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|A brief history of Christ Church, St. Simons Island, Georgia. Historical photos included.|
From earliest history, religion played an important role on St. Simons Island. Early Spanish settlements were established mostly for spreading of the Christian faith. Oglethorpe brought with him to Georgia colonists of many religious backgrounds. The Church of England was, however, the major religion in the new colony. After arriving at St. Simons the first settlers ate breakfast and then heard a scripture reading by the Reverend Benjamin Ingham. Two weeks later the Reverend Charles Wesley, M. A., arrived and began his ministry at Frederica. He also served as the secretary of Indian affairs. Wesley, with his brother John, would later return to England and establish a movement that would eventually become the Methodist Church. While on St. Simons, however, he played a major role in the development of the foundation of the Episcopal Church of America.
In 1752 the charter was returned to the King and Georgia became a Royal Colony. Two years later the Church of England divided the colony into parishes and St. Simons Island became the St. James Parish. In 1808 a state charter created Christ Church at Frederica. A church building was finished in 1820 on the land that is still occupied by Christ Church. The War between-the-States would leave that church in ruins. The plantation house at Black Banks was used for a time after the war as a Sunday meeting place for the Christ Church Parish.
In the 1870s the Dodge Lumber Mills began to play a major role in the economy of St. Simons Island. A young man, Anson Greene Phelps Dodge, came to visit the Island. He fell in love with St. Simons, and became an active member of Christ Church. Anson's wife, Ellen, died in India while they were on their honeymoon trip around the world. He returned to St. Simons and built the present-day Christ Church as a memorial to Ellen. Her body was entombed under the chancel of the church.
Christ Church under construction in the 1880's
Anson Dodge also attended theological seminary and in 1884 became the first rector at the new Christ Church. He founded the Dodge Home for Boys Orphanage, and was instrumental in creating other churches in the coastal area. This included the St. James Church that was built at the lumber mills (now Lovely Lane Chapel). When he died in 1898, Ellen's body was moved and the two were buried together at the cemetery next to Christ Church.
New roofs have been added, paint colors have varied, and the west end of the building was extended in the 1960's. Considering its age, however, Christ Church has changed little and has been maintained very well over the years. A walk through its cemetery is a walk through two centuries of Island history.
The church in the early 20th Century