Tag Archives: Landmarks of Coastal Georgia

Emanuel Baptist Church, 1904, St. Simons Island

The origins of Emanuel Baptist can be traced to the First African Baptist Church, established by freedmen at Pike’s Bluff Plantation in 1869. On 6 April 1890 members of the First African Baptist Church, under the leadership of Reverend A. Neel, organized Emanuel to better serve members in the South End community. The present structure was built on 30 July 1904 and dedicated by Reverend S. C. Dent.

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

Hamilton Plantation Slave Cabin, Circa 1806, St. Simons Island

Built for servants working in the main house of James Hamilton’s Gascoigne Bluff plantation, this slave cabin is one of four surviving on St. Simons. Two more survive on the lands of the former Hamilton Plantation. As evidenced by this authentic restoration, house slaves were generally kept in nicer dwellings than field hands and other laborers. Popularly known as The Tabby House, it was restored by Eugene Lewis in 1931 and again in 1995 by master tabby craftsmen J. Felton Tate, Sr., Renaldo Tate, Sr., and Renaldo Tate, Jr.. After the plantation house burned in the 1890s, a lumber mill was located on the property for many years. The cabin served as a doctor’s office during that era. Today, it is part of the Epworth By The Sea campus of the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and is used as an event space.

National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

Strangers Cemetery, St. Simons Island

Also known as Union Memorial Cemetery, Strangers Cemetery gets its unusual name from those interred here. Former slaves (and their descendants) who toiled on the island’s plantations prior to Emancipation were buried on those properties. The original “strangers” were freedmen who came to the island after the Civil War and worked primarily in sawmills along the Frederica River. Many remained for generations in three thriving black communities: Harrington, Jewtown, and South End, and some were interred here as they weren’t allowed to bury on the former plantation lands. While most marked graves are in very good condition, a large number of unmarked graves exist, as well.

Among later “strangers” is Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Sampson Jones (8 February 1902-4 September 1984). She was born in Smithville and never knew her biological father. Her mother moved to an uncle’s farm in nearby Dawson when Bessie was a baby and while there married James Sampson, who was a father figure to Bessie. Of her childhood, she wrote: “I never has went to school a whole term and I didn’t get past the fifth grade; every school day I had to keep other people’s babies and sometimes I had to work in the fields.” Music was always present in Bessie Jones’s childhood. Her mother Julia played the autoharp and James Sampson played numerous instruments by ear. Her grandfather, Jet Sampson, was an accordionist. He was enslaved, along with five brothers, around 1843 and died in 1941 at the age of 105. Listening to his stories and songs, Bessie gained many insights that would inform her later work.

In 1914 a very young Jones gave birth to her first child, Rosalie. The child’s father, Cassius Davis, was a native of the Georgia Sea Islands and had come to the Dawson area seeking farm work. After World War I Bessie lived briefly in Milan and Fitzgerald. Cassius died in Brunswick in 1926. For the next seven years she lived in Florida. In Okeechobee she married George Jones and in 1933 they moved to St. Simons Island. They had two sons: George L. Jones (1935) and Joseph (1937). George died in 1945. After his death Bessie got involved with the Spiritual Singers of Coastal Georgia, perhaps the first group to formally attempt to preserve and perform the slave songs and spirituals of the Sea Island Gullah and Geechee people. It was a great honor for Bessie to have been invited to join the group, as she was not a native of the islands.

Bessie met folkorist Alan Lomax in 1959 and a couple of years later he recorded a series of songs, stories, and interviews with her at his apartment in New York City. In 1963, the Georgia Sea Island Singers were established. Lomax arranged a tour that took the group to colleges around the country and a decade of travel followed. They participated in the Poor People’s March in 1968 and appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Newport Folk Festival, Montréal World’s Fair, Central Park, and numerous Smithsonian Folk Life Festivals. In 1976, the Sea Island Singers performed at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. In 1982, Mrs. Jones received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, but died of leukemia later that year.

Peter Stone and Ellen Harold’s profile of Bessie Jones at the Association for Cultural Equity, from which this was condensed, is an excellent source for further reading.

 

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

Hall-and-Parlor Cottage, 1932, St. Simons Island

A scattering of historic vernacular homes such as this one in the South End community still survive on the island, but they can all be considered endangered in that present development trends show little interest in historic styles.

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

St. William Catholic Church, 1929, St. Simons Island

Now home to Lord of Life Lutheran Church, this Spanish Mission Revival chapel was originally home to St. William Catholic Church. Franciscan friars first established a mission presence near this very site in the late 1500s to minister to the native Guale peoples but these early missionaries were martyred and the mission destroyed in 1597. The location was selected by Father Peter McOscar, SM, pastor of St. Francis Xavier of Brunswick, architect Cormac McGarvey, and Mrs. Edith Smith Young. It was originally served by Marist priests from St. Francis Parrish.

Several celebrities had a connection to the church during its history. In the mid-1930s, actress Irene Dunn was a member of a Confirmation Class here; the great tenor Giovanni Martinelli once sang here; Joe DiMaggio was a volunteer altar server in 1950.

Thanks to Jimmy Goodis for identifying it as the original St. William’s.

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

Savannah Powder Magazine, 1898

Designed at the behest of Mayor P. W. Meldrim by Eichberg & Witcover, the architects also responsible for Savannah City Hall, the municipal powder magazine was built by John R. Eason. On average, it provided safe storage for 96,000 pounds of black powder and 8,500 pounds of dynamite. The 15-acre property originally contained a keeper’s cottage, as well.

Abandoned since 1963, it’s the last surviving municipal powder magazine in Georgia. Because of its fortress-like construction, including 3-foot-thick walls, it’s considered the sturdiest structure in Chatham County. This has insured its survival over the years, but today its future is uncertain.

Though concealed in overgrown woods, it is located in a busy and rapidly growing area of the city.

Homeless people have been known to use the facility for shelter and there always seems to be some amount of debris inside.

A Powder Magazine Park Commission was created by Tommy Holland to explore viable alternatives for the preservation of the property, and after years of neglect, it appears serious work is being done to move forward. Mr. Holland notes that the Savannah Powder Magazine Facebook page is the best source for updates on the project.

 

 

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Filed under -CHATHAM COUNTY, Savannah GA

St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, 1896, Burroughs

Established in 1832, St. Bartholomew’s is the oldest active African-American Episcopal congregation in Georgia. The Episcopal church was actively pursuing the evangelization of slaves by the early 1830s. In 1832, a white family in the area initiated religious education for its slaves and by 1845, the bishop appointed the Reverend William G. Williams as the area’s first official pastor. He established a church and school on the three plantations he served and was so successful that by 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, his congregation was the largest, black or white, in the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

A gift of $400 from St. Barholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City to the Ogeechee Mission Congregation in 1881 helped stimulate interest in the construction of a permanent home. The present structure was consecrated in 1896 and named in honor of its first major patrons. The St. Barholomew’s Day School was constructed in 1897. It was operated by the church until 1916 at which time Chatham County rented the building and took over its operation. It was closed as a school in 1951 and has since served as the parish hall.

Known officially today as St. Bartholomew’s Chapel, the church which was once so integral to the life of the Burroughs community still meets on a limited schedule.

National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under -CHATHAM COUNTY, Burroughs GA