Among the stunning reminders of Grovetown's past are pictures of buildings that have now passed into oblivion. Whether through old age, fire or simple neglect, many of these structures have disappeared.
Gone, but not quite forgotten, is a former house of worship that flourished when Grovetown was a tourist resort.
The Episcopal church known as Heavenly Rest was an attractive wooden structure with stained-glass windows, elevated floors and a seating capacity of about 200. A symbolic white dove of peace graced the church's entrance.
The edifice was a rural gem at the time of its opening in 1889, and was a credit to the resident colony of Grovetown. The land on which the church stood was donated by Dr. Joseph Hatton, an early Grovetown government leader.
The rustic Gothic architectural style of Heavenly Rest was similar to one that previously had been completed in Pennsylvania on a blueprint crafted by the New York Building Co. The builder was Fred Capes, a local contractor, who completed it at a cost of $1,785 in less than three months.
In its infancy, the church in the wildwoods was a picturesque site. With the melodious tones of the church bell ringing from its tower, it summoned worshippers March 31, 1889 to its opening ceremonies with the Rev. John Gass officiating. The church was on Ford Avenue, near where the Wilson residence is now. The street name was derived from an official of the Episcopal church in Augusta at the time.
For quite a few years, people commuted by rail the 15 miles from Augusta to enjoy the aromatic pine breezes of the village at the foot of the hills. Such breezes were thought to be good for the health. Many of these visitors stayed at the Rosland Hotel. On weekends and during the summer, they frequented the church and its popular services.
After the sanctuary was established, it was dedicated as a memorial to Grovetown's beloved icon of verse, poet and man of letters, Paul Hamilton Hayne, who had died a few years before.
Hayne was considered one of the best Southern poets of his era. His efforts were admired and appreciated on both sides of the Atlantic. He spent the last 20 years of his life in self-imposed exile in the vicinity, pursuing his writing in the midst of oaks and pines at his Columbia County retreat called Copse Hill after his home in Charleston, S.C., was destroyed during the Civil War.
Hayne's works can still be found in universities throughout the country. A monument on Greene Street in Augusta, placed in 1913, memorializes Hayne and other Southern poets.
With the deaths of the local church wardens, namely Dr. Hatton in 1903 and Joseph Hill in 1909, membership in Heavenly Rest dwindled. The end of the resort boom spelled the demise of the church. Ultimately, it was dissolved and deconsecrated. Some of the handwritten records of this former church are kept at the Episcopal Diocese in Savannah.
In the mid-1920s, Grovetown Methodist Church used the abandoned facilities for its services during the construction of its new tabernacle. For a time, various lodges used the building for their meetings. Neighborhood dances were held in the structure during the Great Depression.
After much neglect, the old building burned to the ground in the 1940s. Thus exited another of Grovetown's treasured relics.
The only remaining visual remembrance of the church is the marble cornerstone, which was placed at the foot of Hayne's grave at Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta. That placement came after impressive ceremonies at the unveiling of a monument at the grave dedicated to him in 1931.
Coincidentally, with the recent ground-breaking for a satellite branch of Augusta Technical College in Grovetown, few know that a technical school, the Paul Hamilton Hayne Institute, once operated in Birmingham, Ala.
A street also bears Haynes' name in Grovetown, and recently Columbia County has erected signs on a bridge near the road where his old homestead once stood. In addition, a section of the Grovetown Museum is dedicated to this noted American writer of the post-Civil War era, and a Georgia historical marker stands on the museum's front lawn.
Old photographs, mementos and other keepsakes help perpetuate the legacy of Church of the Heavenly Rest, a part of our tour down memory lane through the yellowing pages of Columbia County's bygone days.
Today, only a handful of Grovetown's older residents recollect this sacred institution.
Charles Lord, of Grovetown, is a local historian.
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