Tag Archives: Georgia Black History & Culture

Union Baptist Parsonage, Circa 1870, Augusta

This was built by the Greene Street Methodist Church circa 1870 as a school for Black children and a parsonage. It also served the Union Baptist Church as a parsonage and was later used as a rental property.

Greene Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Union Baptist Church, 1851 & 1888, Augusta

The original section of this structure, dating to circa 1851, served as a mission of the Presbyterian Church, and though that congregation was not successful, the location was used as a Sunday School for enslaved Blacks during the Civil War. It later served as the Greene Street Methodist church before it became the Union Baptist Church in 1883. The Augusta architectural firm of MacMurphy & Story created the exquisite structure seen today in 1888. The Society of Architectural Historians considers it “one of the finest Carpenter Gothic buildings in the state” and I concur. Historic Augusta, Inc., restored the structure for the congregation between 1997-2010.

Greene Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Trumpet in Zion Church, Augusta

I can’t locate a history of this structure, but it is now home to the Trumpet in Zion Fellowship.

Laney-Walker North Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Penny Savings Bank, 1925, Augusta

The Penny Savings Loan and Investment Company was formed by a group of Augusta’s leading Black businessmen in 1910. This structure, based on designs by architect G. Lloyd Preacher, was built in 1925. An anchor of the Black business district known as the “Golden Blocks”, it closed its doors in 1928 as a result of economic woes and the looming Great Depression. Though stable, the structure has been long abandoned and attempts at rehabilitation have not materialized.

Laney-Walker North Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Tabernacle Baptist Church, 1914, Augusta

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Tabernacle Baptist Church is one of the most beautiful and unique religious facilities in all of Augusta. Situated on the city’s historic “Black Main Street”, Laney-Walker Boulevard, it is an imposing presence in the community. It grew out of the divided congregation of Central African Baptist Church and was first known as Beulah, but, at the request of founding pastor Reverend Charles Thomas Walker (5 February 1858-29 July 1921) changed its name to Tabernacle just two days later. Its membership grew from an initial 300 to over 2000 by 1889. Its original location was Ellis Street; the present structure dates to 1914.

The church prospered during the pastorate of Reverend Walker and garnered international attention and support from men as diverse as President William Howard Taft [a frequent visitor to Augusta], John D. Rockefeller, Booker T. Washington, and George Washington Carver, who all attended services at Tabernacle. Reverend Walker, who was born into slavery at Hephzibah, was the first African-American theologian to visit the Holy Land, was appointed by President McKinley as the U. S. Volunteers Chaplain with the U. S. 9th Immune Infantry during the Spanish-American War, with the rank of Captain, and during a residency at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in New York, established the first African-American YMCA in Harlem. He also established the Walker Baptist Institute and served in numerous leadership roles within the Baptist faith.

During the pastorate of Reverend Charles Spencer Hamilton, Tabernacle became a center for the Civil Rights Movement in Augusta. In April 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached here. The church remains prominent in Augusta’s religious and cultural life.

Laney-Walker North Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Future of Milledgeville’s Lamar House Remains Uncertain

Zachariah Lamar House, Circa 1806-1810

This house has been in rough shape for as long as I can remember, having been a rental property for many years, but I always knew it was architecturally significant and of historical importance. Despite having lost all its historic interior elements and featuring a non-historic rear addition, the house is an important link not only to the earliest days of Milledgeville but to two important families integral to the political and cultural life of 19th-century Georgia and is worth saving.

A couple of years ago my friend David Bray noted that plans for demolition were on the horizon, and preservationist Scott Reed recently reached out to let me know that hearings on its fate were moving forward. The present owners of the property, Georgia Military College (GMC), have plans to turn the property into a parking lot but Bray notes that as of now, demolition of the house has been stopped, largely due to efforts of the Milledgeville Historic Preservation Commission and concerned citizens. He notes that GMC is willing to save the structure. Still, plans for its future, which involve several options, remain uncertain. Proposals are being considered at this time. [This is an ongoing process, and updates will be included as they become available].

As to the history of the house, an exact date is unknown, but it was built for Zachariah Lamar (1769-29 October 1838), who purchased the lot on which it stands in 1806. Considering Lamar’s involvement with the committee which designed the plans for the city of Milledgeville [established 1804], it seems the house is likely contemporary to his purchase of the property or soon thereafter, placing it circa 1806-1810.

In addition to his interests in retail, taverns, saloons, agriculture, and banking, Lamar served as a judge and in the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate. He was directly involved with the formation of the Bank of the State of Georgia, the first “upcountry” bank in the state. He was also one of the managers of the ball which honored the Marquis de LaFayette* on the occasion of his visit to Milledgeville in 1825.

[The 1 April 1825 edition of the Milledgeville Georgian notes of the visit of 27-29 March: “General Lafayette arrived in Milledgeville on Sunday last, at noon. It is needless to say he received a hearty and enthusiastic welcome…he was met by the Cavalry of Baldwin County, who escorted him into the town, and that his approach was announced by the firing of cannon, ringing of bells, &e. The General rode in an open carriage, accompanied by the Governor, and followed by the military and civil procession, as previously arranged. In the evening he attended service at the Methodist Chapel- the town was illuminated, and on Monday he was to dine with the citizens, in an extensive arbor prepared in the State House square. A splendid Ball and supper were to be given him in Monday evening- the Senate Chamber and Hall of representatives having been tastefully prepared for the occasion. Several volunteer companies from the neighboring counties had arrived to assist in paying honor to the Guest of the Nation.]

Zachariah Lamar House, Perspective view showing non-historic rear addition

At his death he owned around 15,000 acres of land, dependent on the labor of 220 slaves. One of his sons, John Basil Lamar, served in the Georgia legislature and very briefly in the United States House of Representatives, and died at the Battle of Crampton’s Gap during the Civil War. He was also one of the so-called Georgia Humorists. His daughter, Mary Ann Lamar, was married to Howell Cobb [the namesake of Cobb County].

St. Paul A. M. E. Church, 1852 & 1899, Rome

St. Paul A. M. E. is the most historic Black church in Rome, established in 1884. A plaque placed by the Rome Area Heritage Foundation notes that this church was built incorporating the sanctuary of the1852 Rome Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and that it was purchased by St. Paul in 1884. A cornerstone dates the building to 1899 and I believe that is when it took on its present appearance. Perhaps this indicates the year that the steeple was added.

Between the Rivers Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Chief James Vann House, 1804, Spring Place

[This replaces a post by the same title originally published on 19 February 2019.]

James Vann (1765, or,1768-1809) was the son of a Cherokee mother, Wa-wli, and Scottish father, Clement Vann. By 1800  he became a principal leader of the Cherokee, due to his wealth and influence as a planter, tavern keeper, trading post operator, and general entrepreneur. In fact, he was thought to be the wealthiest of all Cherokee.

Chief James Vann House, Front Elevation

This home, the first of brick construction in the Cherokee nation, was built between 1804-1806. It served as the seat of James Vann’s extensive plantation on Diamond Hill. It was called the “Showplace of the Cherokee Nation”. Its success was dependent upon the labor of over 100 enslaved people, who were housed in 42 dwellings on the property. Vann was known to be quite cruel to his slaves, or to tolerate cruelty among his overseers, and this is rightfully reinforced through interpretation at the property today. Sometimes described as a “hard drinking business man”, he nonetheless encouraged cultural and educational opportunities for the Cherokee, through his assistance in the establishment of the Moravian mission and school at Spring Place. James Vann was murdered in 1809, presumably as retaliation for killing his brother-in-law in a duel the previous year. He left his home and property to his son Joseph (often referred to as Rich Joe). Joseph was also a Cherokee chieftain. An overnight visit by President James Monroe, traveling from Augusta to Nashville in 1819, was indicative of the prominence of the family and the quality of the house.

Chief James Vann House, Rear Elevation

It is believed that a man named Vogt [possibly James Vann’s brother-in-law Charles Vogt] and Dr. Henry Chandlee Forman were involved in the construction of the house.

Stairway, Chief James Vann House

Diaries of Moravian missionaries at Spring Place indicate that Byhan and Martin Schneider were also instrumental in the construction. It incorporates both Federal and Georgian design elements.

Foyer, Chief James Vann House

A Moravian settler named Robert Henry Howell is believed to have been the brick mason. The stylish interior elements were added during the ownership of Joseph (Rich Joe) Vann and may have been the work of John and James McCartney. Further documentation of this is needed.

Dining Room, Chief James Vann House, with portrait of Joseph Vann

After the Cherokee were driven west on the Trail of Tears, the house was sold and over the next century would have 17 different owners.

Drawing Room, Chief James Vann House

By the time Dr. J. E. Bradford, who had purchased the home in 1920, sold it to the Georgia Historical Commission in 1952, it was in a state of serious disrepair.

Bedroom, Chief James Vann House

An historically accurate restoration of the interior began in 1958 and was completed circa 1964.

The Slave Experience at the Chief Vann House

Re-creation of Kitchen/Workhouse, Chief James Vann House

The historic site uses three-dimensional models and the words of Moravian missionaries to interpret the slave experience at the Vann House. North Georgia was not a stronghold of slavery, so the example of the Vann plantation is exceptional. The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story by Tiya Miles, focuses on this subject, and incorporates previously overlooked primary sources.

Patience, a woman enslaved by James Vann

While the kitchen is very stylized and includes typical interpretive aids related to work, it stands out for the figures representing specific slaves who lived on the property along with brief anecdotes about their lives. The Moravian missionaries wrote in the their mission journal on 25 November 1810: “...a person named Patience caused us to feel much pity. She arrived in Charleston with some other Africans some years ago in the wintertime and afterward came to Vann’s plantation barefooted. She lost both of her feet because of the frost and now has to scoot on her knees…

Pleasant, a woman enslaved by Moravian missionaries John and Anna Gambold at Spring Place

Though the Moravians frowned upon individual members owning slaves, the church could purchase and assign them to missionary families as needed, and their views were ultimately aligned with those of other whites of the time. A middle-aged woman named Pleasant (1758?-1838) was purchased in April 1805 by the Home Church in Salem, North Carolina, and came to Spring Place to serve the missionary couple John and Anna Gambold. She was pregnant at the time. On 21 December 1805 Christian Lewis Benzien wrote to the Unity Elders Conference of the Moravian Church: On Sept. 29 on the way to Spring Place [Pleasant] gave birth to a mulatto infant which was baptized in Spring Place on October 20 with the name Michael…

Michael, son of Pleasant, enslaved by the Gambold family at Spring Place

Michael was given the honor of learning to read and often read the Bible to the Cherokee children at the Moravian school and was highly regarded by his owners, but typical of teenagers, he grew restless. In 1819, at the age of 14, he ran away from the Gambolds and when captured was sold away from Pleasant.

Reconstructed Historic Structures of Chief Vann House State Historic Site

Coahulla Creek corn crib (reconstruction), representative of an early 1800s Cherokee corn crib

To illustrate the contemporary vernacular architecture that would have been present on the Vann property, the Georgia State Parks division has reconstructed representative structures from the area, and built at least one from the ground up [kitchen], for this purpose.

Little Scarecorn Creek Cabin (reconstruction), representative of an early 1800s Cherokee dwelling

The vernacular architectural forms and the use of available material are representative not only of the Cherokee of the area but of the increasing numbers of white settlers, as well.

Sugar Creek Cabin (reconstruction), early 1800s Cherokee building

National Register of Historic Places

Bethel A. M. E. Church, 1878 & 1895, Acworth

Bethel A. M. E. is one of the most historic Black congregations in Cobb County and remains an active part of the community. Membership has ebbed and flowed over the years, as with many churches, but those who appreciate the history do a good job of keeping it alive. The History of Bethel A. M. E. notes: Bethel A.M.E. was built by the skilled hands of freed slaves, and has stood throughout time… Bethel A.M.E.’s church history recalls General Sherman’s march throughout Georgia. At the end of the Civil War, there were 200 freed slaves remaining in Acworth. The emancipated slaves immediately became a vital part of the Acworth community, and took on a monumental task, and used their artistry and skill to build a church. After the end of slavery, members of the Bethel A.M.E. church and Zion Hill Missionary Baptist church shared church buildings. This tradition of alternating Sunday services lasted for many years until Zion Missionary Baptist church moved to a more contemporary church building in 1914; while the members of the Bethel A.M.E. remained in the original church building built by the freed slaves. Bethel A.M.E was built in 1878*, and a bell tower was added in 1895.

*-Some sources list the date of construction as 1882.

National Register of Historic Places

Acworth Rosenwald School, 1924

The Acworth Rosenwald School was originally located on School Street but when Cobb County planned to demolish it in the late 1940s, the community came together and moved it to its present location on Cherokee Street and rebuilt it board by board. It served as a gathering place for Acworth’s Black community, but went through periods of disuse over the years. Due to the efforts of Cobb Landmarks, it has been preserved and is now owned by the city of Acworth. It continues to serve the community.