St. Marks Lutheran was organized in the late 1860s by German immigrants who moved in from South Carolina. The church was built in 1870 in the community of Botsford, located about five miles west of Plains. The little village of Botsford no longer exists but fortunately, the church has recently been acquired and restored by private owners and moved a short distance away. More about this later. The cemetery is still there of course and we are fortunate that our photographer had previously documented the old church before the move. The before and after shots are quite striking. St. Marks as been saved from an uncertain future.
There are very few Lutheran churches in rural Georgia. Most of Georgia’s early pioneers were English and Scots Irish and were predominantly Baptist and Methodist with Presbyterians running a distant third. The early settlers of Botsford were immigrants of German decent and were all from the Dutchforks area of South Carolina, located around what is now Newberry and Lexington counties. They had migrated to South Carolina as a result of the state’s efforts to lure Europeans to the back country with offers of free land in the mid 1700’s. Some descendants of these early German Lutherans are still in the area. Mt. Zion – St. Luke is a large and prosperous Lutheran congregation in Oglethorpe with direct ties to the little church of St. Marks in Botsford.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of St. Marks history is the deep connection to Rosalynn Carter. One of our followers offers the following comments on the former First Lady’s genealogy. “As a child she attended with her Grandmother Rosa Wise Murray. Her Great Great Grandfather David Wise was on the first church council. His son, George Calhoun Wise, lost a leg in the Civil War. So his contribution to the building of the church was hand plaining the lumber. Rosalynn had several ancestors who were charter members, including GG Grandparents, David and Rosa Wise, Great Grandfather George Calhoun Wise, and GG Grandparents John and Alethia Parker. The Parkers were not in the South Carolina migration. Also, Rosalynn had a grandfather credited with bringing the Lutheran church to this part of Georgia. He was the Reverend Jacob Kleckley of Oglethorpe. Kleckley’s granddaughter. Fannie Coogle was the second wife of George Calhoun Wise. Kleckley’s original churches buildings in Oglethorpe did not survive.”
Many thanks to Roy Wise for the above research. We will add to it as we go. Be sure to click and scroll on the gallery photos below for more history on St. Marks Lutheran. Note the photo of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale at the church. It is from Fourth Sunday, July 25, 1976. It is homecoming for St. Marks. Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale were in Plains after the Democratic Convention and before the presidential campaign. The photo includes Roy’s mother and his daughter.
These are interior pictures taken several years ago prior to the church being moved. As you can see the interior was quite modest but comfortable. The building is the classic rectangular box with unadorned gable ends and a spare interior but still was a lovely and functional site. The congregation had scattered, and the church was no longer functional. The interior furnishings remained and the church sat fallow.
This view from the chancel to the front entrance confirms that the church was a very simple construction with no frills. The green paint and carpet were obviously modern improvements. The building itself, though not imposing, was an attractive, authentic style and in excellent condition for a one and a half century old structure… no leaks, no rotting superstucture no foundation problems.
This photo of the finished restoration shows what lovely changes for the better have been made. The old wall covering and ceiling tile was removed revealing the original wide pine ceiling and wall boards. The carpet that had covered the original heart pine floors was removed as well. All of the interior pine surfaces were lovingly refinished. St. Marks is now in good hands and has been lovingly restored. This is a good example of private owners acquiring the church property and doing whatever is required to stabilize and preserve the history of these historic treasures.
This close-up allows us to better appreciate the remarkable transformation that has taken place at St Marks. The walls and floors are now “as they were”… authentic. The beauty of these period pews in the foreground with the natural beauty of the Georgia rural countryside speaking to you through the generous use of the nine over nine windows is stunning. What a friend we have in Jesus.
The four graves you see in the foreground are that of Rosalynn Carter’s great grandfather, George Calhoun Wise. He is buried between his first wife (Rodella Etheridge) and second (Fannie Coogle). Calhoun's first wife, Rodella, died in childbirth and is buried with the child. George Calhoun Wise was born April 17, 1844 and died May 25, 1898. The 1850 Newberry, South Carolina census shows G. C. Wise, age 7, living in the household with his parents David and Rosanna Wise and their other children. By the time of the 1860 census he was shown as 16 years old and living in Edgefield, South Carolina with his parents and family. During the Civil War he served as a private in Company B, 14th South Carolina Regiment. On May 6, 1864 in the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia he was shot in the left leg. His leg was amputated above the knee. His Confederate Pension application stated he had lived in Georgia since 1869 and was allowed a pension of $100 per year.
The renovated St. Marks Lutheran has been relocated several miles away but the cemetery at the original location remains of course. We were fortunate that our photographer, Steve Robinson, got these photos of the original church. At the time we were not aware of the deep connection of St. Marks to Rosalynn Carter and her ancestors.
This is a great example of a private owner taking responsibility for preserving this majestic example of rural Georgia history. We applaud these and other efforts across the state to save these treasures. Thank you so much for your stewardship.
More history from Roy Wise - "Homecoming was every “Fourth Sunday in July,” with worship and dinner on the grounds. That day back in 1976, after worship and before lunch, a crowd of cars arrived with Jimmy and his entourage of secret service and the news media. Jimmy and Rosalynn, and Mondale brought food and joined in the meal. Someone sent Mother (Virginia Easterliln Wise) the picture, which was taken by a professional. My daughter (Dr. Kristin Wise) was visiting her grandparents. The event made the national TV news with Jimmy at a rural church eating an outdoor meal. It was great publicity for a politician. It occurred after the national Democratic convention and before the general campaign. I think the Republican convention was the following week. Jimmy was back in Plains for rest and a strategy session before the upcoming national campaign."
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My husband and I went to the former location this afternoon. We would love to see the church, could someone tell us where it has been moved.
Janet, the map on the website must be the old location where the cemetery is. We will get you the new address asap.
Thank you for this site! I’m watching Saving Grace right now. I knew about the Lutherans in Macon County- some of my families married into the Lutheran families there-but I didn’t know about this church. It sounds like the same large group had several churches, at least three. Are there more in nearby areas?
Hi Ginger. We think there are several Lutheran churches that were formed in that part of Georgia by the same German immigrants from South Carolina. But we are not sure where they are located now. Some online research should help. Thanks for the support and good luck.
Just visited this beautiful old church near Bradford. My ancestors were some of the founders of the church including George and Fanny Jennings Addy, who were my great, great grandparents. They are buried in the cemetery at the original site. Beautiful restoration!
Yes it is. Thank goodness some of these old treasures are being saved.