The Sardis Methodist Church and Cemetery, located at 3725 Powers Ferry Road NW, Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 9, 2012. The church and cemetery (now known as Sardis United Methodist Church) are located on a relatively quiet five-acre site in the middle of a sprawling urban area of northern Atlanta known as Buckhead. The Buckhead Heritage Society sponsored the nomination and prepared the nomination materials, with the assistance of the owners.
The first incarnation of Sardis Methodist Church on its current site likely dates to the 1840s, around the same time that the nearby settlement of Irbyville came to be known as Buckhead. Most of the adjacent Shady Oaks Cemetery, which likely pre-dates 1869, was deeded to the church in 1888 and 1894. (The name Shady Oaks was no longer used after the 1930s.) Church records indicate that there may be over 750 burials, many in unmarked or crudely marked graves.
Sardis Methodist Church, built in 1927, is a good example of a Colonial Revival church that was designed in a prevalent style of its era, but in a simplified version with little ornamentation, except for the steeple (now a reconstructed copy of the original). The central tower gives it a rural vernacular aesthetic, which reflects the parishioners’ desire to connect with their heritage as one of Buckhead’s oldest sustained congregations. The architect for the church was Owen James Trainer Southwell (1892-1961), who practiced in Georgia from 1919 to 1931. While Southwell designed over 30 churches in Louisiana, Sardis is his only known church in Georgia. The cemetery is one of Buckhead’s earliest cemeteries, as well as the only remaining place associated with several of the first white inhabitants. Burials include Henry Irby (1807-1879), Wesley Collier (1824-1906), and Napoleon Cheshire (1843-1921), who each owned large tracts of land that formed the core of the Buckhead community. The cemetery contains a diverse collection of gravemarkers representing the evolution from a simple rural cemetery to one that reflects more urban characteristics.
With a congregation dating to circa 1848, the 1927 church is at least the third religious building on the site. The current edifice sits prominently on a rise on the southeastern portion of the property. The cemetery is on another hill that occupies the northwestern part of the lot. The church has a symmetrical brick exterior with a central projecting tower on the front. This tower serves as the entry foyer and is topped by a squat wood steeple with classical details. The tower is flanked by one-story appendages with hipped roofs. The main body of the church is a one-story rectangular mass topped by a moderately pitched front-gabled roof. It has modest Colonial Revival details.
One distinctive feature is a brick pattern in monk bond (a variant of Flemish bond) with projecting headers and striated brick faces, creating a rustic look. The interior is dominated by the sanctuary, which features classical details and several stained-glass windows dating to 1941.
The cemetery has a generally informal layout behind a granite retaining wall that separates it from a surrounding driveway. Headstones mark the burial places of some of Buckhead’s influential early settlers. There are a variety of marked graves, ranging from simple fieldstones to elaborate marble headstones and a few enclosed family plots. Known burials date from 1869 through the 20th century, but there is evidence of an unknown number of unmarked graves. The stone Donaldson mausoleum is the only aboveground vault.
The National Register of Historic Places is our country's official list of historic buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts worthy of preservation. The National Register provides formal recognition of a property's architectural, historical or archaeological significance. It also identifies historic properties for planning purposes and insures that these properties will be considered in the planning of state or federally assisted projects. National Register listing encourages preservation of historic properties through public awareness, federal and state tax incentives, and grants. Listing in the National Register does not place obligations or restrictions on the use, treatment, transfer, or disposition of private property.
The Historic Preservation Division (HPD) of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources serves as Georgia’s state historic preservation office. Its mission is to promote the preservation and use of historic places for a better Georgia. HPD’s programs include archaeology protection and education, environmental review, grants, historic resource surveys, tax incentives, the National Register of Historic Places, community planning and technical assistance.
The mission of the Department of Natural Resources is to sustain, enhance, protect and conserve Georgia’s natural, historic and cultural resources for present and future generations, while recognizing the importance of promoting the development of commerce and industry that utilize sound environmental practices.
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