Photography courtesy of Danny Gilleland

Photography courtesy of Danny Gilleland

 

Zion Episcopal   Org 1847

Zion Episcopal Church in Talbot County is not what one would expect in this small rural town of Talbotton, located in the upper Chattahoochee Valley not far from the Alabama border. It is a magnificent example of English Tudor Gothic architecture and, although no direct link is known to exist, it is reminiscent of the designs of renown architect Richard Upjohn, author of Upjohn’s Rural Architecture published in 1852.  The church was founded and built under the direction of the Rev. Richard Johnson as a missionary church in 1848. It is said that he received financial support from wealthy South Carolina planters who were former parishioners. All we can say is that Zion Episcopal is an architectural treasure inside and out, as you will soon see.

Talbotton was a center of commerce and education when it was founded in 1828.  According to Georgia Geneology, “Talbotton, the county-seat of Talbot, was settled by a class of people who were superior in many respects to the average residents of the pioneer belt, and the town became widely known as an educational center long before the war. At Collingsworth Institute, two of the famous Straus boys were educated—Nathan and Isidor—both of whom became millionaire merchants and philanthropists of New York. It was founded by Josiah Flournoy, a wealthy citizen of the State, and was long a famous high school among the Methodists. The LeVert Female College, named for the celebrated Madame LeVert, was another pioneer institution of the town”.  The Straus boys referred to above eventually moved to New York after the Civil War and founded a huge retail empire that included Macy’s.  You can read more about Isidor Straus here.

The church stands as built in 1848 in all its original glory.  It is another tribute to the longevity of Georgia heart pine, and the local craftsmen who left us this treasure. As pleasing as the vertical boarded exterior is to the eye, the real star of the show is the interior, complete with elegant furnishings of native walnut. The interior roof support beams are thought to be made of rare, white cedar, also from Talbot County forests. The bell tower is supported by massive beams, all connected by wooden pegs and mortise and tenon joints. Some handmade nails were used that were supplied by a local blacksmith’s shop.  Candle sconces were originally attached to each balcony support beam and the outline of those sconces can still be seen today. A single oil lamp that was attached to one of the support beams was lowered and raised in the center of the sanctuary.

The key to the massive front doors is six inches long, and the original 1848 lock still works. When you enter the church, you are swept back in time before the Civil War. The slave gallery is just as it was before the war, when cotton was king and slaves were encouraged to attend but made to sit above the main sanctuary. In addition to the stunning architecture, there is an organ located in the gallery that is the oldest hand pumped organ made by Pilcher in the United States.  It was installed in 1850, and it still works. According to local history, young boys had to pump the organ and watch a gauge to make sure the pressure was enough, but not too much, so the organ could operate properly. 

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the church has not had regular Sunday services in decades, but still has quarterly services operated by the Episcopal Diocese.  Occasionally, they hold weddings and have other functions. We are so grateful for their stewardship of this rural treasure.  Come inside and see for yourself, and for additional Zion Episcopal history click here. Thanks to Chris Cleaveland for filling in the local history.

 

12 Thoughts

  1. Mary Bullion · October 27, 2017 Reply

    I had the opportunity to play a few chords on this this organ yesterday…fortunately, bellows are now electric so no need for two boys! A lovely church in need of much money for repairs to the exterior.

  2. Jean Crittenden Morris · June 30, 2017 Reply

    Betty and Jesse Collins were good friends. We went down many times from Atlanta to the 4 pm service and all of the attendees went home with them for dinner. They both did so much for the church and when they both died and were buried in the yard, it appears that much now needs to be done.

  3. Robert Prater · October 10, 2016 Reply

    It was my privilege to worship in this beautiful church in 1970, when I first came to Georgia. I was honored to be allowed to play the magnificent reed organ.

    One comical note: The celebrant priest announced that someone was to be ordained in the church at Rome and everyone was invited to attend. I thought it odd that the people were being invited to “Rome” for the ordination. Being new to Georgia, I didn’t realize he was talking about Rome, Georgia, and not Rome, Italy.

  4. Jennifer Dixon · September 26, 2016 Reply

    The National Register of Historic Places was not created until the National Historic Preservation Act was enacted, which was 1966. I’d love to know if there was actually any recognition for this church in 1955, as that would be interesting to know what was in place prior to the NRHP, to recognize historic properties! Thank you for all you do!

    • churchadmin · September 27, 2016 Reply

      Thank you Jennifer for pointing this out. The National Register document is dated 1975 and has been changed now.

  5. BILL GARRETT · September 20, 2016 Reply

    THIS CHURCH WAS ON ROUTE WE TOOK TO VISIT OUR FIRST GRANDCHILD IN BUENA VISTA, GA. MANY YEARS AGO. WE ALWAYS STOPPED TO VISIT.
    23 YEARS LATER HE HAS GRDUATED FROM UNIV. OF SOUTH IN SEWANEE (EPISCOPAL SCHOOL) AND IS GETTING MARRIED NEXT SPRING IN THE MOTHER CHURCH (EPISCOPAL) OF GEORGIA IN SAVANNAH. AND IS THE CELLAR MASTER OF RABBIT RIDGE WINERY IN PASO ROBLES, CALIF.
    GEORGE TIME DOES PASS ON!\
    BILL AND VAL

  6. Kathy · September 19, 2016 Reply

    This is absolutely incredible!

  7. Robert h Parrish · September 18, 2016 Reply

    Stunningly beautiful! We are planning to go see the building in November. Is it open any of the time to go inside?, other than the occasional service? We will be in Columbus at the Springer Theater and will be close by.

  8. Jeff Liipfert · September 18, 2016 Reply

    I was one of those boys that pumped the organ when the priest from Saint Andrew’s in Fort Valley would go there once a month to conduct services on Sunday afternoon. The choir from Saint Andrews would go also along with my mother who was the organist. The gauge is a lead weight on the side of the organ attached to a string that had to be kept above a certain mark. I could not see my mother (the organist) from where I pumped the organ, so a choir member sitting at the front corner of the organ would give me a signal to started pumping so there would be enough air in the bellows when the hymn or anthem started.

  9. Jeff Jackson · September 18, 2016 Reply

    One small correction…services are NOT held on the second and fourth Sundays anymore. We have quarterly worship services, usually two in the fall and two in the spring. Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/ziontalbotton for regular updates. Our next service is today, September 18, 2016 at 4:00pm and then on November 13, 2016 at 4:00pm.

  10. Jeff Jackson · September 18, 2016 Reply

    We are so grateful for the excellent photos of our beloved Zion. If anyone would like to schedule a tour, please contact me at 706-761-0115 or email fatherjeff@stnicholashamilton.org. We would love to show you around!

  11. Ed Lummus · September 18, 2016 Reply

    My good frien, Jesse Collins, did a great deal of volunteer work for many years on thr inside and outside of their church. Whe and his wife passed away, their remains were interred at the church. He had gotten help from Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus for his endeavors.

Thoughts