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Founded in 1838

Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church was established in 1838 as Grace Protestant Episcopal Church. It was the sixth Episcopal parish to be established in Georgia. The church building, virtually unchanged today, is the second oldest Episcopal Church building in Georgia; and is believed to be the oldest church building of any denomination still in use in north Georgia.

Clarkesville as a resort town

Clarkesville was the first major resort town in north Georgia. The town was founded in 1823 shortly after a treaty with the Cherokees that placed the area outside Indian Territory. It quickly became a village of hotels and boarding houses for prosperous coastal and lowland families, who began coming to the mountains during the summer to escape yellow fever and other diseases rampant in “low country” communities like Savannah and Charleston.

These families often combined a profession like medicine or the law with the ownership of large coastal plantations. They came to the North Georgia Mountains for the summer with their slaves— whom they called “servants”— on a journey that took at least a week. They often stayed in the mountains for as long as six months, and some built permanent summer homes in the area.

Most of these “summer folk” were either Presbyterian or Episcopalian. Although an “Old School” Presbyterian church had been established in Clarkesville in 1832, many Presbyterians attended church with the Episcopalians until 1849 when the Clarkesville Presbyterian Church building was completed. 1847 church records show that one individual was both a member of the Grace Episcopal vestry and a trustee of the Presbyterian Church.

Georgia wanted a bishop

Grace Protestant Episcopal Church was founded for a specific purpose: so that there would be enough parishes in Georgia for the state to have its own bishop. The Diocese of Georgia had been established in 1823; but until 1840 it was overseen by the Bishop of South Carolina. In 1838, there were only five Episcopal parishes in Georgia: Christ Church, Savannah; Christ Church, St. Simon’s Island; St. Paul’s Church, Augusta; Christ Church, Macon; and Trinity Church, Columbus.

There was no Episcopal church in Atlanta, which was still called Marthasville. The idea of establishing an Episcopal parish in far-off Clarkesville came from the Rev. Edward Neufville, rector of Savannah’s Christ Church, who suggested that the addition of a sixth parish would allow Georgia to elect its own bishop.

A small start

Grace Protestant Episcopal Church held its first service as an Episcopal mission on October 28, 1838. The Rev. Ezra B. Kellogg, the first rector, came from New York State as a missionary. He held Episcopal services twice monthly in the Methodist Church building, which stood where the old Clarkesville Cemetery is today.

The response in the community was disappointingly small in Rev. Kellogg’s opinion. He reported that “there are but three families here decidedly Episcopal, who remain throughout the year. Several others are in the habit of spending the summer in Clarkesville and returning again to their homes in the autumn. On Easter Day, I administered the communion to five persons; and these are all, who can at pre¬sent be reckoned as our own communicants. I have to report but one Baptism and one Marriage.”

In reality, records show that there were many more occasional visitors as well as a number of Presbyterians who attended Grace Church regularly. A Sunday school with forty-two pupils was held in the local school house on Academy Square. When parish status was applied for in April of 1839, thirty names appeared on the list of members.

1839: Church property purchased

An acre lot for the present church building was purchased in 1839, and construction of the building began that year. Subscriptions were called for, and $1,335 was raised to fund the construction. Unfortunately, construction was slowed by lawsuits and drought. Records show that the rivers were so low that year that the water-powered saw mill on the Soque River could not function.

1840: First rector called

In 1840, the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia met in Clarkesville at the Methodist Church, and elected Stephen Elliott as their first bishop. Rev. Ezra Kellogg left Clarkesville in 1841 to become rector of a church in South Carolina. He was succeeded at Grace Church by the Rev. John Bernard Gallagher, who was also a New Yorker. Rev. Gallagher spent half the year in Clarkesville, and the other half as assistant rector at the newly created parish of St. John’s in Savannah. Under Gallagher’s leadership, the Grace church building was completed and dedicated in 1842, by the new bishop of Georgia. Bishop Elliott called it “a very neat wooden building, with a tower and bell, prettily located, and a credit to the village.”

The church building where we still worship today

The original Grace Church building – the frame structure that survives essentially unaltered today – is a superb example of Greek-Revival architecture, characterized in front by tall pillars and a portico. It is the second oldest Episcopal Church building in Georgia; Christ Church in Savannah is one year older. Grace Church survives practically unchanged, which is not true of the Savannah church.

The building retains its original box pews (or slips) with doors to shut out drafts. The tall windows have most of their original glass, which was shipped in cylinders from Augusta or Athens; the twelve window sashes each contain 48 panes. The upstairs gallery, where the choir sits today, originally had benches for the “servants.”

The Henry Erben pipe organ

Erben organ

One of the church’s main treasures is the pipe organ in the gallery, built for the church by Henry Erben of New York City in 1848. Erben is considered the outstanding organ builder of the period, despite his irascible personality—he once pushed the organist at New York City’s Trinity Church down the front steps of that church when they didn’t see eye to eye over the organ Erben was building. It is the oldest working pipe organ in Georgia, and it retains its baroque tone and nineteenth-century pitch. It arrived unassembled, with directions for erecting it. It turned out to be one foot too tall, so a pit was created for the organ in the middle of the gallery.

The organ was completely restored in 1988, and is still played every Sunday. The church’s high pulpit is typical of the period when southern Episcopal Churches stressed the spoken message over the Eucharist and liturgy. Eucharist was usually celebrated no more than once a month.

Surviving Civil War destitution

Grace Church, 1908

The Civil War almost brought about the end of Grace Church, whose supporting families were now destitute, and no longer able to come to the mountains for the summer. The church was reduced from parish status to that of a mission, and at one time it reported only six communicants. Fortunately a few parishioners did move from the coast and settle permanently in their summer homes near Clarkesville. Chief among them were the Kollock family. 

The Kollock family

George Jones Kollock completed construction of his summer home, which he named Woodlands, on New Liberty Road in 1850. This house remains in the Kollock family today. George Kollock served as senior warden at Grace Church from the 1860s until his death in 1894. His great-grandson, well-known author and artist, John Kollock (1929-2014), provided wonderful drawings and watercolors for church use.  He made all the artwork for the 2010 Grace-Calvary cookbook, “Let Us Say Grace.”

The Rev. William Eston Eppes, a member of the Kollock family, served as minister of Grace Church three times between 1852 and 1895. His home, Sunnyside, still stands today near the site of the Holy Cross Chapel.

In 1853, the Chapel of the Holy Cross on New Liberty Road was built on Kollock land. This chapel was used for monthly services for Grace Church members who were unable to make the four mile trip over primitive roads into Clarkesville. Holy Cross Chapel was torn down in the early 1900s due to deterioration and lack of use.

The railroad comes to Mt. Airy

From the Civil War until the mid-1900s, services at Grace Church were conducted irregularly. The coming of the railroad to north Georgia spurred the development of new resort areas and new mission churches along the rail line which by-passed Clarkesville. Calvary Episcopal Church was founded in 1882 in the resort town of Mt. Airy, the highest point on the Southern Railroad between New Orleans and Washington, DC. Mt. Airy was a significant vacation destination during this time, when a new hotel across from the station was considered “the finest hotel north of Atlanta”.

Holding on 

Both Grace and Calvary churches retained mission status well into the twentieth century, with services held no more than once a month. As church members aged, Grace Church suffered losses. Grace-Calvary also declined because of its isolation from the railroad.

Grace Church, 1935

Yet awareness of the historic significance of Grace Church was slowly developing. In 1938, Grace Church celebrated its one-hundredth anniversary. There were articles in the Atlanta newspapers, and a special service was conducted by the Bishop of Atlanta. Several years later, the Grace Church building was declared a shrine of the diocese.

Grace Church continued to struggle during World War II, while Calvary Church in Cornelia became more active. Services continued to be held at Grace Church, but there is no question that it was the concern of Calvary Church members that enabled the historic building to survive.

“I’d220px-highest_mountain_ Climb the Highest Mountain” 

In 1951, Grace Church was chosen as the location for one of the opening scenes in the movie “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain”, and MGM repaired and repainted the building, which aided its survival. 


Slow revival

Chapel of the Holy Cross
Chapel of the Holy Cross Cemetery, 2014

Calvary Church moved from Mt. Airy to Cornelia in 1951. During this same period, Grace Church again began experiencing growth from retirees settling in the Clarkesville area. Many of these newcomers were Episcopalians, and they realized the value of this antebellum building that was virtually unchanged.

In 1964, the first parish hall was built on the property, and in 1966, the Kollock family gave the Holy Cross property to Grace Church for use as a cemetery. Each year on All Saints’ Sunday, church members now gather at the cemetery to remember departed loved ones and enjoy a bowl of “Soup With the Saints.” This scene is depicted in John Kollock’s sketch at the beginning of the Soups and Salads chapter in this book.


Grace Church and Calvary Church combine

In 1971, the combined congregations of Grace Church and Calvary Church were still undersized. Services were held during the six winter months at Calvary in Cornelia, and in the summer months at Grace in Clarkesville. In 1972 the two missions decided to merge officially as Grace-Calvary Church. During the next year, Grace-Calvary was awarded full parish status by the Diocese of Atlanta, with services continuing seasonally at each building as they had in the recent past.

Our church building condemned – and restored! 

The combined parish was immediately faced with a major crisis. Grace Church, while recognized as one of most important historic structures in the state, was judged to be unsafe. The building was condemned, with warning signs and yellow “crime tape” forbidding entrance. It was determined that the structure was six inches out of plumb, and that water and termites were destroying the structural supports of the 130 year-old building.

After much discussion the parish decided to sell the Cornelia building, and to restore the historic Grace Church structure. For months, there was a gigantic horizontal logging chain around the building to keep it from collapsing during the process. The foundation had to be replaced, and turnbuckles were placed in the attic to keep the building level, and to stop the walls from spreading outward.

We grow! 

After the restoration, Grace-Calvary once again managed to grow and prosper. In 1977, the parish hall was expanded with additional classrooms and a nursery. During the tenure of the Reverend St. Julian M Lachicotte (1981 – 1990), a home adjacent to the church was purchased for offices and additional meeting rooms. There was also an increased interest in outreach through collaboration with other churches in the area.

Grace Calvary photo for email newsletter
Grace-Calvary, 2014

Under the leadership of Rev. Lachicotte Grace-Calvary was instrumental in the founding of several ecumenical ministries in the area, including Sharing and Caring, which provides emergency assistance in an organized way. The church also sponsored several new church missions in the Diocese. Rev. Lachicotte’s compassion and concern for those in need are still models for the whole community. After his sudden death in 1990, the parish hall was named St. Julian Hall in his honor. 

Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor: preacher and teacher

Rev. Lachicotte was succeeded by the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor. Under her leadership, Grace-Calvary planted Church of the Resurrection in White County, founded the Foothills Counseling Center, and established a Clarkesville branch of the Hospice of Northeast Georgia. In 1995, she was named one of

Barbara Brown Taylor
Barbara Brown Taylor

the twelve most effective preachers in the English speaking world by Baylor University. This honor drew crowds to church services, thus presenting both Rev. Taylor and Grace-Calvary with special challenges in doing local ministry.

Rev. Taylor resigned in 1997 to become the Butman Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Piedmont College in Demorest, GA, where she still serves. The author of twelve books, Taylor’s memoir Leaving Church received a 2006 author of the year award from the Georgia Writers Association.


2004 – Young families infuse congregation, SJH expands

The Rev. Dann B. Brown followed Barbara Taylor, serving as rector from 1998-2000. Dann and his wife Cindy had two young children. Other young couples were starting families and thus began a new era of growth of this demographic. In 2004, extensive renovations were completed in St. Julian Hall, adding additional classrooms, a commercial kitchen, a large meeting room and an undercroft for the youth. In 2004, the Rev. Dena S. Bearl was called as Rector to Grace-Calvary. Under her leadership the parish continued to grow. Two Sunday services were required to accommodate all of our members in the small church building. While the church grew, it remained true to its history, with a strong commitment to outreach, pastoral care, and spiritual growth.

The preservation of the church, inspired by our predecessors, continued. New pews and prayer desks, reproductions of the originals, were built in the chancel, returning it to its original configuration.

Picture of the Tapestries with this printed beneath them:  In 2009, five hand-woven tapestry altar kneelers were designed and woven by Pat Williams, a church member and noted tapestry artist. The kneelers depict our beloved foothills as a background for the liturgical year. 


Where do we go from here?

After more than a year of exciting leadership from interim priest, Rev. Sarah Fisher, Grace-Calvary called a new priest-in-charge, Rev. Sam Buice, in February 2015. A priest-in-charge serves for a three-year period, during which both priest and congregation have a chance to explore working together. At the end of that time, a priest-in-charge may be called as rector.

As we worship, work and grow together, we are hopeful and expectant about our future and the new ways God will call us further into our mission, which is to be:

…open to all people for communion with God and each other in Christ. Within and beyond this historic church we strive to do God’s work; nurturing our spirits, reaching out to those in need, and valuing and caring for the diversity of God’s creation.

Thanks be to God!

This history was written from extensive research and historical accounts of Grace-Calvary compiled by Dr. David Greene and John Kollock. 

Image coming soon

Related links to external sources

Kitty Stratton blog posting – March 2015

Only in Your State – May 2016

Explore Georgia Listing

Historic Rural Churches of Georgia-Website

Historic Rural Churches of Georgia–Book