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Suspicious fire destroys Smallest Church in America
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People gather outside the remains of the Smallest Church of America in Darien. The tiny landmark was destroyed by a fire officials are calling suspicious early Saturday morning. - photo by Lewis Levine

Help rebuild the Smallest Church in America

A GoFundMe page has been established to raise money to build the Smallest Church in America, off Water Tower Road in Darien. The page also carries this message:

The Smallest Church in America, an important cultural and religious landmark in McIntosh County since 1949, has been burned. On behalf of South Newport Baptist Church, we would like to rebuild our neighboring church building. Any funds will help.

Funds can also be sent to
Smallest Church Fund
23344 US Hwy 17
Townsend, GA 31331

DARIEN — A fire that destroyed the structure of the Smallest Church in America is being called suspicious.

McIntosh County firefighters were dispatched to the scene, off Water Tower Road just west of Highway 17 in Darien, about 1 a.m. Saturday, county fire Chief Mark Deverger said.

When they arrived, the tiny church building was “pretty much engulfed in flames,” Deverger said.

Crews put out the fire within 30 minutes after the first truck arrived, but it was too late to save the landmark.

Deverger said he couldn’t elaborate on the cause other than to say it’s being ruled suspicious, but he did say he has called in the State Fire Marshal’s Office to investigate.

A sign says the Smallest Church in America is “Christ’s Chapel in Memory Park,” welcomes visitors and identifies the church as nondenominational. The bottom of the sign says the church was “built in 1949 by Mrs. Agnes Harper and Deeded to Jesus Christ.”

The church was a “dream come true” for Harper, who was a local grocer, according to

“She wanted the chapel to serve as a place of meditation and rest for weary travelers,” the website says. “Although small, the structure is not lacking in character and beauty, with stained-glass windows imported from England. Local ministers still lead nondenominational worship there every third Sunday and the church is very popular, for it remains one of the most unique structures along the Georgia Coast Scenic Byway.”

Donald Oldham, an associate chaplain at the Liberty County Jail, spoke about what the church has meant to the community. He said the building at one time had occupancy for 16 people, “and you could come and do a small service, do a small wedding.”

“They had a light that used to hang over the door, and when you come in the building, the lights would come on,” he said. “And when you went out, would go off. So you always had light while you were here for the service.”

He said his understanding is that the descendants of Harper are “going to rebuild” the church.

“I’ve listened to several people that knowing about it being here for a while, and it’s a heartbreak,” Oldham said of the building's destruction. “Because some people have come through here and they knew that the Smallest Church in America was here, and they came to it as a place of solitude and solemnity.”

Deverger said the loss of the Smallest Church is “very devastating.”

“You hear the people talk that’s been coming up today,” he said. “It’s a lot of memories of this place. And I’m hoping that they can go back and rebuild just like it was.

“It’s a big blow,” Deverger added. “You hear people in the community out here. They all talk about it, and upset about it, about it burning, hoping it can be rebuilt. It was very disappointing to me that somebody would actually do something like this.” 

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