Zion Episcopal Church in Talbot County is not what one would expect in this small rural town of Talbotton, located in the upper Chattahoochee Valley not far from the Alabama border. It is a magnificent example of English Tudor Gothic architecture and, although no direct link is known to exist, it is reminiscent of the designs of renown architect Richard Upjohn, author of Upjohn’s Rural Architecture published in 1852. The church was founded and built under the direction of the Rev. Richard Johnson as a missionary church in 1848. It is said that he received financial support from wealthy South Carolina planters who were former parishioners. All we can say is that Zion Episcopal is an architectural treasure inside and out, as you will soon see.
Talbotton was a center of commerce and education when it was founded in 1828. According to Georgia Geneology, “Talbotton, the county-seat of Talbot, was settled by a class of people who were superior in many respects to the average residents of the pioneer belt, and the town became widely known as an educational center long before the war. At Collingsworth Institute, two of the famous Straus boys were educated—Nathan and Isidor—both of whom became millionaire merchants and philanthropists of New York. It was founded by Josiah Flournoy, a wealthy citizen of the State, and was long a famous high school among the Methodists. The LeVert Female College, named for the celebrated Madame LeVert, was another pioneer institution of the town”. The Straus boys referred to above eventually moved to New York after the Civil War and founded a huge retail empire that included Macy’s. You can read more about Isidor Straus here.
The church stands as built in 1848 in all its original glory. It is another tribute to the longevity of Georgia heart pine, and the local craftsmen who left us this treasure. As pleasing as the vertical boarded exterior is to the eye, the real star of the show is the interior, complete with elegant furnishings of native walnut. The interior roof support beams are thought to be made of rare, white cedar, also from Talbot County forests. The bell tower is supported by massive beams, all connected by wooden pegs and mortise and tenon joints. Some handmade nails were used that were supplied by a local blacksmith’s shop. Candle sconces were originally attached to each balcony support beam and the outline of those sconces can still be seen today. A single oil lamp that was attached to one of the support beams was lowered and raised in the center of the sanctuary.
The key to the massive front doors is six inches long, and the original 1848 lock still works. When you enter the church, you are swept back in time before the Civil War. The slave gallery is just as it was before the war, when cotton was king and slaves were encouraged to attend but made to sit above the main sanctuary. In addition to the stunning architecture, there is an organ located in the gallery that is the oldest hand pumped organ made by Pilcher in the United States. It was installed in 1850, and it still works. According to local history, young boys had to pump the organ and watch a gauge to make sure the pressure was enough, but not too much, so the organ could operate properly.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the church has not had regular Sunday services in decades, but still has quarterly services operated by the Episcopal Diocese. Occasionally, they hold weddings and have other functions. We are so grateful for their stewardship of this rural treasure. Come inside and see for yourself, and for additional Zion Episcopal history click here. Thanks to Chris Cleaveland for filling in the local history.