Building History

History of the Emanuel ArtsCouncil Building

The brick structure on the corner of Green and Church Streets in Swainsboro has a long and rich history. Since its first edification in 1896, it has had only three owners: The Methodist Church, The Church of the Nazarene, and Emanuel Arts Council.

The First United Methodist Church was organized in Swainsboro during the Civil War in 1863. The first structure was built on the site, donated by J.J. Moring, in 1875. During 1896 a new church was built that faced Church Street. That part is now the Kalmanson Gallery and the upstairs studios.

By 1937 Swainsboro was building many new structures. A WPA project in 1936 brought a new Post Office which today is the old part of the Emanuel County Courthouse. The John C. Coleman Hotel, a four story hotel with an elevator, was built on the corner ofUS# 1 and US#80, “the Crossroads of the Great South.” First Baptist Church had just completed a new worship structure. The congregation of First Methodist Church began an addition/renovation on the 1896 building. A two-story sanctuary, social hall, kitchen, and office with a full basement would attach to the old building, which would be converted into a Sunday school wing by adding flooring and stairs to create two-stories. An architect from Savannah was hired for the project. The new church would face Green Street. According to newspaper articles the first services were held in early autumn before the heating system was installed and operational, because later articles noted a drop in attendance due to the cold temperatures.

The Methodists occupied the building until 1957 when they relocated the church to West Main Street where land was donated by Mrs. Frank Mitchell, a direct descendant of J.J. Moring. When the Methodists moved, they took the round stained glass window of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane over the choir loft and alter.

During the 1950s the congregation grew so much that in 1953 a Sunday school attendance competition with First Baptist Church brought over 800 people into the facility on one Sunday morning. The balcony was completed during this period to accommodate more worshipers. A few prominent Emanuel County citizens, Judge Frank Mitchell, Judge Robert Humphrey and Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives George Smith were members and Sunday school teachers during the 1950s.

The Church of the Nazarene held the building until 1982 when the Board of Directors of Emanuel Arts Council purchased it. The Nazarene Church ran a kindergarten program before public kindergarten started in the 1980s. Many local citizens recall attending kindergarten in this building. Not much was done to the building during the ownership of the Nazarenes.

In 1984 the gallery renovation was completed on the old Sunday school wing. Plywood walls that can be easily repaired after each exhibition were added. All windows in the gallery were covered with plywood as well. A ramp and hidden storage room were built in the entrance, which faced Church Street. Custom-made double doors were designed by Neil Kalmanson and built by Tim Goodson of Wadley. The gallery was renamed The Kalmanson, to honor its longtime volunteer director Neil Kalmanson, in 1998.

The sanctuary was converted into an auditorium by removal of the alter and kneeling rail and addition of a stage and makeshift theatrical lighting. The kneeling rail went to Green Bough House of Prayer inScott,Georgia. A new gas heating/air conditioning system was added in 1998. In 2005 the pews were removed, the ceiling repaired and the interior repainted. The original tin shingle roof was repaired and resealed in 2006-7.

During the major renovations of 1984, the kitchen was modernized and a handicapped bathroom installed in the social hall area. A ramp was added to the door for accessibility as well. Today the social hall is the multipurpose room that is used for meetings, classes, camp programs, parties, weddings, flower shows, and events of all kinds.

The organizers of Emanuel Arts Council, Inc. were forward thinkers in purchasing this structure as an arts center. There is enough room to provide many programs and services, and the historic building was saved from destruction. The Georgia office of the National Register of Historic Places has assured Council members that the building housed at the corner of Green and Church Streets qualifies for the registry.

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