always. Thanks to the congregation that continues to provide the loving stewardship that keeps Pearson's Chapel alive.
One of the headstones is for Eula Swain, daughter of J. D. and E. R. Swain, who died in 1890 . The other headstone is that of David Summerling, who was killed in a sawmill accident. According to Mrs. Carswell, some time after the death of David Summerling, his mother arrived via horse and wagon with his headstone. We suspect there are some unmarked graves as well in this little grave yard by the chapel.
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My great grandfather, Evander David Phillips, was a circuit minister in south Georgia and was assigned to Pearson’s Chapel in 1895-96. The Phillips mentioned in the text where Sherman’s men stayed were also my great grandparents on the other side. His name was David Taylor Phillips (no relation to Evander Phillips). He had been a captain in the war and was actually jailed at Pulaski Prison for not agreeing to sign the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. My great uncles and aunts attended Pearson’s School, the one-room school behind the Chapel. I submitted a picture of the school to you some years ago.