Money from the state will help restore original sanctuary of Nicholsonboro Baptist Church.
By Marcus Holland
The one-room, original sanctuary of Nicholsonboro Baptist Church, off White Bluff Road, desperately needs help.
And help's on the way -- soon -- with a $12,000 grant presented Thursday.
"We started working toward the preservation of the church last year ... raising funds," said Bernice Battise, the church's historian. "With the grant money we got today, we should be able to complete the project."
The grant requires the church -- Chatham County's oldest rural black church in basic original form -- to raise the remaining $8,000 needed for the restoration.
Battise said state Rep. Burke Day of Tybee Island, an heir of the Days Inn chain, presented a $4,000 donation from the Cecil B. Day Foundation, too. "But, we need all the help we can get. We need the support of the community," she added.
Officials from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Historic Preservation Division presented the grant, in the form of a large mock-up check.
Last year, the DNR's Daryl Barksdale said, the agency received applications from about 93 historic sites and funded 22. At that time, Nicholsonboro just missed getting funded.
"This project is very unusual ... a very unusual old wooden church," Barksdale said of the sanctuary built in 1870 and used until 1890 when the present sanctuary was constructed next door. "There's not that many old wooden churches around. It's an unusual resource."
"So often we're prone to tear something down that's a little old," said state Rep. Anne Mueller, who helped obtain the grant. "Yet we travel to Europe and other places to see something old. It's worthy of being saved."
Before the ceremony, church member Ramona Reddick, a Savannah College of Art and Design graduate, and Antonio Aguilar, a rehabilitation architect from the state, stood in the small sanctuary and talked about renovations while Mueller pulled the church bell's rope.
Aguilar was concerned that any changes made over the years be removed. "Too much change will present a false sense of history," he said. "We don't want to do that. But we'll look at old pictures and decide on the best way to make it look original."
Once the renovations are complete, Battise sees a lovely church painted white where groups can come and learn what happened years ago.
The building, with shutter windows, a small loft choir space, and a bell that still tolls, was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. A historic marker on White Bluff Road cites the church as a primary monument to the community.
"The long-term goal is to open the building to the public ... (to) share with everybody," Battise said. "We want to open it for the public and invite schools and churches to come in."
The church's historian said Nicholsonboro Baptist is still looking for a qualified preservationist to do the renovation.
The project started last year when a SCAD professor brought students out to make a structure analysis of the old building.
Nicholsonboro Baptist Church was organized in 1850 on St. Catherine's Island. Members of the original congregation were slaves on the plantation of Jacob Waldburg, a wealthy landowner.
Unable to come to terms with the new landowners after the Civil War, about 200 former slaves moved from the island to the White Bluff area. They settled at Cedar Groves Plantation near White Bluff and began worshiping in a bush arbor.
"Some of the original settlers are buried in the Cedar Groves cemetery," Battise said.
Community news reporter Marcus Holland can be reached at 652-0332.
Web posted Monday, July 27, 1998