Sugar Creek Baptist has a great history with a surprise ending. A local history, written in 1992 gives us a lot of facts about the church history. It tells us the church was organized in 1806 with fourteen members and that the original site of the church is now “buried under the waters of a farm pond on lands currently owned by the J.O. Strange family”. It also tells us that in 1831 a great revival was held from September until December 24 resulting in the reception of 189 new members. Total membership was then 235, making it the largest church in the area…obviously a very successful revival.
The church remained on the original site until late 1900, but the Morgan County courthouse deed book shows the deacons of Sugar Creek Baptist then bought the land “where Weaver Academy now stands” for the sum of ten dollars, and the old church was moved to the Weaver Academy property. However the property was very small, only 3/4 of an acre, and in 1909 the church purchased 1 1/2 acres and relocated to this site around 1910. Sadly, fours years later tragedy struck in the form of a fire that destroyed the church. The present church was then built in 1915.
The surprise ending begins when the church was scheduled for demolition in 2016. The congregation felt that they could no longer afford the upkeep of the old church and needed the space for other purposes. At the last minute Dr. Ellis Johnson and his wife Crystal, with the encouragement of the Madison – Morgan Conservancy, came to the rescue. The Johnson’s are the owners of Hundred Acre Farm, located less than a mile away. They made an arrangement with the congregation to buy the church and move it to their farm for a new home as a wedding chapel. You can get a good overview of the farm here. You can also check out the moving process in the photo below. Not only did the Johnsons rescue the church, they then embarked on a renovation effort to return the sanctuary to a semblance of its former glory. You can see the results in the photos below.
According to Mary McCauley of the Conservancy, the congregation was originally made up of both black and white parishioners, but split in 1867, just after the Civil War. “It tells the story of our settlement and rural lifestyle,” she says. “That simple, small, quaint building is a visual reminder of a way of life. Once those images are gone, the story goes too, since there’s nothing left to remember it by.” We could not agree more and we applaud the commitment of the Johnsons and the Conservancy who have saved this important part of early Georgia history for the benefit of all of us. From a quote by Christine McCauley, Director of the conservency – “That 100-year-old building tells the story of Morgan County’s humble beginnings. Like that story, the building is not flashy and ornate, but rather a simple rural church. Our tendency as a community is to protect the big old white house with columns or the Romanesque Revival school, or the courthouse. But to preserve the full spectrum of Morgan County’s history, preserving buildings like Sugar Creek Church is equally, if not more important.”
Well said and thank you to all involved.
Standing near the halfway point up the aisle, we are looking toward the front of the church in this lovely, restored sanctuary. Though it has been modified from its original appearance, the present view is quite true to its original design and feels authentic. The interior remains the rectangular, simple box that it always has been. The wooden floor supports attractive new but period pews. The sanctuary’s horizontal walls curve gracefully at their top and smoothly flow into the ceiling. Decorative ornamentation is limited as it would always have been. Since the adaptive use of Sugar Hill is to serve as a wedding chapel, its non-denominational appearance is quite appropriate. This is a thoughtful and well-executed repurposing of an old church.
Here in the nave, we have a view of the raised chancel and Pulpit area. In keeping with the chapel’s use as a wedding facility, the pulpit and surrounding area is unadorned and left vacant so that the users can decorate and populate that area in a manner that they desire for their ceremony. Even at that, the solid wood, warmly stained and finished classic pulpit with its applied moldings is as authentic and charming as anyone could expect to find in an historic rural church.
This photo provides evidence of and proof of the high quality and excellent fit and finish on display at Sugar Hill. The pews are of high quality. The walls with their wainscot, heavy wooden window frames surrounding large two over two, mixed clear and pastel paned windows and the horizontal wall boards are well executed and handsome.
Sgt John Haley Hebbard was born 1 May 1840, St. Marys, GA according to his Civil War pension application, although his tombstone shows his date of birth as 1 Dec. 1840. He enlisted in Company C, 7th GA Cavalry in April, 1863 at Savannah, GA. At the time of Gen. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on 9 Apr. 1865, he was on detail. Two days before the surrender, he had been sent out by Gen Lee to press horses. He applied for an Indigent pension in 1903 from Fulton County.
Isaac Crow was born June 4, 1832 in Campbell County, GA and died Jan. 6, 1908 in Morgan County, GA. He enlisted as a private 13 Oct. 1861, Dawson County, GA, GA 38th Regiment, Company L, Evan’s Brigade, Gordon’s Division, Wright’s Legion, Army of Northern Virginia. In 1904 in Forsyth County, GA he applied for an indigent pension. He stated he owned no property and was feeble and unable to work. He reapplied for a pension in Morgan County in 1905, 1906, and 1907. His handmade headstone attests to the hard life he must have led.
Here is the family plot of the Fears family, one of the early pioneer families in Georgia. The first member of the Fears family to come to Georgia was William Fears who settled in Jasper County, Georgia. The Roster of Revolutionary Soldiers in Georgia shows William Fears was born in Virginia in 1766. In the 1827 Cherokee Land Lottery he drew two lots of land for his service as a Revolutionary Soldier and for being wounded in service. He is buried in the Fears family cemetery near Monticello. It is William Fears’ son, Zachariah Fears, and his descendants who are buried in the Sugar Creek Baptist Church Cemetery. The large obelisk monument in the cemetery was established by his wife, Elizabeth E. Matthews, in memory of Zachariah and their children. He was a wealthy and influential man in Morgan County. He died in 1857 leaving cash, slaves, and other property to his wife and seven living children. Although Zachariah Fears did not live until the time of the Civil War, both sons and a son-in-law served in the war. Other family members of Zachariah Fears buried at Sugar Creek include his sons, John H. and Henry C., and his daughters, Cornelia Antoinette Fears Stovall and Eugenia A. Fears Cox. In-laws and grandchildren of this family patriarch are also buried there.
This is the fourth location for the church and a fitting one it is. She can now be used for a number of purposes and continue to serve the community as she has since the formation of the church over 200 years ago.
Here is Sugar Creek Baptist in transition and getting placed at the new site. Pretty soon she will have a roof, a porch and a steeple as she settles into her new home at Hundred Acre farm and continues the long legacy of community service.
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I’m very interested to see if some of my family members belonged to this church. Joel Phillips of Wilkes County is buried at Phillips Mill Baptist Church cemetery in Wilkes, but his son Whitmell Phillips was on the 1820 census in Capt Chisolm’s District in Morgan County and Whitmell’s son Henry m Lavinia Atkinson in 1821 in Morgan. Henry was supposedly born in Morgan County in 1801. Is there a list of original members of the church or a list of later members?
There is not a list that we know of. There may be somewhere but we are not aware of it.
Do you have any contact information for this location? I’m interested in getting married there, but what I found online does not match the picture of this church.
We would suggest calling the folks at Hundred Acre Farm. They can help you.
I am so thankful for all the effort that went into saving this beautiful old church building. My earliest memories are centered around this place. It was here in a revival that I committed my life to Jesus Christ. I am even more thankful to Him for His saving grace.
I have an antique pump organ cir. 1870. I would lie to donate this to your beautiful church. If you would be interested, please contact me at [email protected] or 678/640/6364. Dee Pearson