Monday, August 19, 2013

Louvale Church Row & the Rosenwald Coincidence

To revive a popular expression that has only just fallen back out of use (my apologies): a drive through the highways of rural south Georgia for the heritage hunter is like a box of chocolates ~ you never know what you may get, but you know it's going to be good

Bird's eye view of Louvale Church Row along US 27 (Courtesy of Bing Maps)

A drive along US 27 through Stewart County quickly proved that point for me one afternoon when the steeples of three historic churches broke the tree line and caught my eye. A u-turn later, I was at Louvale Church Row, a National Register-listed historic district (NRIS 86000747, listed 1986) located on Old Louvale Road. The district consists of three church buildings dating from the late 19th century, built by congregations that dated from the 1830s and 1860s, and a school building dating from sometime around the 1880s.

Louvale Church Row Historic District in 1985, view to southwest along Old Louvale Road. Excerpt from National Register Nomination (courtesy of Georgia DNR & James Lockhart).

1953 Topographic Map of Louvale (courtesy of
Church Row is visible just left of center.
Louvale was a small community, like many others in this region, that simply never prospered. For some, the death knell came on the wings of the boll-weevil, poor farming conditions, and more frequently, as in this case, the roar of the train (or lack thereof). There are numerous examples of small towns and cross-roads communities in south Georgia that were stars-in-waiting in the eyes of some wealthy entrepeneur, just waiting to be ignited. For Louvale, that man was Dr. William H. Tatum.

When Tatum came to Louvale (either through birth or otherwise), it would have been little more than a post office (established in 1843) called Hannahatchee, after a nearby creek.  Tatum was, in many ways, the first citizen of this community (in esteem, not order); he was recognized as a successful merchant and planter, and held prominent positions, including Mayor. When Tatum was postmaster at Hannahatchee (known as Antioch, by then), he relocated the office closer to his home and renamed it Louvale after his wife Lucy (Lou for short). Tatum seized an opportunity to expand the development of his community by raising funds for the construction of a station and turntable near his home in order to bring the Americus, Preston, and Lumpkin Railroad through Louvale; which was built and connected in the mid-1880s, opening for use in 1887. This has been described as a temporary fixture that was ultimately abandoned in 1892, when the APL railroad was renamed the Savannah, Americus, and Montgomery Railroad, and plans for the line were altered in another direction; however, the line does not appear to have been abandoned at that time, though there were discussions of its potential sale in newspapers in 1895, before the company went bankrupt that year.

Contemporary Article on Tatum's Efforts to Bring the APL to Louvale (Americus Weekly Recorder, April 29, 1886)

SAM Railroad Line (from Rand McNally Map of Georgia, 1892, courtesy of
The Louvale station is marked near the center of Stewart County (far left).
It was in the midst of this devastating blow to Tatum's vision that Church Row came to exist. Tatum owned much of the land in the area of Louvale, including the land adjacent to Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (the community's church). In 1899, he sold an acre to Marvin Methodist Church, a congregation that originated in Green Hill in the 1830s.

Marvin Methodist Church (c.1900)

This church was built on that land, adjacent to the Antioch Church and school, in 1900. The building is a corner tower type with a prominent belfry and squared candle-snuffer roof. This was a very common church type during this time period and in this rural setting. The main entry is through the tower, which was typically the case; the entry is crowned by a transom light and and projecting hood. The handicapped accessible ramp may detract a little from certain views, but this church is a wonderful example of its type.

The interior is equally impressive. Featuring skilled woodwork with the bright white walls contrasting the dark, ash flooring. Sparsely placed, tall and narrow windows flood the building with light, casting shadows in all directions. The building is silent, except for occasional passing of large vehicles on the nearby highway ~ sounds that seem distant, despite being a stone's throw away.

Interior of Marvin Methodist Church (c.1900)

The centerpiece of this church is the chancel ~ the round platform, from which ministers have been preaching for generations. Three chairs sit within the recess at the back of chancel, their golden upholstery provide the only color in room, making them glow in contrast. These chairs are symbolic fixtures in most churches; though typically used by ministers and worship leaders during services, the three (one larger flanked by two smaller) are meant to represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the Holy Trinity). The chancel is accented by an ornate tracery apron, typical of Folk Victorian design.

Marvin Methodist Church Sign

New Hope Baptist Church (19th century building relocated ca. 1901) ~ appears to have undergone renovations from the mid-20th century and more recently as well.

Late in the fall of 1900, Tatum sold an acre lot, adjacent to the new Marvin Methodist Church, to the congregation of New Hope Baptist Church, which was founded in the 1860s within a few miles of Louvale. This building was built soon thereafter. This front gable church building is by far the most common form found throughout rural Georgia during the 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries. This building is clad in asbestos shingle siding, which is also very common for the latter part of that time period, but in this instance it was probably a later addition. This building was built before asbestos shingles were widely used; their appearance suggest they were added in the 1930s or later. All the of the buildings underwent renovation efforts in the mid 1980s. The front porch was added sometime after 1985. There is also a small, 20th-century cemetery behind New Hope, that has been used by all three congregations.

Louvale Church Row Historic District from National Register Nomination, c. 1985. New Hope stands in the foreground, prior to renovations that included the addition of a front porch (courtesy of Georgia DNR & James Lockhart).

Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (c.1885)

When these churches were built on Tatum's land at the turn of the century, they joined an older church and school. Antioch Primitive Baptist Church was first established around 1839 at another location. Later the congregation moved to this site in the 1850s, where they worshiped in simple structures that typically doubled as a school, until this church was built between the 1870s and 1880s. 

Interior of Antioch Primitive Baptist Church in 1985, prior to renovations of the mid-1980s. From the Louvale Church Row Historic District National Register Nomination (courtesy of Georgia DNR & James Lockhart).

Architecturally, Antioch is something to behold. The central tower church is long and wide with a tall gable roof. The central tower is tiered and has a prominent belfry topped with an octagonal spire. The windows are ranked and include an arched transom light over the main entry through the tower. Altogether these features evoke an air of power, order, and grace; but these words do little to convey the building they describe. There is something remarkably simple yet powerful about this building. 

Interior of Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (c.1885)

The word is linear. The extensive use of narrow planks in the interior of this building is astounding. There are so many perfectly intersecting angles that Antioch could be called the 90-degree church. These planks together create an illusion of depth that makes this building feel much longer and wider than is actually the case. Collectively they work like a thousand tiny arrows leading your eyes directly to the chancel, which itself has a magnetic affect to the visitor, drawing you in for a closer look. This is vernacular perfection ~ it has all the power of a baroque cathedral inexplicably trapped in a white crate.

Chancel of Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (c.1885)

The chancel of Antioch appears almost as a shadow of the recess behind it. The recess is framed by a classical motif. The symbolic chairs, representative of the Holy Trinity, appear here as well, with the cross itself playing the role of the larger chair. Within the recess, the siding rises in an upward V, joining at the cross and leading up ~ a symbolic ascent contrasting the devoutly linear interior of the church. 

Organ at Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (c.1885)

For a musician/historian, there is no greater find than a weathered old instrument just asking to be played....

Louvale Community House (c.1900), south elevation

In its early days at this location, Antioch was known to have served as both church and school to the community; in fact, there appears to have been a school building on this property, which doubled as the church, prior to the construction of the present church.  But by the 1880s, a separate church and school building were present. The school was known as the Antioch Institute, which today, is known as the Louvale Community House (if they are one and the same, as presumed). The Antioch Institute was sold to the Stewart County Board of Education in 1895, after which it became a public school. It seems to have been some sort of community school before then, but the details of its student body (black or white, young or old) are not clear. The school was active until the early 1940s, when it was consolidated with another school, and the building returned to Louvale (becoming the Louvale Community House). 

The Louvale Community House is a modest, front-gabled building with no real exterior ornamentation. The south elevation (shown above) features two long rows of windows, while the north elevation (below) is windowless. A storage room at the back of the church does not appear to be original to the building, but may have been an early addition as the materials match.   

Louvale Community House (c.1900), north elevation

At first glance, I was convinced this building was a Rosenwald School. Rosenwald Schools were the product of an initiative between Booker T. Washington and philanthropist, Julius Roswenwald, to improve the conditions of African American schools in the rural south. In the segregated south, finances for black schools were just a third of their white counterparts in the some areas, and many would only operate for a few months of the year.  The Julius Rosenwald Fund was based out of Chicago (and later Nashville), where they oversaw the design and financing of nearly 5000 schools throughout the rural communities of the south between 1912 and 1937.

Interior of Louvale Community Building in 1985, facing the rear of the building.  From Louvale Church Row Historic District National Register Nomination (courtesy of Georgia DNR & James Lockhart).

Distinct designs were produced for the schools based on the number of teachers and the building's preferred orientation. Louvale's Community Building closely resembles the "One-Teacher Type" (shown below). The interior of the Louvale building consists of a large, open classroom and a smaller storage room. The Rosenwald design would also feature a single, open classroom with a smaller "industrial classroom" at the rear of the building. The Rosenwald design addressed concerns over proper lighting and ventilation; windows were grouped in long rows (called "batteries") and the building was elevated atop short masonry piers to improve ventilation. The similarities between the designs are unmistakable.

Rosenwald School Plan for North-South Facing Buildings (courtesy of

But the fact remains that this building was built at least 20 years before the first Rosenwald schools were even designed. Coincidence? It's possible. The program records from the 1930s were collected by Fisk University and a searchable database created of the schools built. The database accounts for five buildings in Stewart County: the County Training School at Richland (a five-teacher type from 1922-23) and an associated teacher's home (1923-24), the Kimbrough School (a four-teacher type from 1928-29), the Lumpkin School (a four-teacher type from 1923-24), and the Omaha School (a four-teacher type from 1926-27). The Omaha School was discussed in an article from the November 2005 issue of Reflections. There is no record of a one-teacher type school built by the Rosenwald Fund in Stewart County, and there were none associated with Louvale. That said, the Fisk University database is not comprehensive. There was also a reference to a colored school at Louvale in the Americus Weekly Recorder from June 1887. Whether this was the Antioch Institute is not known, but it warrants additional research.

The Omaha School, Stewart County (courtesy of Fisk University)

So, what's going on here? Perhaps the Antioch Institute was dramatically altered after 1912 to resemble the Rosenwald design for the benefits of proper lighting and ventilation. There are many buildings throughout the rural south from the Roswenwald era that resemble the design, but have no direct association with the Rosenwald Fund. Perhaps the Antioch Institute did not actually survive and was replaced with this building, which could have been a Rosenwald school that has been overlooked. Maybe a Rosenwald school from a neighboring county was relocated.  A new building could have been on this site by the same craftsman responsible for the construction of Rosenwald schools in the area that simply replicated the designs. Perhaps the Antioch Institute was designed and built with similar concerns regarding ventilation and lighting, which ultimately led the building, by mere coincidence, to closely resemble the Rosenwald design more than 20 years before that design was developed. All are possible, but only one is accurate, and which one that is has eluded me thus far. 

Today, Louvale is a sleepy community of less than 300 people. Newspaper articles from the 1880s paint a picture of small, but active community capable of bringing out twice that number for a special occasion. Tatum's vision, like many others in this area of Georgia, was never realized; however, we inherit from him and his neighbors something remarkable in Church Row. Several churches, integral to the identity of this small community, and architecturally a treasure for us all. More impressive still is the question of this school. Is there really a Rosenwald connection? I honestly don't know, but my impression is that any connection is likely indirect; nevertheless, I think it merits further research. I managed to glean some information from newspapers from the 1880s-1900s on Louvale, including the name of a local periodical (The Louvale News, est. 1893), the name of a teacher (Miss Rosa Haynes, reference from 1887), and a single reference to a colored school at Louvale. Additional research into census records from the 1880s and 1890s could hold the answer to the number and ethnicity of teachers in Louvale. The Louvale News would undoubtedly yield valuable information on the school, as well. If you are familiar with the history of Louvale or this particular building, please share any information you have in the comments on this post. 



  1. What a great job of documentation and research. Can't wait to see these jewels.

  2. Sorry if this was implied and I missed it, but were all the churches built for black congregations?

    1. It really wasn't implied, because I am actually not sure. I looked into census data and historic newspapers to figure that out with little success, I'm afraid. I believe the churches are still in use, but I didn't encounter any local residents when I passed through, and made no attempt to contact the churches themselves later. As you would expect for that time and place, there was a very large "colored" population in the area, but I never found any clear indication of any of these buildings being strictly for one race or another (or integrated, for that matter).

  3. Hello my name is Alexander Richardson and I am a local in this small town. I was doing some research for a research essay that I am required to do for one of my classes and I come across your page Mr. Kear I would like to contact u about some of the information on this page my cell is 706-580-3817. To answer your question the churches are predominately white and the school house was for whites also. The churches are still in use the New Hope Baptist Church is used every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sunday of every month. The Marvin Methodist Church is used every 2nd and 4th Sunday. The Antioch Primitive Baptist Church is used occasionally about 1-2 every 3 months at 6:00 services. Im sure if you traveled through Louvale to see the churches you probably saw Jimmie Dicks Little Museum. That was my grandfathers museum and I have access to it if u would to see it and if u would you like to know anymore questions please contact me.