Giving Thanks in the Oldest Church Still In Use In
For generations the families of Northeast Georgia have been worshipping and giving thanks in churches tucked away in mountain valleys and perched on hilltops with their church spires gleaming in the autumn sunshine. The sight of a pretty white church against a background of flaming autumn colors and the church spire silhouetted against a sky the bluest of blue can bring words of praise to young and old.
Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church in Clarkesville established in 1838 as Grace Protestant Episcopal Church is a treasure tucked away in the heart of Clarkesville. It is believed to be the oldest church building of any denomination still in use in Northeast Georgia.
To better understand the history of this beautiful, old church, learning more about the history of Clarkesville is essential. Clarkesville was one of the first major resorts in Northeast Georgia. Many families would come from the swampy lowlands of Georgia and South Carolina, where yellow fever and other diseases were rampant. They would spend the summers in the cooler mountains and stay for sometimes as long as six months. Some of these families owned large plantations around Savannah and Charleston and would bring servants with them and some built summer homes in the area. A large number of these summer visitors were either Episcopalian or Presbyterian.
Desiring a place to worship Grace Protestant Episcopal Church held a service for worshippers for the first time on October 28th 1838. The first Rector came from New York State as a missionary. The Rev. Ezra B. Kellogg held Episcopal services twice a month in the Methodist Church building which used to stand where the old Clarkesville Cemetery is today.
In 1839 the acre lot where the present church building stands was purchased and $1,335.00 was raised to fund the construction. Construction was slow and records indicate that rainfall was so low that year, the water-powered saw mill on the Soque River could not operate.
Amazingly, the Grace Church building frame structure, remains essentially unaltered today. It is described in the church website history as “a superb example of Greek-Revival architecture, characterized in front by tall pillars and a portico. It is the second oldest Episcopal Church building in Georgia”.
The Civil War era had a damaging effect on the life of Grace Church. Many of the families who supported the church were financially destroyed by the war. The church dwindled in size and was reduced from a parish church to a mission. Fortunately some of the summer visitors settled permanently in the area. One of the main families were the Kollock family, ancestors of the well-known and beloved artist John Kollock. In 1853, the Chapel of the Holy Cross on New Liberty Road in Clarkesville was located on Kollock Land. For families who were unable to make the four mile trip traversing primitive roads to Grace Church in Clarkesville, monthly services were held at the Holy Cross location. In the early 1900’s Holy Cross was demolished due to deterioration of the building. Today the Holy Cross property, given to the church by the Kollock family, is used as a cemetery.
Grace Church has had a long and interesting history. In 1951 MGM repaired and repainted the building for the use of the church in the opening scene of the movie “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain”. Many factors have contributed to the long life and growth of the church, including the addition of the Calvary Church congregation which moved from Cornelia to Clarkesville. The Cornelia building was sold to provide funds for major structural repairs to the Clarkesville building in the early seventies.
For a more detailed and extensive history visit http://www.grace-calvary.org