On April 24, 1855, Irby Hudson Scott deeded to the trustees of a new newly organized and consolidated Methodist Episcopal group, three and three-quarter acres of land in the Tompkins district in Putnam County, Georgia for the purpose of a church building. Irby Scott was a very successful Putnam county planter who was also the father of Irby Goodwin Scott and Nicholas Ewing Scott, both of whom served with the Putnam Light Infantry during the terrible conflict of the Civil War. Young Irby was a prolific writer and observer of the conflict and his wartime correspondence (mostly to his father) has been published as Lee and Jackson’s Bloody Twelfth: The Letters of Irby Goodwin Scott, First Lieutenant, Company G, Putnam Light Infantry, Twelfth Georgia Volunteer Infantry, Edited by Johnny Perry Pearson. Irby survived the war and died in 1925, but his brother did not. Nicholas Scott was killed in action at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 10, 1864. According to the records, ‘His body was carried in his blanket, on May 11, about 200 yards to the rear of the works, and buried in a fence corner near the McCoul house‘. This was, unfortunately, not an uncommon story in the south where all military units were organized by counties and thus, filled with brothers, cousins and neighbors.
But life goes on and the story of Union Chapel is a comforting one. There were two smaller churches in the community named Bethel and Rock Chapel. They decided to unite into a larger congregation and build a church on the land donated for that purpose by Mr. Scott, who was the first member listed on the membership roll of 1856. That building is still in excellent condition and is the one you see above. The church was built from Georgia long leaf heart pine and the sills and framework were hand hewn and pinned. The lumber for the pews, as well as the door and window facing, are all hand planed.
Over the years, improvements have been made but she stands much as she did in 1855. In 1913, the board of trustees voted to build a new school at Union Chapel and the school opened in November of that year. It then operated until county school consolidation forced its closure on May 25, 1946. It has since been used as Sunday School space by the church. Union Chapel as served as source community and spiritual comfort for generations. From the church history ‘For generations United Chapel Church and school have been important part of this community. To those who came before us who raised the roof, stoked the fire, and kept the faith – WE SALUTE YOU! And to those who continue with the faith, friendship, hope and love of this body of believers – GODSPEED’.
We picked this view of the Union Chapel pediment and steeple because it provides an example of the builder’s art. Most of the churches of this pre-Civil War era had very plain unadorned pediments. Here we see elaborate dental molding, not just within the pediment, but also below on the church’s fascia board. This took talent and was a much pricier decoration than usual. Because this church’s sponsor, Mr. Irby Scott, was a wealthy planter he could afford this expensive decorative material and had skilled carpenters on hand at his plantation to execute the work. The steeple appears to be a much later addition.
We always enjoy examining the footings/pillars of these early churches. The materials used vary from bricks to quarried stone but often are just common, unmortared field stones. Here is an example of flat field stones that are skillfully laid, with no mortar, as pillars to support the building frame. Imagine what an effort it was to get every pillar the exact height needed to insure the huge, heavy beams were level. When final adjustments were required, it took an experienced person to make those final changes by inserting smaller stones in just the right spot (as illustrated above) to accomplish this crucial task. And then you have to ask yourself, how in the world have these cobbled together field stones remained in place and the floors they support (most often) dead level for the past 159 years? Amazing.
The exterior view of this church appears today much as it would have when first built. The interior arrangement of Union Chapel, however, was changed dramatically in 1985. According to a church history written by Cynthia Anne Fuller, ‘In 1985 the pulpit which was between the two front doors was removed. A new one was built and a communion rail was installed at the other end of the church. At that time, the pews were rearranged and one of the three church doors was closed and shutters were installed’. This view is from the right rear of the sanctuary.
Above you see the ‘new’ arrangement of the chancel, altar and pulpit. None of the original furnishings, woodwork, altar and pulpit remain. The handsome pulpit chairs had been given to the church in 1946 and were reused in the new configuration. The two windows that flank the altar are original to the building, and the original back door is visible in the center of the wall.
In this photo, though they have been rearranged, you are looking at the original pews… hand built, finished and installed in 1855. The triple hung windows and exterior doors at Union Chapel are also original. They were all manufactured in Augusta and were carried to the then remote church by horse and wagon. The view through the window is the old community schoolhouse which had remained in use as a school until 1946.
This photograph captures the inviting and warm atmosphere of this cozy sanctuary. It is small in size but large in warmth, and it nurtures a sense of closeness. The congregants and the Clergy in this place cannot help but be bound together in familiarity, affection and friendship. These churches have always been necessary, safe havens for the members…. from the early pioneer years until today.
The Unity Chapel cemetery is the final resting place of many congregants and others who lived in the community. Above we see a monument typical of the late 19th/early 20th century era. By this period, even those in remote rural areas could obtain a reasonably priced tombstone like the one above. It was probably ordered out of a Montgomery Ward or Sears and Roebuck catalog and is a 3 to 4? thick marble tablet, resting on a decorative base bearing the family name. The engraving of the deceased’s name and dates along with a personal sentiment was no doubt accomplished at the factory. We guess that this monument was ordered by Carl Wheeler’s parents, who would have been woefully aggrieved over the early death, at 22, of their son. They chose to honor his memory as a devout Christian. ‘He joined the Baptist church at the age of twelve years and lived a truly and devoted Christian life.’ Of course the question remains, if Carl was a Baptist, why is he buried in a Methodist church graveyard? Maybe someone knows.
The community decided it needed to start a school in 1913. The site chosen was next to Union Chapel and a small structure was built that year. The school and church were the focal point for community life and activities from that time until the school was closed when the county consolidated its school system in 1946 at the end of World War II. When the school closed, Union Chapel decided to utilize it as their Sunday School space, and it remains a well used and cared for building today. Another important event of 1946 was the arrival of electricity to the community via the Rural Electrification Agency. ‘Let there be light’…..and there was light.
This old photo documents the importance of Union Chapel as a social center. Taken in 1941, none attending this service could guess that in less than a year, the entire country would be involved in a terrible world war. They were happily singing hymns, sitting in the glow of kerosene lamps and safe in the bosom of their church.
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Do you have any old church membership records? I’m looking for a Wood family from the 1840s. My great great great grandmother joined the Methodist Episcopal Church when she was 15. Her name was Arrena A Wood and she had a sister Martha J Wood. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
Hi Martha- We aren’t affiliated with Union Chapel so we don’t have access to their records but we wish you luck in your research!