The origin of Rush Chapel goes back to the very early days of Floyd County. Five families with the names Aycock, Davenport, Lister, Rush and Watters were among those who settled the area in the 1830’s and discovered that they were all Methodists. The church, first known as Rush Chapel Methodist Episcopal, soon followed in 1838. The Watters and Rush homes still stand today as family dwellings. John Rush came to Floyd County around the same time as Watters in 1838. Joseph Watters is believed to have come to Floyd County around 1833 when the area was first opened up for settlement. He was thought to be one of the first Georgians involved with the removal of the Cherokees in 1838. His home was believed to be built around 1840, and he named it “The Hermitage” out of his admiration of Andrew Jackson.
An acre of land for the first church was bought from Col. Issac Fetten in 1838. A log church was built called Rush Chapel. During the mid-1800’s there were two structures near each other—a church and an “academy”. The academy building burned in 1861 and was not rebuilt. The log church was replaced by a frame structure in 1845, and an addition was made to the church in 1861. At that time the pulpit was at the front of the church, and the congregation sat facing the doors. Women sat on one side, men on the other, and there was a section for African American worshipers, as well. A new structure was built in 1910.
Floyd County, formerly home to many of the state’s Cherokee Indians, was established in December of 1832, two years after the Georgia legislature passed a law extending its jurisdiction over the Cherokee territory in that part of the state. The Cherokee land was initially divided into ten large counties. Floyd, the eighty-eighth county in Georgia, was named for General John Floyd, statesman and Indian fighter. Two years after Floyd County’s inception, the county seat was moved from Livingston to a fertile area of land where the Etowah and Oostanaula rivers meet to form the Coosa River, the site of Rome today.
This was the ancestral home of the Cherokee but the Indian Removal Act of 1838 sealed their fate, resulting in the forced removal of the last of the Cherokees to western lands in Oklahoma. The well known Trail of Tears is a sad aspect of Georgia history. In 1838 and 1839 U.S. troops, prompted by the state of Georgia, expelled the Cherokee Indians from their ancestral homeland and removed them to the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. The removal of the Cherokees was a product of the demand for arable land during the rampant growth of cotton agriculture in the Southeast, the discovery of gold on Cherokee land, and the racial prejudice that many white southerners harbored toward American Indians.
Today, Rush Chapel is still thriving and we salute the congregations over the years for being such good stewards of the church and its history for over 180 years. Be sure to click and scroll on the gallery photos below for more history and photos.
This is a photo of Rush Chapel taken in 1951. You can see that it was smaller at that time than the church you viewed in the first picture. Of course, there have been a number of changes/additions during the interceding 69 years. We always are pleased when we can provide photographic documentation of a church’s changes, in and out, over time.
This lovely photograph was taken in 2020. We see that an additional building has been added to accommodate the growing congregation at Rush Chapel. The original building exterior remains unchanged and its unique configuration remains intact. The congregation still enters through the front door which is tucked in beneath the square bell tower.
When one enters the church, it is as if they have been taken back in time to an earlier era. The warm glow from the wooden floors, heart pine wall and ceiling boards and beautiful manufactured curved pews is breathtaking. The ample, large gothic windows and smaller lancet windows have clear glass panes that flood the sanctuary with ambient light.
From this vantage point, we can more clearly see that the sanctuary is designed with a suspended ceiling. This allows for the ceiling itself to be slanted upward and create a cathedral-like atmosphere within the church. This type of interior design became quite popular during the late 19th century and was at its height in the early 20th century when Rush Chapel was constructed.
Here we are looking from the interior at the paneled front doors and striking frame of the chapel. Here the heart pine doors, frames, wainscot, small gage, horizontal wall boards and attractive wooden gothic arch document the craftsmanship and attention to fit and finish represented within this sanctuary.
Aside from looking at (we think) one of the original pews from an earlier Rush Chapel, this is a close up of the beautiful, long leaf pine flooring that we find throughout the Rush chapel of today. Heart pine flooring like this was readily available during the early 20th century era. By the mid 20th century , it was almost unavailable. By documenting facts like this we hope to raise the consciousness of people and insure that public treasures like these old churches will be maintained and preserved for future generations.
Here we see one of the old desks in use within the chapel sanctuary since its construction. The desk rests on another example of the beautiful heart pine floors. It also sits in front of the wainscot found throughout the sanctuary while providing us a close up of the narrow gage wood sheathing that covers all the walls throughout the building. Wooden construction materials such as these are unavailable in today’s world.
We are not sure of the date on this photo which hangs in the Rush Chapel sanctuary. We do know it precedes the present building. It provides us with another benchmark and momento of how this old church has survived and changed during its over 180 years of existence.
Rev. Richard Leigh was born March 20, 1809 in North Carolina. He was married to Sarah Ann Clary. They had children Susan, Wilbur, Gilbert, Charles, Bascom and perhaps others. He was a planter and a Methodist Church minister. At Rush Chapel on September 14, 1861 a Soldier’s Aid Society was organized. He was elected Chairman of the organization. He was also a trustee of Ridges’ Valley Male and Female Academy. Three times in the Rome newspapers he advertised for the return of runaway slaves: In 1851 $10 reward for return of Anna who he supposed was in vicinity of Rome or Chattooga County where Rev. Richard Leigh formerly lived; in 1862 $20 reward for return of Daniel who he thought had gone to Broomtown Valley in Chattooga County where Daniel had a father and other acquaintances living; in 1863 $25 reward for return of a runaway slave named Fed.
Marker reads: In Memory of Mary J wife of James O’Hanlon. Mary Jane Alexander O’Hanlon was born in 1834 and died June 6, 1894. James O’Hanlon was born in 1831 and died in 1899. They were married November 16, 1855 in Rutherford County, North Carolina. In his will James mentions three children: Margaret O’Eichelberger (1860-1944), Jane O’Hanlon Bullock (1864-1904), and Doyle O’Hanlon (1856-1917). James, Mary, and all three of these children are buried at Rush Chapel. The 1860 Rutherford County, North Carolina census and the 1870 Floyd County, Georgia census shows the occupation of James as School Teacher. By 1880 he is listed as a farmer. Included in ithe inventory for James after his death were a silver watch and a double barrel shotgun.
This marker reads: In memory of Dr. Wm. Lindsey who died at Hermitage, Floyd County, GA, May 12, 1848, 29 years, 4 mos. And 22 days. A Floyd County, Georgia historical marker states: Hermitage – Home of Joseph Watters . . . a settlement of that name is 1 mi SE.
Isaiah W. Lindsey was born November 17, 1829 and died in 1849. He was the brother of William Lindsey mentioned above. Both brothers died young and within a year of each other.
Jasper Burton Stephens was born August 20, 1843 and died February 16, 1910. Amanda Lucinda Prickett was born February 17, 1852 and died July 21, 1941. They were married in 1878. He served as a private in Company I, 4th South Carolina Infantry, CSA. In 1880 they were living in Cherokee County, Alabama and at that time he was listed as being sick with Bronchitis. Five of their children are buried at Rush Chapel: Thomas Lawrence Stephens, John Williamson Stephens, Hiram Walker Stephens, Daniel Webster Stephens and Ether Bell Stephens.
John Coward Calhoun Ward was born February 16, 1838 and died March 13, 1891. He was married to Mary Jane Hickey who was born June 13, 1846 and died February 24, 1924. He was a private in the 43rd Regiment, Georgia Infantry, Company H, CSA. He was captured December 16, 1864 at Nashville, Tennessee and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner. The 1880 census gives his occupation as Railroad Section Master. Five of John and Mary’s children are buried at Rush Chapel: John Hickey Ward (1873-1926), Charles Horace Ward (1875-1962), Wylie H. Ward (1876-1942), Paul Courtney Ward (1880-1962) and Robert Calhoun Ward (1883-1968).
Sarah Ann Autry Penn was born September 12, 1828 and died November 9, 1893. She was married to Hiram Stewart Penn (1820-1893). They are both buried at Rush Chapel. In 1860 the family was living in Cass County, Georgia but by 1870 they were living in Floyd County, Georgia. He joined Company E of the Floyd Legion, Georgia State Guards, August 15, 1863 as a private. He owned a horse valued at $200 and horse equipment valued at $25. He mustered out of service February 1, 1864 and was paid $59.20 for the use of his horse at 40 cents per day. The Georgia Property Tax Digest for 1877-1880 shows he paid taxes on 230 acres in Watters District, Floyd County, Georgia.
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I am a direct descendant of the Penn family and the Autry family who worshipped in the special church. My grandparents Harold and Cora Autry are buried here as well as my great-great grandparents Francis Marion Autry and his wife Emma Penn Autry. Also the Jacob Autry family-father of Francis Marion Autry. The sacred place holds many precious memories for me and my family ?? thank you for featuring it???