As the Civil War came to a close, the longer more enduring struggles were just beginning as the citizens of our Nation worked to navigate their newly defined reality. As laws, norms, and roles shifted, the most intrepid of Americans worked to carve a place for themselves and a future for their families.
In 1866, just one year after the war had ended, a group of ex-slaves from the Broadfield Plantation in Georgia started a small Baptist congregation where they could worship freely for the first time, and over the next 10 years, they built this church. Updated in 1885 and moved to its current site, it is one of the best preserved and oldest examples of African American Vernacular architecture in Georgia. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
Sitting just beside it is this one room school house, built in 1907 which offered the only option to the community for elementary education until desegregation in the 1960’s.
Imagine for a minute how it must have felt to have been able to openly observe their faith for the first time. And how proud they must have felt as the preacher gave his first sermon within these four walls. This church and school represent so much in regards to southern history and how fortunate for us that it still stands to remind us.
[Needwood Baptist Church- Glynn County, GA c. 1870’s]
Born in 1844, George Washington Thomas arrived just 8 months before Florida gained statehood. The frontier to which he was born had seen two Florida-Indian wars, English ownership, Spanish ownership, and invasion by U.S. troops in its last 50 years, but the second half of the 19th century would bring more changes than anyone could’ve ever imagined.
On May 21, 1864, George enlisted in Florida’s 1st Infantry, Company I at Lake Butler for the Confederate States of America. At the close of the war, he would return safely to his home in Union County, but his father in law, Thomas Gaskins, was not as fortunate. He succumbed to wounds received in battle in nearby Baker County in 1864.
As the war ended, I think about how much different life was before and after. All of the changes and shifting in the post-war period must have been challenging to say the least. But people like George kept moving, kept building, kept farming and kept growing their families. He was active in and nurtured the surrounding community and left a long line of descendants to carry his memory. And luckily for all of us, he left us this place as well.
In August of 1907 at 63 years old, he deeded this piece of land for a community church, schoolhouse, and cemetery. Although building began shortly after, George would pass away in November of that year, never having seen the finished product. As the story goes, the community thought he should have one service in the place he cared so much about, so his casket was laid cross-wise along the exposed floor beams of the half-finished church. His was the first burial at the cemetery.
Born in the middle of a very tumultuous time, this man was able not only to adapt, but to grow himself, his family, and his community. An honorable legacy to be sure.
[Union County, FL- Midway Church of Christ]
Built in 1922 by L.Edward Bradley Sr., this old barn houses a grist mill which has been grinding corn for the store and local farming community for 92 years. Bradley offered custom corn milling to local farmers and sharecroppers on Saturdays as his was the only mill in the area. People would bring their corn by horse drawn wagon from miles to Bradley’s Grist Mill; it became known locally as ‘Corn Grindin’ Saturday.’
[Mr. L.E. Bradley (right) standing in front of Bradley’s Country Store in 1930 with Edward Bradley (left)]
Shortly after, his country store began selling these grits which were known for their extra coarse grain, which takes longer to cook, but produces corn grits with much more robust flavor. Although the building has remained in continuous use since its opening, it fell in to a state of disrepair over the years.
[Bradley’s Grist Mill before restoration- 1976; picture courtesy and property of the State Archives of Florida– Dorothy Dodd photographer]
(Check out pictures of the place just before restoration in 2011 on this blog)
But in 2012, the Bradley Family and other families from the area banned together to restore the building to what you see today. And because they did, nearly 100 years later, you can still get Bradley’s Country Mill Grits made in the same way for more than 3 generations. Hopefully this beautiful old place has many more generations to go, thanks to the restoration efforts of the community.
[Bradley’s Grist Mill & Country Store– Felkel/Bradley, FL Leon County]