St. Mark’s AME
We have conflicting information about the origin of St. Marks AME but it was one of the earliest African American churches in Hancock County that was started after emancipation in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s. The Land Between by Forrest Shivers tells us that St. Marks was one of the earliest AME churches in the county and that “St. Mark’s early became a center of black religious and social life……..A camp meeting at the church in 1874 was reported to have attracted seven railway cars of worshipers from Augusta and another ten from Washington, Wilkes and points north. Three thousand people were said to have been on the grounds for the services”.
We found a construction assessment of the church stating the church you see here was completed in 1901, however the Shivers history states that that “The present house of worship dates from 1892 when the pastor, the Rev. W. M. Duncan laid the cornerstone in the presence of Bishop Grant and other church notables”. This was reported by the Sparta Ishmaelite on July 29, 1892. Either way, St. Mark’s has a proud history dating back to the end of the Civil War. The cemetery, we are told, has over 200 unmarked graves and many of these people, in either marked or unmarked graves, were born into slavery. St. Marks would be the center of their lives for generations to come. The little community of Dixie was a vibrant one and furnished more than a few veterans who helped fight our country’s wars. We think it is important to remember them.
The following commentary on St. Marks was compiled by John Kirkland, who is one of HRCGA’s outstanding photographers.
“Sparta, Hancock County, Georgia was founded in 1795 and designated as the county seat in 1797. Over the last two decades as Georgia’s population has grown, Sparta’s population has decreased. One thing that has not diminished is St. Mark’s A.M.E. church. This historical church was founded in 1867 and it is still one of six active African Methodist Episcopal churches in Sparta. St. Mark A.M.E. Church is located just off of Highway 22 on James Hunt Jr. Ave/St Mark Church Rd. Though the church is now located in a somewhat residential area but you can tell it was once clearly part of a rural setting.
The original part of the existing church building was completed in 1901. The one and a half story, mostly brick structure with its two towers resembles many of the churches of that time period but also incorporates many Romanesque and Gothic Revival elements. The building has two separate entrances in the front consisting of two extremely tall paneled double doors that are reached by passing through two Romanesque arches. They give you a good hint of the craftsmanship and beauty that is located beyond them…original wood, stained glass windows (depicting a Poor Man’s Bible) and a tongue and grove ceiling patterned in a lozenge (a diamond or crisscross) design.
One document I read also mentioned signs of a fire existing in the attic but goes on to talk about the “ingenious system” of cambered/scissor trusses used for the ceiling and roof and states that the “complexity and endurance are testaments to the skills of the church’s builders”. Endurance is probably a good choice of words…St Mark’s A.M.E. has stood and served the community for many years!
The huge sprawling cemetery is to the left of and behind the church. The oldest part of the cemetery is spread throughout the woods that surround the church. It is estimated that there are at least 200 unmarked sunken graves or cement slabs in these woods. Lives and history all but forgotten…that is why I document these historic treasures. Hopefully someone will remember you and me!”