Called White Bluff Meeting House for two centuries, this church’s property was deeded to the congregation by King George II in 1759. Their history dates back to 1737 when 160 Germans sailed to Georgia and traded five years of civil freedom for what they hoped would be a lifetime of religious freedom. They had immigrated to the Georgia colony from the Palatinate (southwestern Germany) with names like Burckhalter, Stonhebel, Keifer and Swizer. Soon after completing their terms as indentured servants, each received land grants of 50 acres in the Vernonburg area.
These German settlers, followers of the Reformed (Calvinistic) theological tradition, petitioned the colony’s trustees for their own preacher. Meanwhile, a Reformed minister, John Joachim Zubly (born in Switzerland and ordained in London) came sailing toward the Georgia colony at his own expense and docked at Savannah in February of 1745. The next day, upon hearing Zubli preach, the German Reformed settlers again petitioned the trustees asking for Zubli as pastor and land on which to build a meeting house. By August of 1745, the Reformed congregation had received their grant, which included two acres of land (where the church stands today) and 100 acres of “glebe land” along the Vernon River to be farmed in support of the church. The congregation also received building materials “not to exceed 40 schillings” for their meeting house which also functioned as a school.
Although early church records are sketchy, historians believe the congregations first three buildings were small frame structures. During the Civil war, the meetinghouse was abandoned, vandalized by Union troops, repaired then destroyed by fire in 1889. The White Bluff congregation erected a new frame building on the site in 1895. It was moved to the rear of the church’s property in 1962 but burned by vandals the following year.
Today the only visible testimony to White Bluff’s early history other than the old church bell next to the historical marker out front is the cemetery located in the grove of ancient trees behind the present church complex. Unfortunately, many of the oldest headstones were hewn and carved from cedars that have long since disintegrated. Existing head stones date to the early 1800’s. During the entire 19th century and well into the 20th, Sunday school was the only weekly service because the small congregation was unable to afford a full time pastor. Classes, attended mostly by women and children were held outside, often in buggies or wagons and later in automobiles. Church services were held inside once a month.
The following is an account of one of these services found in a church record from 1848:
“The vehicles in which the congregation had assembled were scattered around the trees. The drivers were rubbing down the horses while the children hunted for hickory nuts. The men grouped around a spring gossip session until the final ringing of the bell called them in together. The choir consisted of a half a dozen or more stalwart fishermen crowded into one pew and singing with energy that made up for and artistic defects. The volume of the sound was astounding.”
Although long considered a non-denominational community church, White Bluff was supplied mainly with pastors who were deemed reformed or Presbyterian of Calvinistic Theology. The first pastor, Zubli was involved in the Georgia Colonial Assembly and the Second Continental Congress. Today’s congregation worships in a modern brick sanctuary of Gothic inspired architecture built in 1961. In 1945 they affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in the United States.