Whites Chapel AME, located on the edge of Tallapoosa in Haralson County, is another sad example of a once vibrant church that has been abandoned for many years and will soon be totally lost. In addition to the tragic toll that time has taken on the structure, there was some recent fire damage when the surrounding kudzu caught fire. We have very little history available, other than the fact that she was built in 1907 and ceased having services in the 1980’s. If any more history surfaces, we will add to it. We are told that most, if not all of its members are now deceased. Since there is no associated graveyard, the church will soon be totally gone. We are determined to capture as many of these grand old structures while we still can.
Whites Chapel is a symbol of some of sweeping post-Civil War changes that affected Georgia, the south and the rest of the nation. After emancipation, these formally enslaved people began to form their own churches which quickly became the social and spiritual center of their lives. Most of these freed slaves were located in rural Georgia where they had been engaged in the production of King Cotton. The little church you see above was the result of a migration from small farms to emerging towns like Tallapoosa. Because of the railroad, built in the late 1800s and easy access to the Tallapoosa River, the town was an ideal place for cotton manufacturing. Later as cotton declined and America rose to prominence as an industrial power, larger cities emerged as the engines of commerce. This was particularly true of the “great migration” of African Americans to larger northern cities in search of a better life. Whites Chapel tells this sad story well.
The AME (African Methodist Episcopal) denomination grew out of the Free African Society (FAS) which was established in Philadelphia in 1787. It was formally organized in the early 1800s as a new Wesleyan denomination. Growth was limited to the Northeast and Midwest prior to the Civil War, however after the war a concerted effort was made to establish AME churches in the south and even internationally. AME membership reached 400,000 by 1880 as a result of this effort. Today, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has membership in twenty Episcopal Districts in thirty-nine countries on five continents.
Whites Chapel is an amazing architectural reminder of where we came from and how we got here. She was a loving home to generations of African Americans who were part of these changes….. where we came from and how we got here. She is almost gone but not forgotten.
Click on the gallery photos below for further commentary.
As you saw in the opening photograph of its exterior, Whites Chapel AME is almost gone. Much of the exterior, wood sheathing has fallen off and the particle board that decades ago was slapped on the bell tower is disintegrating. Most of the openings ( windows and doors), are open to the weather. The composition roof is seriously damaged. Somehow, the beautiful metal shingles on the belltower remain in place. In this photo, we see that the rear of this old church is also highly compromised by a fire so we can now see through the empty gothic windows and into the apse. We know that this doomed church will be placed into our “Gone But Not Forgotten” category. But, before it becomes totally gone and disappears forever, we intend to photographically document its existence and written history . That history will permanently remain available to all for centuries to come in our digital archives. That is what we at HRCGA do.
In this close up, we see that the metal shingles (tin?) covering the bell tower roof are still in place and in great shape. We just saw in the external view and the rear view that the roof areas covered by normal roofing are rapidly failing. We have learned that those historic rural churches are much more likely to remain useable if they have tin roofing.
In this view from the pulpit, we see, remarkably, that much of the church furniture, pews, doors etc. have not been removed from this old church. Most of the time, the isolated rural church when abandoned is quickly emptied of all usable fixtures. Sometimes, all of the usable wood… floors, walls. Ceilings, framing etc. is stripped of boards that will be reused elsewhere. The old Bible in the foreground is a poignant reminder that this was once a vibrant congregation.
This is a touching view of the ruined but lovely chancel, communion rail, pulpit, proscenium and apse. This was never a wealthy church, but clearly it was a loved and revered meeting house. The hand made gothic windows of the apse were probably made and installed by members of the congregation. The pulpit also appears to be made by hand and not manufactured. It must have been a sad day when the congregation gathered in this landmark black church, filled with the work of their hands and over a century of memories, for its last service.
Here again we want to notice the fine handiwork of the sanctuary builders, that were probably members of the congregation. Notice the suspended ceiling, not a common architectural feature found in many AME churches. This ceiling is met by gently curved walls at the top that rise from the floor. That wall is punctuated by large windows that are topped by molding so as to appear to be gothic windows. You have to admire the ingenuity and taste that dictated these extraordinary design features.
Here we get a close up view of the sanctuary’s ceiling treatment and design. Also, we see more of the clever “Gothic” windows that are found throughout this church. Sadly, we also see the terrible damage to the ceilings caused by the leaking, composition shingle roofs. The fact that the stains are seen not only on the ceiling but on the walls and probably on to the floors and joists below indicates serious water damage is taking place.
We earlier mentioned that most totally abandoned rural churches are usually quickly stripped of all valuable items. There is one exception to this rule and we see it in this photo, the piano. Though probably one of the most valuable/costly items found in these old churches, the piano always remains. Why! They all have heavy cast iron frames that keep the tensioned strings in place. This means that an upright piano such as this one would weigh between 300 and 600 pounds depending on its style.
Here we see that this old church is on its last leg. This ceiling, above the front of the church and pulpit/chancel area has been completely compromised by years of leaks. The rafters and ceiling joists are probably rotten as well by now. The floor and sub floor areas beneath this leak have surely been damaged as well. Restoration of this kind of damage is not financially feasible.
Here we have a close up of the floor area below the leaking roof photo just described. With the ceiling leaking seriously and the floor beneath it showing disastrous water damage, Whites Chapel is in a death spiral. In a short period of time this lovely, old historic landmark will collapse. We hate to see her go. But at least we got there in time to photo document her existence and capture as much written history as possible. She is almost gone but not forgotten.
Almost Gone But Not Forgotten
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I would love to photograph this church and feel it’s history.
She won’t be with us too much longer. The death spiral has begun and without a major intervention she will soon be gone. But not forgotten.
Can the material be recycled for a community project?
That is a good question. There would be so salvageable material there. It would be a question for the Tallapoosa City Council we would surmise.
So glad that someone recorded this beautiful church’s interior. I myself took pictures of the church about a year ago but couldn’t get in the front door so I was unable to get pictures of the interior. These pictures are fantastic. It is so sad to see that it is in such disrepair. Thanks for all you do.
Actually, Tallapoosa and White’s Chapel AME are located in Haralson County, not Carroll County as the headline subtitle indicates.
Thanks. It is corrected on the website.
This church is in Haralson County – not Carroll.
Right. Corrected on the website.
Out of curiosity, someone must be paying the property taxes or there is a trust from which they are paid.
The church would not be on the tax roles.
What a beautiful old church. So sad. Is there any hope?
Afraid it is too far gone. The congregation no longer exists and there is no other base to work from.
I can’t wait for the next book.