Penfield Baptist Church

Photography courtesy of Gail Des Jardin

 

 Penfield Baptist   Circa 1839

Every church we document and introduce you to at HRCGA is special in some way.  All are historic.  Many of the present existing churches we photograph are quite old, some are unique and some are particularly pleasing to the eye.  Many are the sites of significant, seminal events in local, state & national history, denominational history, social history and more.  Others are architecturally significant in form, building materials, decoration, ornamentation, siting, the age of standing structure, etc.

Then there are the few that are “all of the above… and more”.  Penfield Baptist is one of that rare breed.  This striking Greek Revival building that it presently occupies sits regally, yet reverently, upon a hill on the site where it was built almost 170 years ago…… virtually unchanged from the day it was originally constructed by David Demorest to serve as Mercer University’s Chapel in 1845-46.  Mercer had been established at Penfield, Georgia as a manual labor school in 1833.  It prospered in the 1830’s-50’s and grew powerful as one of the most prominent learning institutions, and a seat of the Baptist movement in Georgia.  Unfortunately, because of Penfield’s rural and isolated nature, and its steady demise during and after the Civil War, the Georgia Baptist Convention voted to move the University to Macon, Georgia in 1871.

The original congregation of Penfield Baptist was organized in 1839 after the destruction of Shiloh Baptist by a tornado.  The original church was a wooden building and stood to the right of what would be constructed as Mercer Chapel about six years later.  After Mercer University moved to Macon in 1871, the University gave the Mercer Chapel to Penfield Baptist and the congregation took immediate occupancy of their grand, new home and flourished there into the mid-1900’s.

During the 1970’s, the Penfield congregation could no longer support the upkeep of the Chapel, and it was returned to Mercer.  The structure was placed in danger of loss.  Providentially, there was a renaissance of appreciation for heritage and for such grand and important structures in the late 20th century.  Mercer Chapel was a beneficiary of that movement. It was completely restored to its original condition and given back to the Penfield Baptist Church.  This is a heart-warming example of a true ‘historic rural church of Georgia’ being saved for the enjoyment and use of generations to come.

For church location and directions click here.

8 Thoughts

  1. Virginia Bolton · April 5, 2016 Reply

    I have transcribed the minutes of the Penfield Baptist Church from 1839 until the time Mercer University left Penfield and moved to Macon, I also added brief biographical sketches of many of the people mentioned in the minutes. Would you have any interest in these transcribed minutes?

    • churchadmin · April 6, 2016 Reply

      Yes we would Virginia. We are working with Georgia Tech now to design a system that would allow history like this to be submitted and archived on our website. This is great history and it needs to be accessible and safe in the cloud. Send us a message at info@hrcga.org and we discuss the particulars. Thanks so much for doing this.

  2. Richard Lindsey · July 16, 2014 Reply

    I went to grade school in the old Mercer building that burned several years ago and remember the Mercer students coming to the Mercer Chapel. That was always exciting for us as children to see the activity at the Chapel.

  3. Olivia Marquez (Livi Wells) · March 23, 2014 Reply

    Thanks, Mike, for your excellent comment. Mercer is a very special place to many of her students. Lifelong friendships and memories were shaped there. My son’s and daughter’s great grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Spright Dowell rest in the cemetery at Penfield. We must plan a day trip to Penfield with the grandchildren.

  4. MYRT GREEN JR · March 21, 2014 Reply

    I loved this picture and realy like seeing old or historic buildings espicly churches and court houses………any pictures and info you might send my way would be great…y’all are doing great work. thanks……

  5. Winston Skinner · March 21, 2014 Reply

    I visited here some years ago. Great to see the photo and to learn it has been restored. What a special place. Jesse Mercer, founder of the university, is buried at Penfield, too, if I remember correctly.

  6. Michael Cass · March 19, 2014 Reply

    Penfield Baptist is the “mother church” of the thousands of us whose lives have been informed and enriched by Mercer University. Thanks for the photograph and the text.

    • churchadmin · March 20, 2014 Reply

      Thanks Mike. Well said. It is hard to properly appreciate all the blessings of today without some sense of where they came from.

Thoughts