Richland Baptist

Twiggs County
Org 1811
Photography by Tony Cantrell

Richland Baptist, in rural Twiggs County, is a beautiful Greek Revival style church that was built in the mid 1840’s. The congregation was originally organized in October of 1811 in a log structure on the banks of Richland Creek and thus the name. The church was formed soon after the organization of Twiggs County in 1809, which was split off from Wilkinson County – formed after the treaty of 1803 moved the western boundary of Georgia from the Oconee River to the Ocmulgee. This put Richland Baptist on the western edge of the Georgia frontier in a wilderness that had been Creek Indian land only seven years earlier. The present church is the third building to be located on the site. It was the grandest church in the county and was built in response to the rising prosperity of the Twiggs County plantation owners and the rapid influx of new settlers during the 1840’s.

Richland is on the National Register of Historic Places and we are fortunate that the structure has survived virtually intact since is was built in the mid 1840’s. This is even more remarkable given that the church has been inactive since 1911, when the congregation became too small to sustain it and the church closed its doors. The old church lay dormant for over 35 years. Fortunately in 1948, third and fourth generation families associated with the church formed the Richland Restoration League, a non-profit organization whose sole purpose was to “restore, repair, improve, rebuild, maintain and preserve” the historic church. This group is still active and has left us quite a legacy.

According to the National Register site “The church is an excellent example of the antebellum, Greek Revival style of architecture as interpreted by a carpenter-builder. The building, with its simple massing, Doric style portico, square columns, unembellished entrance ways and plain entablature, lacks the refinement and elaboration of high style Greek Revival structures; nonetheless, it is a sensitively designed, finely proportioned structure. The church is of particular interest for two reasons: The architect’s method of hanging the balcony from iron rods suspended from the roof trusses is an unusual engineering feature, and the church and its site exhibit an unusual degree of integrity. Very few alterations have been made to the interior or the exterior of the structure and there are absolutely no intrusions to the immediate site or surrounding area. The church and its cemetery lie undisturbed in the countryside much as they did when the church was built and the congregation was active”.

According to the local history “Membership continued to rise and by 1840, Richland Church became the largest church in the Ebenezer Baptist Association. During the first five decades of the existence of the church, both white and black members worshiped in the church together. Although the slaves were considered members, they were required to sit in the galleries of the church during church services. In the year 1860, black membership reached a peak of 165 members, representing nearly seventy percent of the total membership.   This was a period of Georgia history where the rise of King Cotton and the plantation system created great wealth for a small number of large planters.  However that wealth was built on the backs of slavery, and most of the prominent planter class of Richland Baptist owned many slaves. Some of these are noted in the cemetery commentary below.  Ironically, the largest of these slaveholders was a man of the cloth, Rev. Henry C. Bunn.  His occupation in the 1860 Federal Census is given as Baptist Minister of the Gospel and farmer.  The 1860 Twiggs County slave schedule shows he owned 114 slaves.  

This church is no longer active with regular services. But, it is available for special events and weddings. It also welcomes two annual events, “Keeping Christmas at Richland” and “Homecoming Services with Dinner on the Grounds” the first Sunday in October. I am sure you would be welcome at either of those if you truly wish to share the Richland ambiance.  Richland Baptist is a grand legacy of our past that has survived for over a century and a half. Thanks to the Richland Restoration League, she will survive for many more generations. We are all indebted to them for their preservation of such an important part of our culture and history.

Be sure to click and scroll the photos below for more history on the church and early Georgia settlers who lived here.

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