According to the church history – “In 1868, in the community of Nickville, there were no black churches. The Webb (white) family gave two brothers 2 acres of land for a church The brothers were Elzie Moon and Byrd Eberhardt. As former slaves, Elzie and his brothers were farmers for different slave masters from whom they received their names which is why their last names were different. The acts read “as long as there is a Rock Springs CME Church, you will have two acres of land.” The name Rock Springs comes from a spring about three-quarters of a mile below the church. The water flowed between two rocks and the spring is still there. The one-room church served the community for 15 years before a Baptist church by the name of Antioch was built located over the hill from where the present Rock Springs Church now stands. However, both churches shared the Rock Springs cemetery until the 1980s. This is the story told by Reverend J.H. Heard.” If you’re interested in more genealogy of these original founders, download by clicking here.
Rock Springs is one of the oldest African American congregations in rural Georgia, and they have worshiped at this same spot in rural Elbert County for over 150 years. The church was formed only three years after the Civil War, which means the original congregants were all born into slavery. We have to appreciate the fact that as they began their journey to create a better life for themselves and their children, these early founders could not read or write and they had only taken last names shortly after the war ended. By looking at the few records that are available in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century, we can appreciate how the churches were a major part of that journey. All would have worked on nearby plantations and virtually all of them, in this post-Civil War environment would have started their journey as sharecroppers or domestic servants, a difficult path but the only one available to them.
Since they were now part of the record-keeping Federal and State bureaucracy they needed last names to enter the system. Some of them chose the surnames of their previous owners but they were free to choose any name they wanted, partly explaining why the most popular African American surname is Washington. Many of the surnames in African American cemeteries match those of white slave owners in the records. The largest slave owner in Elbert County was Joseph “Squire” Rucker who, along with his son Tinsley, owned almost 300 slaves. According to Findagrave, he was born in 1788 and died in 1864. He owned as many as twelve plantations and was said to be Georgia’s first millionaire. The surname of Rucker is prominent in many of the African American cemeteries in the region.
The cemetery at Rock Springs contains many graves of formerly enslaved people, as well as many unmarked graves of these former slaves. All of the early Rock Springs congregants were in this category. County Death Certificates recorded in 1919-1928 give us some insight into those early church members resting in the unmarked graves. As the years went by, the census records and death certificates of some of the Rock Springs congregants, begin to yield more of our history. They became more educated, their children became literate, their occupations more skilled, and some of them became part of the great migration north in search of a better life than the one they had known.
In order for us to understand how our nation developed, it is necessary to understand the importance of these early post-Civil War black churches. We are indebted to the leadership of Rock Springs for their stewardship of this history. The present church is the second one on this site and replaced the original church in the 1970s. Fortunately, the members have preserved a painting, an old photograph, and some pews from the original church. All are discussed in the gallery photos below.
Be sure to click and scroll the photos below for more good history and Tales From the Crypt that always come out of these old cemeteries. Click Here for some very interesting research on the historic Rock Springs cemetery.
As noted in the history, we are looking at the second church on this site. This building replaced the original wooden church in the 1970’s and still serves the congregation. It is a rectangular single gable structure whose steeple sits astride the gable. The matching porch is supported by columns. It has stood on this site and served the congregation well into the 21st century.
This is a photo of the double doored entry way at Rock Springs. The decorative wreaths indicate that this is an active congregation.
Here we are standing at the midway point inside the sanctuary looking toward the pulpit . As we see, the simple exterior at Rock Springs is in great contrast with its festive interior we see above that is all decorated up for the Christmas season. A cushioned kneeling rail stands in front of a lovely balustrade behind which are decorative poinsettias. The chancel communion table, pulpit and apse area are also overflowing with Christmas decorations. The choir benches, piano and drums are seen to the left and the Amen corner to the right both ready to go when occupied. Clearly, this congregation is active and proud of its sanctuary
Congregational singing has always been a beloved element of worship services at churches like Rock Springs. Though it has seen better days, this Monarch upright piano from the early 20th century and other instruments have always been in use for services at Rock Springs.
You have probably noticed that newer, manufactured pews are in place throughout most of Rock Springs’ interior. But, the congregation has proudly insured that some of the earlier, hand made pews remained in the sanctuary. Two of those are seen above.
This painting of the original Rock Springs church building hangs in the sanctuary. It is hung to remind the parishioners of the historic nature of this 150 year old congregation and church.
Rarely do we find old photographs of these rural churches. We were pleased to uncover and document the picture above for future generations to see and enjoy… that’s our mission here at Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.
This was the location of the original church you saw in the previous photo. The step remains you see in front of the marker were the steps to this original church. We are moved that the Rock Springs congregants appreciate the significance of their history and we applaud their stewardship of it.
This marker reads “Willie Moon Eberhardt Oct. 8, 1880 – May 18, 1979 In Perpetual Memory of our beloved Mother The Eberhardt Children” Willie Moon married Vandusen Zedikia/Zedekiah Eberhart (1875-1919) on December 29, 1898 in Elbert County. The 1880 Oglethorpe County census shows V. Zedekiah Eberhardt, age 4 son of William and Tilla Ann Eberhart. The 1920 Madison County, Georgia census shows Vandusen Eberhart, age 40, farmer; Willie, age 41, and 11 children. The 1930 Madison County, GA census shows Willie Eberhardt, widow, age 48, nine children in the household. The WWI draft registration card shows Zedekiah Eberhart, born 15 November 1875, medium height, stout build, nearest relative Tilla Ann Eberhart. His occupation was listed as janitor, State Normal School, Athens, GA. Zedikiah Eberhart’s death certificate shows he died August 22, 1919, son of William Eberhart. Mother’s maiden name Goosby. His occupation was listed as teacher in Jefferson, Georgia.
This marker reads “An Ex Slave”. Died August 8, 1910. The words on this marker tell us all we know about the person buried here. This tombstone marks the spot where an unknown former slave is buried. Other former slaves are buried in this same cemetery but with no marker.
This marker reads “Bettie wife of David Jones born 8 Feb. 1834, died 1878”. Bettie Jones does not show up in the 1870 census in Elbert County. The 1870 census was the first census where former slaves were listed by name. Since this 1870 census took place just five years after the Civil War a number of people seem to have been missed in the count. Bettie Jones did not live long enough to be in the 1880 census so this marker may be the only surviving item to document her existence
This marker reads “Lettie Sturgill wife of Ralphord Sturgill, born and married in days of slavery July 31, 1894” The 1880 Elbert County census shows Ralph Sturgel, age 60; Lettie Sturgel, age 60, 5 children in the household, Lettie born in Virginia, both parents born in Virginia. The North Carolina death certificate for their son, William Sturghill shows his mother’s maiden name as Littie Lewis and states she was born in Richmond, Virginia. By 1900, Ralph Sturgill is a widower, 75 years old, living in the household with their son Joseph.
This marker reads “Susan wife of Elzie Moon 1840 or 1846” The 1870 Elbert County, Georgia census shows Susan, age 30, mulatto, born in Georgia living in the household with her husband Elzy Moon, age 38 and 8 children. By 1880, Elzy is age 50, Susan is age 39, born in Virginia, both parents born in Virginia, 8 children in the household. Susan’s place of birth is listed differently in 1880 from 1870. By the time of the 1900 census, Elzy has been married to his second wife for 16 years which would indicate Susan probably died between 1880 and 1884. Neither Elzy nor Susan could read or write according to census records.
Thomas Moon, Jr. was born February 5, 1922. He served in the U. S. Army during WWII. He served from November 22, 1942 until November 22, 1945. The 1940 Elbert County census shows him as the grandson of Genie (Jones) Oglesby, age 77. The same census lists his mother as Lillian Oglesby, age 38. Thomas Moon’s WWII draft card shows him as 5’4”, 152 lbs., brown eyes, black hair, dark brown complexion. He died June 14, 1986.
The only thing readable on this marker is “Aug. 1885-Feb.1887 our brother James”. This broken marker marks the spot where an under 2 years old child is buried.
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Thank you for preserving the history of this old church