The photo you see above is the present meeting house of Piney Grove Baptist and was completed in 1913. The church was founded in 1872 and the congregation will celebrate its 145 anniversary this year. Piney Grove Baptist’s history makes it a particularly significant, rural black Baptist church. It is located at the north end of Oglethorpe County off Highway 22 south of Comer. The church was birthed out of nearby Cloud’s Creek Baptist. Cloud’s Creek was constituted within the walls of Anthony Olive’s Fort in 1788 and slaves were congregation members from the church’s beginning. Throughout the next 75 years or so, those slaves worshiped at Cloud’s Creek, were registered/named members of its congregation, and they are well documented in the Cloud’s Creek minutes.
In August of 1865, the first references were made to the colored members as free man or free woman. According to Cloud Creek Historian Jeanette Berryman, “In the fall of 1872, the black members asked to have a separate conference and be governed by the same rules. This request was recorded in Cloud’s Creek’s minutes of November 1872 continuing until April 1873. In 1873 the black members asked to be granted the privilege of withdrawing from Cloud’s Creek for the purpose of starting their own church. One member, George Glenn, asked to remain because he was “…too old to move.” In June 1873, the pastor and deacons helped 18 black brethren and sisters organize a church to be called Piney Grove. They adopted the same constitution, rules of decorum and bylaws that governed at Cloud’s Creek. Thus began a close and cordial relationship between the freed slaves of Piney Grove and Cloud’s Creek which has lasted for 145 years to date.
This story was played out again and again throughout the south as black and white tried to peacefully adjust to the new world that had to be faced at the end of the Civil War. The black church formal/governing organizations that were created during those years for the most part mirrored the white denominations. However, they bore the unmistakable stamp of the unique culture and customs of the African American people. This story of how these black churches emerged and thrived after the Civil War is one of courage, persistence and triumph. The churches became the bedrock upon which a new African American culture was built. They provided a mighty bulwark as the race faced trying times into the 20th century. They also became the center of the battle for equal rights which emerged in the mid-20th Century and still goes on today.
Here we see the plain but inviting sanctuary at Piney Grove. As you would expect, few decorative architectural elements and furnishings are seen in keeping with the tenants of the denomination. However, the well kept interior reflects the ongoing pride and excellent stewardship of this congregation. For many years services were held a couple of times a month. Under the leadership of Pastor, Greg Roseboro, who arrived in 2001, services became more regular and now are held every week. This accomplishment is evidence of the loyalty and love for this church by its congregation.
A highlight of the interior, and one of the more attractive decorative elements within the sanctuary, are the lovely, tall stained glass windows. These were installed in the early 21st century after Pastor Roseboro arrived. Other maintenance and stewardship efforts have been undertaken and reflect the congregation’s continuing vitality and their desire to remain an important local asset as well as a recognized, valuable historic site worthy of preservation.
There are eleven Eberhardt graves in the cemetary. Here lies the infant son of Andy P. (1877 – 1961) and Annie M. Eberhardt (1881 – 1935) – the children of slaves. The child was born and died on March 18, 1895….. a common occurrence in rural Georgia in the late 19th century. Annie would have been fourteen at the time.
Here lies Mary E. Carter, born on Feb. 21, 1902 and died on May 9 the same year. She was the daughter of Lilla Carter who was born in 1875 and died on May 21 in 1902 at the age of 27. The death of mother and daughter so close together suggests that they were taken by some disease, a common occurrence in rural Georgia at the turn of the century.
Piney Grove Baptist was ‘born’ out of Cloud’s Creek Baptist shortly after the Civil War. The land for the church and the cemetery was donated by Groves T. Howard (1832 – 1907) so that the emancipated slaves from Cloud’s Creek could have their own church. The Howard family cemetery is close by and contains graves of the various generation of Howards and some of their slaves.
Above is a photo of the charming Howard’s Covered Bridge located near Piney Grove Church. It is reflective of the type of authentically rural area surrounding Piney Grove.
Piney Grove remains active though it does face many of the same problems rural churches encounter today due to the “hollowing out” of rural America, particularly in Georgia. However, we are told that Piney Grove presently faces an immediate and grave threat to its existence… recent commercial development planned adjacent to the church grounds and actually abutting its 19th Century graveyard. County authorities recently approved the location of huge, industrial “Chicken Houses” adjacent to the church and actually abutting the cemetery. These structures are loud, odorous, dust and truck traffic-generators that will seriously degrade the atmosphere surrounding this little church. All six of these houses will contain a revolving 30,000 chickens each and operate 24 hours a day separated by only a 50 foot buffer from the graveyard. All six of these gigantic structures have been approved to be built along the cemetery property line just right of the tilted grave stones you see in the photo above. Imagine the negative impact these commercial warehouses will have on the present pleasant and totally rural atmosphere existing at Piney Grove. Church members are appalled and some state that, if nothing else, the structure’s unnecessarily close intrusion to the graveyard and church should be abated by a much larger buffer zone of 500 or more feet. In fact, we were told that if the church’s cemetery had been defined by the Board members as, “A place of worship, public assembly or an Historic Site”, the existing County Ordinance would have restricted the waiver that allowed the rezoning. An appeal has been made to The Georgia Trust for designation as a “Place in Peril” to help to seek relief from this development. Others are hoping the County Commissioners will provide some mitigation. No matter what happens, we recognize and are grateful for the stewardship of the faithful congregation from its 19th Century founding date until today. We hope that they will be able to survive this present threat and give themselves a chance to thrive for another century or so.
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Hello – My name is Victor Howell (214-796-6683) I live in Chattanooga, TN. I am working with Ancestry.com. My grandfather is Ben Appling and my great uncle the late Tinsley Appling of Comer GA. I need help with finding the grave site of my grandmother Etta Sardin (Sardon) Appling who died May 18, 1920 and locating any of her relatives. Any assistance will be greatly appreciated. Please let me know if you can assist. Kind Thanks. Victor Howell
Since you are working with Ancestry, we assume you are also familiar with Findagrave.com. That would be your best resource for searching for a grave site. Good luck.