Series: Old Country Churches
When you head out to someplace with no particular route in mind – just a bit of a plan to head up through the mountains and see if there is any chance you can catch some color with the leaves turning in the fall – you never know what you are going to find. We are always on the lookout for something new, and we usually do find something – something good.
That’s generally how we find old churches – just wandering around looking. And that’s how we found High Shoals Baptist Church a good ways up the mountain above Amicalola Falls in Dawson County, Georgia. We’d taken a detour off the main road to check out the State Park at the falls since I absolutely love waterfalls and have taken many a detour to see them. I’ve had many adventures looking for waterfalls and maybe just a few “un-adventures” too.
We’d stopped at the main part of the park, looked around, and then headed on up to check out the overlook of the falls. Very nice.
Then, we just headed on up the road a piece. We lost pavement after a bit and were thinking about maybe turning back down the mountain and back towards civilization.
That’s when we saw the sign for the church. So, that was it…decision made. Now we absolutely had to keep going up the hill to find that church.
Silly me, thinking it would be just up the road from the sign. Never is. Turned out to be another mile and a half of bad pot-holed, washboard rough, used-to-be-graveled but ain’t no more, north Georgia dirt road.
We finally found the church in the middle of nowhere or, maybe from God’s perspective, in the place exactly where it is supposed to be. At first glance, it didn’t appear to be very old at all…. but it turns out that the building was new; the “church” is much older.
The church or congregation was established there in June 1879 by Samuel Roper and two deacons, Jonathon F.M. West and Samuel Harben.1
This area of Appalachia had been settled from about 1823 although I am sure the Cherokee were in the area long before that. Things went well at High Shoals and the settlers thrived until the 1930’s when the Government decided to create Chattahoochee National Forest. With the Government buying up (and maybe just taking) the land thereabouts, the congregation dwindled down… to few parishioners were left to support the church. The final service was held at High Shoals Baptist in 1934.1
Things went quiet at the old church for many years… no gospel singing, no scripture reading, no eloquent sermons, no altar calls… until the 1970’s when descendants of the original congregation began having “homecoming” services. The Reverend Billy Welch and Flem Vaughters got things going again and a new church building was erected in 1975. (The original building was a log cabin with dirt floors. There are no remains of this building today although the old cemetery remains from the early years.)1
The current church building has no electricity or running water. Propane gas lanterns are used for evening services and heaters in the winter. Water from a nearby spring is pumped in for the outhouses.2
The people came back. As of 2015, it was reported that there are about sixty members with services held on the 3rd and the 5th Sundays each month.2
Things are not so quiet at the church nowadays. The local paper, Dawson Community News, reported on a bit of an unusual occurrence at a revival service held in 2015.2 Seems a great big ole rattlesnake was there to greet the worshippers when they arrived:
“A [big] rattlesnake with 14 rattlers was right beside the front door,” said Harold Evans. “It about scared our visiting pastor to death. But he did give us all a fine sermon that night afterwards.”2
I can only imagine that particular sermon.
Pastor Evans further reported:
“We’ve seen bears, copperheads, rattlers. We’re not that concerned about them up there. We know they’re there.”2
In the country, I suppose you have to be prepared for just about everything.
We wandered around the church and into the cemetery. (We didn’t see any snakes, thankfully!) The Georgia Genealogy Cemetery site reports there are approximately 32 unmarked graves and 11 marked graves.3
Much to our delight, the church doors were unlocked, and we were able to look around inside. There were hymnals in the pews, cushions on the seats, and plenty of those “hand-powered cardboard fans” I remember so well from my childhood days in church.
On the upright piano in the corner the hymnal was opened to page number 479, “Amazing Grace”4
and nearby an old Bible was opened to the 23rd Psalm…..
all waiting and ready for the pastor to step right in and begin the next sermon.
A Psalm of David.
1The LORD is my shepherd;
2He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
4Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
6Surely goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell
in the house of the LORD
It was all very beautiful, and we stopped together for a moment to pray before we continued on our way…a prayer of thankfulness and a hope that this church would continue to serve in God’s love and grace for many years to come.
Sources for Information:
- Primitive homeplace: High Shoals Baptist carries on long traditions – Gainesville Times; September 24, 2011
- Revival at mountain church has uninvited guest – Forsyth News, Dawson Community News; Michele Hester; August 21, 2015; Updated August 22, 2015
- High Shoals Church Cemetery, Dawson County Georgia – Georgia Genealogy
- Amazing Grace > Lyrics | John Newton (timelesstruths.org)