Providence Methodist is an absolute jewel of a pre-Civil War church located in the wiregrass region of southeast Georgia. The church actually has roots going back to the 1830’s when a previous church was demolished in a storm and the present one erected here on land donated in 1856 by David and Elizabeth Lang. The church’s proportions are very unusual, as is the Greek Revival architecture with cypress columns that are supported directly by the ground and not by a porch built with stone footings. The old church has survived for a long time and once again we are fortunate to have the combination of Georgia long leaf heart pine and a good tin roof. The church is leaning slightly to the right, according to the local history, as a result of a hurricane in the 1920’s. We are told that church members, with a team of oxen, were able to get the church back on its footings but to this day, it has a slight lean.
This part of the wiregrass country was never suited for plantations like the coastal region. The early wiregrass residents survived by herding cattle and subsistence farming. However, prosperity did come to the region later on because of the abundance of the long leaf pines, which provided massive yields of both timber and naval stores. Naval stores are byproducts from pine trees like pitch and tar, and were used to seal wooden ships and keep them afloat. In the late 1800s, the naval stores industry grew to become a major Georgia export because of the whiskey distilling technology that was brought into Georgia by Scots, who migrated from North Carolina. Many of the regional cemeteries are populated with names of Scotch derivation, as are several Georgia towns like McCrae and Scotland. The same skills used to make whiskey were employed in the manufacture of turpentine and rosen.
In addition to the naval stores industry, South Georgia became one of the leading exporters of lumber to markets all over the world. Until fairly recently, Georgia’s economy was driven by the exports of rice, cotton, navel stores and timber. The little church in the pines is located close to Burnt Fort, which was a major timber processing center, located on the Satilla River. Ships could navigate up the Satilla as far as Burnt Fort and there they would process the massive log rafts coming from up river to market. This began to change after the Civil War when railroads began to change the way Georgia shipped goods to market. Mr. Burwell Russell, our guide, stated that the church had been re-floored several years ago from a local pine tree on the property that was killed by a lightening strike. By ring count the tree was 160 years old.
The church in the piney woods is active and located in an elegant rural setting. There is no cemetery at the church but many of the original members are buried in the old Homeward Cemetery down the road. The interior of the church has been kept with a strong historical eye and is a feast for the eyes, as you will see in the subsequent photos. We are indebted to Mr. Russell, Pastor Goode, and all the congregants of Providence who have been such good stewards of this important aspect of our Georgia wiregrass history. Providence is a great example of how to provide a congregation with critical modern updates in a manner that respects and reflects the historical roots of her past. She will serve us for generations to come.