There was an old Methodist Camp Meeting Ground close by that was the genesis of the Poplar Springs Methodist Church. According to the records, Fulton Kemp deeded ten acres of land to Jesse Peacock, Wiley Miller, Peter VanLandingham and Jethro Dean as Trustees of the church. In the cemetery there are twenty documented interments for the VanLandingham’s and thirteen for the Kemps. The oldest of these interments is a Kemp infant buried in 1828. However, one must keep in mind that there was little money in this part of Georgia and these old cemeteries are full of either unmarked or undocumented graves.
The original meeting house would have been of log construction, which was the custom at the time. This was replaced by the present frame structure built by E. J. Tarpley in 1859. There is little available history for this classic mid 19th century rural jewel but according to county history, the sanctuary was used by Sherman’s soldiers passing through in 1864 and the “old minutes have never been seen since”. We will keep looking for some better records and will add to it as we go.
The cemetery is very interesting and also raises more questions than answers. The first interment that we know of is dated 1828, so this burial ground has been in use for almost 200 years. Part of the cemetery is “fenced” and part of lies outside the fence. We are told that inside the fence was the white section and outside the fence was the black section, but the dates outside the fence are relatively new, even though there are a few pre-1900 interments. Blacks would have formed their own church after the Civil War, complete with their own cemeteries so this configuration of the cemetery is confusing. Another intriguing aspect of the cemetery is the liberal use of wooden markers that are still visible. Some of these wooden markers have very interesting shapes and represent a burial custom that seems to be unique in this part of Georgia. Again…………….more questions than answers but we will keep looking.
Most of the time when we uncover a church “founded” in the early 19th century, the meeting house that stands today was raised many decades after that founding date. This is not the case with Poplar Springs where the existing church was constructed in 1859. Buildings this old are few and far between in Georgia. The introductory exterior view as well as this interior shot present a perfectly preserved pre-Civil War church. Yes, there have been some modifications, but if a person is interested in experiencing early construction techniques, materials and decorative elements common in that era, they should view/visit this wonderfully preserved church.
The raised chancel, semicircular altar rail with turned wood balustrade and slightly raised but unadorned, wooden pulpit was found in many churches of similar age to Poplar Springs. We also see the ubiquitous heart pine floors, wide horizontal wall boards and simple pews that were common in this era. We should note that this church is not in regular use now but remains clean and well cared for by interested parties. We thank them for their efforts.
These old churches were never meant to be elaborately decorated, fashionably furnished structures. They were built to provide a quiet safe place for early settlers and their families to gather to worship, console, communicate and enjoy each others company. This black and white shot seems to emphasize that philosophy/purpose while providing visual proof that the Poplar Springs sanctuary represents “mission accomplished”…both then and now.
As proof of the era of construction, authenticity and age of Poplar Springs, we offer this illuminating photograph of the underside of this treasure! Please notice that all wooden structural members were finished by hand using adzes, axes, chisels and other ancient tools of the carpenters trade. The giant wood sills, half round log floor joists and the interior wooden floor boards bear marks that prove they were all finished with hand tools. No round or pit saw marks are in evidence in the framing. Wooden pegs are the fasteners of choice. The foundation pillars are simply chunks of wood laid upon the ground and then artfully stabilized and leveled using wood wedges and blocks. Of course, being exposed to the weather and lying directly on the ground, these supports are prone to decay. The pillars we see are replacements and do show signs of fabrication using modern tools.
Here we see one of the remarkable, wooden grave markers still remaining in this old cemetery. Wood was often used in 18th/19th Century Southern graveyards since it was cheap and the name, dates and epitaph can be carved into the wood by anyone… no stone mason needed! Our staff and friends are mystified by the symbolism inherent in its unique shape. Maybe we can find a Poplar Springs old-timer, historian or one of you out there to help us understand…stay tuned!
Here we see another wooden tombstone. Though mostly illegible, we do identify the death date as 1908, pretty late for such an item. If we find a way to decipher the remaining letters, we will post them to this site. Unlike the last marker we pictured, this one is traditional in style. However, it is rare since it’s upper curved body section is bound by a steel band. This is most likely a piece of flat steel bar normally used to bind a wagon wheel. Also of interest is the opportunity to see how and why most of these wooden tablets have disappeared. The portion of this marker that was underground has rotted away. This one still exists because it was leaned against the fence years ago and did not fall flat on the ground where it would have rapidly melted away.
This is a very old burial ground dating back to the 1820’s and perhaps earlier. In a cemetery this old, there will be unmarked graves as well as those marked by small field stone markers with no inscription. It was also common to use wooden markers that soon faded away with time. Later in the 19th century, more elaborate headstones would become common as the community evolved from a subsistence economy and began to achieve some level of wealth, which is then reflected in more elaborate markers. Poplar Springs is unusual, however, for the number of wooden markers still visible in the yard.
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