Saving Grace

Hundred-Year-old church finds a home at Hundred Acre Farm

Just east of Madison, nestled on a hillside off Highway 278, is a farm, a hundred-acre farm in fact, with picturesque red barn buildings, chickens roaming by the dozen, and rolling grassy fields.

Aptly named Hundred Acre Farm, the land is owned by Dr. Ellis Johnson and his wife Crystal Johnson.crystal-ellis

Ellis, who taught as an Industrial Engineering professor at Georgia Tech, purchased the farm about 26 years ago.

Since then, the farm has flourished into a rural paradise featuring its own bed and breakfast, the Farmhouse Inn, which has become a popular wedding venue – a space in need, perhaps, of its own chapel.

Last year, the Johnson family received word of the impending demolition of the 100-year-old Sugar Creek Baptist Church and jumped at the opportunity to intervene.

“That 100-year-old building tells the story of Morgan County’s humble beginnings. Like that story, the building is not flashy and ornate, but rather a simple rural church,” explains Christine McCauley, Director of the Madison-Morgan Conservancy, who first approached the Johnsons about acquiring the church building.

“Our tendency as a community is to protect the big old white house with columns or the Romanesque Revival school, or the courthouse. But to preserve the full spectrum of Morgan County’s history, preserving buildings like Sugar Creek Church is equally, if not more important.”

From left: Members of the Morgan County Conservancy Nancy Greene, Ken Kocher, Christine McCauley, Wes Holt, and Mary McCauley join Hundred Acre Farm owner Crystal Johnson and house mover Adrian Bishop in celebrating the efforts to preserve the historic church.
From left: Members of the Morgan County Conservancy Nancy Greene, Ken Kocher, Christine McCauley, Wes Holt, and Mary McCauley join Hundred Acre Farm owner Crystal Johnson and house mover Adrian Bishop in celebrating the efforts to preserve the historic church.

The church traces its beginnings back to 1806, predating the Civil War by 55 years. McCauley says the congregation was originally made up of both black and white parishioners, but split in 1867, just after the Civil War. “It tells the story of our settlement and rural lifestyle,” she says. “That simple, small, quaint building is a visual reminder of a way of life. Once those images are gone, the story goes too, since there’s nothing left to remember it by.”

Having weathered one hundred years’ worth of extreme Georgia weather, the old church had definitely seen better days. With major structural instability, water damage, and walls ridden with mold, the century-old building was to about be destroyed.

According to the Rev. Dr. Jackson, Pastor at Sugar Creek Baptist Church, the congregation would have loved to restore the building if they had the resources.

“We would have loved to save it, but we did not have the means to do it ourselves,” says Jackson.

Sugar Creek Baptist Church lies not even one mile down the road from the Farmhouse Inn at Hundred Acre Farm and owners Ellis and Crystal knew what they had to do.

For a $10 fee, the Johnsons struck a deal with Sugar Creek Baptist Church that would give them ownership of the structure.

While $10 might seem like a steal, the church’s new owners knew, financially, they had a long road ahead of them, even though it was only moving ¾ mile down Highway 278.

Morgan County’s historic Sugar Creek Baptist Church building was moved earlier this year to Hundred Acre Farm, less than a mile away from its original location.
Morgan County’s historic Sugar Creek Baptist Church building was moved earlier this year to Hundred Acre Farm, less than a mile away from its original location.

The moving process began by jacking up the church and placing it on steel beams. The roof and steeple of the structure were removed and the concrete ramp and foundations were demolished.

“The total cost of this step was about $60,000. This price was very reasonable considering the skill required and permits needed,” says Ellis.

After purchasing the structure and the grueling move down the highway, the church was planted in its new forever home and the repairs began.

The church received a total makeover including a new septic system, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning.

Because this church will be used for weddings at Hundred Acre Farm, the structure also features a changing room for the bride, a changing room for the groom, an office, staff living room, and two restrooms.

“The total cost, including all of the rehab work has been about $200,000,” says Ellis.

With preservation in mind, Crystal and Ellis focused on what could be salvaged from the structure.

“First there was getting it settled and up to code. This involved adding more piers, putting new insulation in the walls, and adding a full-length structural beam for the roof. Then there was removing later additions,” said Ellis.

Removal of additions such as carpeting and a drop ceiling revealed two hidden gems that everyone prays to find – old pine floors and a bead-board arched ceiling.

To revert back to the church’s original feel, fabric cushions were also removed from the pews, many of which are original and handmade.

“In the case of the floors, it involved re-sanding and refinishing the beautiful pine flooring. Most of the original bead-board walls and ceiling were replaced with a new equivalent board, and the exterior boards were replaced in a small number of cases and repainted,” explains Ellis.

The historic church also featured beautiful pink and blue stained glass windows, several of which were broken and replaced. Crystal Johnson took creative license and hand-painted the new windows with depictions of flowers, butterflies, and birds.

The farm hosted its first wedding in June. Owner Crystal Johnson’s niece, Jing, was married in the new chapel to her husband, Tom Schrier. Wedding photography by Chase Lanier, www.ChaseLanier.com.
The farm hosted its first wedding in June. Owner Crystal Johnson’s niece, Jing, was married in the new chapel to her husband, Tom Schrier. Wedding photography by Chase Lanier, www.ChaseLanier.com.

doorway-pewsThe church was essentially completed in June and the addition of a steeple is yet to come.

With a new life and purpose, the Sugar Creek Baptist Church will live on as a place for weddings, conferences, and church retreats.

“It’s a great feeling that we could restore the church. It’s also a great feeling that the structure is still visible from Highway 278,” says Farmhouse Inn Assistant Manager Charles DuBose.

Both the Johnson Family and the staff at the Farmhouse Inn believe that the church’s short relocation down the road is part of a greater plan.

“We feel that we have been a part of a plan by God and are grateful to Him for including us in this way,” says Ellis. “In addition to the spiritual satisfaction, we are confident that this property will become an integral part of our offering.”

With two weddings already on the calendar, the Farmhouse Inn is planning for a busy fall season.

The Johnsons say they are thrilled to have a piece of Morgan County’s history on their land and are proud to share the story of how a 100-year-old church found a home on Hundred Acre Farm.

Written by Jamison Hooks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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