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.
This lovely rural church has been a real survivor through its 150+ years. Its present state of repair is excellent given its age and the hurricanes and storms it has weathered as discussed in the introductory history. Though modest additions/restorations have taken place (electricity - fans - well hidden bathrooms) the interior and exterior authentically reflect its era and the decorative tastes of the mid-19th century. It beckons parishioners today just as in olden times.
This view of the raised chancel, altar rail and pulpit area displays the mixed nature of the sanctuary's decorative and architectural elements. Though much of the interior is original, almost all of the items and structure you see above are replacements and reflect the taste of their era. Quoting from Brian Brown's, Vanishing South Georgia website, "The chancel and communion rail were not original to the church". A quick look confirms that fact. The communion table, heavy, ornate pulpit and two chairs are also later additions from the late 1890's and well into the 20th century. "The floors were replaced using 3", tongue and groove lumber milled from a pine tree that once stood in the church yard", according to Vanishing South Georgia. No matter what its decorative provenance may be, the overall effect reflected in this photo still speaks to us of the old days and ways.
The pulpit, though a later addition, is carefully crafted of pine and applied molding tastefully placed to create a lovely, magnificent and striking work of craftsmanship. Yes, it may conflict with the plainness and simpleness found throughout the rest of this church. But, this pulpit is also a direct reflection of the love and stewardship brought to the mission of preserving this landmark by its congregation.
This view from the pulpit presents a bright and airy sanctuary whose large, clear glass panes in 6 over 9 sashed windows and white walls produce a welcoming glow within. The simple one board seat and one-slat backrest pews stand at the ready for the next service, wedding, funeral or other community event just as they have for over a century and a half. The fact that churches like these are still available for us to enjoy and appreciate are quite a gift for us from those who maintain these important sites.
This old, rude pine, slant top desk, though probably not original, certainly reeks of authenticity. The "store bought", spool back oak chair was commonly found in use during the late 19th early 20th century. We spotted several of these at Providence Methodist.
The inscription on this stone reads “Sacred to the Memory of Capt. Francis Chevalier, Born March 25, 1810, Died July 14, 1844, Thy Will Be Done”. The headstone assigns him the rank of Captain but the timing would indicate that his military service would almost have to have been during the Second Seminole Indian War, 1835-1842. If that is correct, he may have served with the Georgia Militia under Charles Renaldo Floyd or possibly in the US Army in Florida. “The U.S. Army had been embroiled in the Seminole Wars in Georgia and Florida during the 1810s and again in the 1830s. While much of the action in the Second Seminole War took place in north central Florida, groups of Seminoles often confused American troops by taking refuge in the Okefenokee Swamp.” This is pure speculation on our part but the timing and the proximity to the Okefenokee would fit. Maybe someone can shed more light on it.
Here lies John F. Atkinson (1844 - 1863). The Coast Georgia Genealogy and History Site reports that 2nd Lt. John F. Atkinson served with Company C of Clinch’s 4th Calvary Regiment and that he died October 10th or 11th in Camden County of unknown causes. He was 19 years old. There are 13 Atkinson interments in the cemetery - the oldest that of Ann Felder Atkinson, born in 1776 and died in 1838. The most recent is that of Samuel Atkinson, who died in 1996. There is a strong connection between the Providence Church and the old Homeward Cemetery down the road. To see a complete documentation of the 761 interments in the cemetery, click here.
We have an unusual amount of information about Capt. Nathan Atkinson Brown, so we wanted to pass it on. His father was David Brown, a plantation owner in White Oak, and his mother was Elizabeth Atkinson Brown. He received his early education from private tutors, and later attended the Georgia Military Institute at Marietta. On March 12, 1861 he married Louisa Tupper Nicholes, a daughter of a successful physician and also an extensive planter, owning several rice plantations in Camden County. Nathan entered the Confederate service on August 5, 1861 as 1st Lieutenant, "Camden Rifles" in Company B, 26th Regiment, Georgia Volunteers. He was discharged in April of 1865 with the rank of Captain, Company C, 4th Georgia Calvary. According to family history, the sword that he carried during the war was also used in the Revolutionary War by his grand uncle, John Atkinson, and in the war of 1812 by John Atkinson's son Nathan Atkinson. During the war, two daughters, Eula and Lillie, were born to Nathan and Louisa. Capt. Brown survived the war without a wound or serious illness; but after returning home, on February 20, 1866 he contracted smallpox from a former member of his company who was passing by White Oak and asked for shelter for the night. He died February 23, 1866, and is buried beside his mother and father here in the Atkinson family cemetery (now Homeward Cemetery). Two weeks after Capt. Brown's death, his wife gave birth to a son, Nathan Atkinson Brown Jr., who became a lawyer and served as deputy clerk of the United States District and Circuit Court at Columbus, Georgia.
A delightful and somewhat rare well sits on the road running in front of Providence. Once common in the south, particularly along the coast, these free flowing wells were called "Artesian Wells". They were drilled or often just occurred naturally at the surface because of high water pressure in an area. A well like this is a blessing since its flow never ceases (unless the aquifer pressure is reduced by overuse or lack of rain). They are now seldom seen. But, just as services still occur at this church, Providence's well continues to flow today. The locals like it because if power outages occur (disabling their electricity-powered water pumps), they can mosey over to this well and fill their water jugs, just as they have for decades.
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I love that building, but I promise you those benches were the most uncomfortable things I ever sat on. As a little child, I kept falling through the open space on the back!
Land was donated by my ancestors, the Langs. I loved going to the annual Homecoming celebration.
When is the Homecoming? Perhaps we can give you some publicity on that.