Wayfair Primitive Baptist Church (not to be confused with Wayfare Primitive Baptist in Echols County), is the only example of the Crawfordite meethinghouse located in McIntosh County. The church and a small cemetery sit among long-leaf pines and palmetto palms in the eastern portion of the wiregrass region that encompassed south Georgia, southeastern Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Like all the churches of the Primitive Baptist faith (Crawfordite), it is of plain, unpainted, rectangular construction with absolutely no adornments, steeples, porticoes, window treatments etc. We don’t know a lot about the church other than the fact that it was organized in 1873 with sixteen members. The church disbanded in recent years. The cemetery is unremarkable with the oldest grave dating to 1927. Considering the remoteness of the area and the devastated economy after the Civil War, we speculate that there could be older, unmarked graves. We have also seen mention of the fact that severe hurricanes in the 1890’s may have resulted in a relocation of the church, but this is speculation at this point.
Since the first Baptist churches were established in Georgia, they have organized themselves into associations. As time passed, differences of opinion concerning doctrinal interpretations arose, and splits occurred. In the 1830’s the most serious of these splits occurred over the establishment of missions. The conservative elements felt that churches should not participate in mission boards, bible tract societies (Sunday schools), and temperance societies since they were not mentioned in the Scriptures and therefore were not in order, and by 1844 two distinct denominations, the Missionary Baptist and the Primitive Baptists (also known as old-line or hardshell Baptists), had arisen. The use of the term Primitive in this context should be interpreted to mean Original.
In 1866, during Reconstruction, the Georgia Homestead Act was passed which allowed a debtor to repay only a part of his creditors due. The Primitive Baptists were generally against their members taking advantage of this law, but some did (or perhaps had to because of the devastation caused by the years of war). One of those who took advantage of the law was the son of Reuben Crawford, an Elder in his church (Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church in Pierce County). Another Elder, Richard Bennett, was strongly anti-homestead and the conflict between the two caused a major schism in the Alabaha River Association in 1871/72. In 1871 the Alabaha River Association suspended correspondence with other Associations and that isolation continues today. One faction of the split became known as Crawfordites and the other Bennettites. Both had a number of churches align with them.
Wayfair Primitive Baptist Church was organized just a year after the Crawford/Bennett split and aligned with the Crawford faction. Most of the early Primitive Baptist churches (Bennettites and others) of the area appeared at one time as the Crawfordite meetinghouses do today, simply designed and without ornamentation. As time passed most congregations began to “improve” their buildings, but the Crawfordites saw comforts in their churches as distractions from their worship of God. That view persists today and the few remaining Crawfordite meetinghouses appear much as they did in the nineteenth century. One source claimed, concerning the austere appearance of the Crawfordite meetinghouses, that the members felt the buildings should appear as God made them, unornamented. Another felt that the lack of creature comforts was a reflection of the wish not to be distracted while engaged in worship.
Little information regarding Wayfair Primitive Baptist Church is available. No hierarchy exists in the Primitive Baptist Associations. Each church has a clerk who records and safeguards the minutes, and since no hierarchy exists no copies of the church minutes exist. When a church disbands, as many of the Crawfordite churches have, the fate of the church records becomes questionable. We don’t think it is important to delve too deeply into the Primitive Baptist theology. It should suffice to say that they take a conservative, literal interpretation of the scriptures and those views reflect in their daily lives. Among the articles of faith of the Wiregrass Primitives – “We believe that baptism ‘(immersion)’, the Lord’s supper ‘(communion)’, and washing of the saint’s feet are ordinances of Jesus Christ which are to be perpetually observed by the church…”
This photo of the Wayfair sanctuary presents a quintessential, visual example of the meaning of the word “spartan”… frugal, laconic, severe. From the exposed skeletal framing, hard, flat board pews and board and batten pulpit, the Crawfordites embraced the belief that their houses of worship should “…appear as God made them, unornamented.” This lonely meetinghouse appears today just as it did in the 19th century as well as on the day when, with brooms leaned against the pulpit after a final sweeping, the congregation walked away and the church became inactive. This is rural Georgia history in the raw and should be preserved for generations to come so that they can see, enjoy, experience and contemplate this reality.
The men sat on one side, women and children on the other. You will always be able to tell which was the men’s side by the fact that there will be holes in the floor boards in front of their pews. This being tobacco growing and chewing territory, the men were allowed to chew in church and were provided a convenient place at their feet to expectorate… spit! This is another small but significant history lesson that is dramatically preserved and on display within these old churches. Notice the hardscrabble but always beautiful lowcountry foliage in the background.
Here we see on display another quirky element common to these churches. This is the outside wall directly behind the “pulpit detail and tobacco juice spit holes” photo which you just saw. Notice that the center window is higher than the two flanking it. Because of the raised pulpit within, that middle window needs to be higher so that the preacher’s body does not block the flow of light into the sanctuary. Also notice that these openings have wood shutters as well as sashed, clear glass paned, six over six windows. The original Crawfordite window openings were almost always wood shuttered only. The glass came later. Finally, notice that the foundation rests simply on pieces of wood, no stone piers. The long leaf, heart pine from which all of these churches were constructed was so rot and insect resistant that direct contact with the ground was feasible.
We mentioned earlier that the heart pine lumber available in this area of Georgia is incredibly weather and rot resistant. That fact is verified by this close up photo of a window shutter and siding. Though never painted or treated in any way, it still is sound and effective after 125 years or so of exposure to the elements. The iron hinge has not fared as well as the wood.
Here we see the lonely relic that is Wayside among the long leaf pine trees and emerging wire grass. Many ask, “How do you find these places?” Our photographer, Randall Davis wrote the following notes – “Having trouble finding Wayfair. Encounter a man rolling down the road in a wheelchair and stopped to inquire as he was the only person I had seen…. no gas stations, quick-stop stores, homes. I was told to go about four miles north to a turn off with a small sign that was easy to miss. ‘If you come to a torn down trailer you’ve gone too far’. Two trips up and down the road produced no sign or torn down trailer. Several exploratory trips up logging roads produced no church either. Drove further north until I saw a man in his yard. I stopped to make an inquiry, this guy knew exactly where Wayfair was and gave explicit directions. Seems I had actually passed the turn off (there was no church sign and it was probably two miles not four from my first inquiry point.) I had seen the road but had let the Posted and No Tresspassing signs deter me.” As the man once said….”It ain’t as easy as it looks”. Thank you Randall for your perseverance.
We love the old relic outhouses of days gone by. This one has a large shaded area just outside the ‘business end’ of the structure. We have seen this type of design before but it does seem to be an odd feature. Maybe shelter from the sun and/or rain while awaiting one’s turn?
Two hole privies were fairly common and we have seen as many as four. Maybe some accommodation had to be made for the long sermons and infrequent breaks. The oddest feature of this one is the pyramid shaped holes, as opposed to the circular or oval shaped that is commonly found. Not very comfortable for sure, but maybe they did not have the ability to make circular cuts with the available tools at the time. Another architectural mystery to be solved.
Churches such as Wayfair were the social and religious centers in communities throughout Georgia in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. We hope to document and perhaps help insure that as many as possible of these relics remain into the 21st century and beyond to serve as tangible examples of Georgia’s heritage for future generations. The Wiregrass Primitives are a unique part of Georgia religious and architectural history, and we are honored to have a few of them still standing.
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Do you know who owns the church property know. Elder David Weinberg, Darien GA. 912-230-0742
Elder Weinberg, our photographer thinks the church may be owned by the Satilla River Association. Also the predominant name in the cemetery is Ryles if that is any help.
All of these buildings that appear to be of the original design seem to be balloon construction on heart pine hewn log footings with heart pine or cypress saw mill lumber(most probably sawn on site?)Interior fixtures were hand made of very wide early pine boards.Most are roofed with tin.(Some early examples seem to have been wood shake construction(from early photographs.)How and who built them?Were there teams of specialists who built them so much the same?Were there plans where local craftsmen were employed with local churchmen?The Cox location exterior siding used poor corner joint techniques.The gable ends at Corinth also featured horizontal siding.But generally siding was vertical board and batten.We saw a building on Raybun rd (Oak Grove?} where all the siding had been recently replaced and new tin on the roof A lot of the more active churches feature cement footings expertly leveled .All interior details ,rafters and floors were original.Who did this work?The shutters and doors appeared to be of recycled original wood.(Thrifty!)Crawfordite churches appear to have dedicated organized caretakers of the main meeting houses.The Lulaton location had a damaged roof and a dusty interior.Funerals seemed recent at this location.These pioneers must be remembered!