Young's Chapel | Ben Hill County Georgia | c. 1876
The first time I had the privilege of stepping foot in this church, I knew the 400 mile round trip to get there was more than worth it. This place stands in cotton country and reminds of a time when things were simpler.
The hollow acoustics inside echo with the sounds of the birds who have made their homes in the rafters. The piano sits amongst the original pews and this single chair that stood next to the altar. Just beyond this window are the headstones of the church’s original members.
A congregation began meeting nearby under brush arbor around 1875 and likely built this church in the late 1870s. Some years later it was moved about three miles to its current location on land donated by John Thomas Young. Founded by a community of farmers and their families, this small rural community was called Ashley at back then.
During this era, as the United States redefined, rebuilt, and reshaped, rural life must’ve been difficult. But building a church in the middle of their small farming community tells me that they had hope for their future on that land.
They couldn’t have known the changes and challenges that would lie ahead. There was no way for them to foresee that within 100 years, this place would become too isolated, too disconnected. Wars would be fought, industry would shift, and life would change. Work went elsewhere and so did the people. In 1971, the last renovations were made to this building by a few remaining members in an effort to save it but by 1974, only 8 members remained.
This very simple old church house was no longer as useful as it had once been for the people it served.
I wonder who sat here last and what memories they could share of this place. What was the last song played on the piano? I think about all of the ceremonies, celebrations, funerals and life that happened here.
What will the next 100 years hold for this place?
Sometime in late 2016, this church was struck by a tornado and the back wall was dealt what might've been its last blow.
I’ve taken two trips back to this church since the tornado (June 2017 and September 2018) to document it as much as possible before its gone for good. The photos you see in the slideshow below highlight the tornado damage.
During my visit in 2017, we were lucky enough to meet a member of the Young Family who was there farming the land that surrounds the church (which his family has owned and farmed all these years).
He mentioned that he was sad about the most recent damage but that he ultimately hopes that the building is brought down. It's too far gone to be repaired and now, he has to look at it every day while he works the land. This building has a completely different meaning to him and his family than it does us so I can only imagine how heavy it must be to see it get worse and worse each day. We can only hope that they might be able to salvage some of its parts to breathe life into some other place.