The exact date of the organization or the construction of Possum Trot Church is not known but it is believed to date from 1850. It was originally the meeting place for the Pleasant Valley Church before being abandoned in the late 1800’s. However, in 1900 the church was “re-purposed” as a Sunday School for the local Possum Trot community by Martha Berry, the daughter of a wealthy Floyd County planter. Martha devoted her life to education in her northwest Georgia community and she founded several schools that were established to provide poor children in the north Georgia mountains with the opportunity to earn an education. In 1902 she founded, in Rome, the school that would become Berry College.
Martha McChesney Berry was born on October 7, 1865, in Alabama, to Frances Margaret Rhea and Thomas Berry. Her Scots-Irish ancestors came to the British colonies in North America in the first half of the eighteenth century. Her father was a lieutenant in the Mexican War (1846-48), a Forty-niner in the California gold rush, and a captain for the Confederacy in the Civil War (1861-65). Her mother was a daughter of an Alabama planter. The family moved when she was still a baby to Rome, where she lived for the remainder of her life.
At the turn of the century, the rural people in this part of northwest Georgia had very limited access to traditional education or to what we know today as Sunday School. Martha was determined to help fill this educational void in her part of the world and she became known as the “The Sunday Lady of Possum Trot” as a result of her work at the Possum Trot Sunday school. It had a modest beginning but by 1902, whole families filled the small church. Because there were not enough Bibles for all of the students to use, verses were painted on the chapel walls. In the early 30’s schoolrooms were added at the church location and formal grammar school education was also taught. During World War II and for a short period following it, from 1942-1948, the Possum Trot school was closed. It reopened in 1948 but was closed again in 1954. Fortunately, over the years the students at Berry College have worked on restoring the old complex and, with the assistance of the College and alumni volunteers the preservation of Possum Trot church and the school buildings is now secure for the coming generations.
The interior of the Possum Trot Sanctuary is just as quaint, picturesque and unique as its rugged exterior. This is the quieting and peaceful view that greets the visitor as they enter the church. The dark stained wood surfaces throughout take on a warm glow when bathed in the ambient light allowed into the sanctuary by the relatively large, clear glass nine over nine windows.
This close up of the Amen Corner features one of the many quotes from the Bible that adorn most of the interior walls of the structure. The meeting house served primarily as a school building during the first half of the 20th Century. It was considered proper for all students to be constantly exposed to and in the presence of these venerable scriptures. The piano would have provided daily accompaniment for the students during singing sessions which were common in rural schools of the day.
There is no doubt that this room was heated by a large, pot-bellied, wood burning stove like the one pictured. Common practice was to assign some of the larger/older students to a Wood Committee and they would be responsible for lighting the stove and maintaining a fresh supply of wood nearby during the winter/cold months. We should note that the stoves present placement (it is amidst the benches/pews above) would not have have occurred in the old days. The heat would have been unbearable to anyone so closely exposed!
This photo provides a detailed view of the narrow, horizontal wall boards throughout the interior of Possum Trot. Most of the churches/schools of that era would have been finished by much wider boards. The narrow ones we see would have been considered more dressy and fashionable. We also get another grand view of scripture; this time it is John 3:16. With constant exposure to these large displays, we think there is little doubt that the children at Possum Trot were quite adept at quoting scripture as students and, probably, throughout their entire lives!
This is a photograph of one of the three rustic schoolrooms that were added to the original schoolhouse/church in the early 1930's. The grammar school grades were moved to those buildings at that time. Children of faculty and staff along with the Possum Trot children attended classes together. Anyone wanting to take an 85 year trip back into the past would enjoy visiting this room as well as the other intriguing sites on the Berry College Campus.
This is a photo of what the Possum Trot School House looks like when the annual homecoming is held. The early 20th century desks, chalk blackboards and furnishings along with vintage school books and pamphlets are laid out for all to see and enjoy. According to Berry College publications, "…the Homecoming is held each year on the third Sunday of September with 'Dinner on the ground' between 'preaching' at 11 a.m. and 'singing' in the afternoon. The Public is always welcome to bring dinner and participate in this event."
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