1951 Mizell Reunion, Little Utah Church, Axson, Georgia

HISTORIC MORMON COMMUNITY IN ATKINSON COUNTY, GEORGIA

HISTORIC MORMON COMMUNITY IN ATKINSON COUNTY, GEORGIA

 LITTLE UTAH

 LITTLE UTAH

"the most Saints I have seen 

since I left Utah."

"the most Saints I have seen 

since I left Utah."

"the most Saints I have seen 

since I left Utah."

  

Elder George L. Tate

McDonald [Axson], GA

9 June 1906

 

"the most Saints I have seen 

since I left Utah."

Few things tell so many stories in so few words as the name of a place -- at least in a well-named place; one whose name was earned. We hide our history in the words we use to refer to home. Some names are born in the affections (or grievances) of a place's inhabitants. Just as often, however,  the name is bestowed upon a place by outsiders, whether in admiration, amusement, or less pleasant sentiments.

'LITTLE UTAH' was not a name that the members of the historic Mormon congregation based there would have chosen for their community. Officially the Satilla Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the tiny chapel and its congregation were simply called 'Satilla Church,' or 'the Mormon Church' in common conversation, by congregants and non-Mormons alike. As was common among church-based villages across the South, the colony of converts that grew up around the Satilla Branch Chapel, in what is now northeastern Atkinson County (Georgia), likely would have come to call the area 'Satilla,' or something akin to it, had their detractors not made every effort to sneer nicknames when referring to the area's concentration of LDS Church members. Though outwardly dismissive and condescending at times, the county's most anti-Mormon voices decried the faith, and expressed concern over the growing number of converts, who seemed almost to be colonizing the Satilla River's upper forks.

 

In their criticism of Mormon doctrine and in their observations about what must have seemed like a potentially significant Mormon voting block, they used derogatory language, intended to belittle and intimidate. Some of the names, like "Heathen Hill," and "Polygamy Farm," seem to have achieved this to an extent.

 

Others, however, had the opposite effect, stirring among the local Latter-day Saints a certain amount of pride in their progress and solidifying a cohesive identity. Far from belittled, many Mormons recognized the acknowledgement of their movement and its legitimacy in names like "Mormonville," "Brigham's Bluff," and, most satisfying of them all in the view of local converts: "Little Utah." The parishioners of the Satilla Branch delighted in the intended slant by their opponents, who had unintentionally given the young church its most enduring and beloved identifier. 

 

An elderly member of the Church, and grandchild of two Satilla Branch founders recently provided this excellent summary of the phenomenon of owning unsolicited nicknames:  

When anybody said they were going from Axson to Nicholls, or Douglas, or anywhere above the [Satilla] River, they loved to tell them "Looks like you're headed through Mormon country then. There ain't nothin' but Mormons out yonder. Ever'thing 'tween Axson and the River is Little Utah."

They loved it because they thought it embarrassed us. We loved it because it was true.

The area soon became permanently identified with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though it remained 'Utah Church' in local vernacular. Its members, though having faced challenging opposition, eventually blended back into mainstream Wiregrass society, as they had been before the arrival of the Elders from Utah. In general, the Satilla River Saints never suffered the kind of brutality and hatred that plagued their faithful forebears in much of the nation during the nineteenth century, mostly because they were almost exclusively born and raised in the immediate vicinity. After a brief isolationist phase in response to initial backlash to their beliefs, they and their mainline counterparts adjusted, and they were entirely indistinguishable from their Baptist and Methodist neighbors, as long as doctrine was not being discussed. In this way, they managed to develop their own South-Georgian variety of cultural Mormonism.

 

The area remains attached to its historical identity with the Latter-day Saints. Although the old meetinghouse is no longer there, in its place, at the cemetery which still bears its name, Little Utah is memorialized on a granite monument, erected in 1995 by the descendants of its first members. It chronicles some of the early milestones of the congregation's history, and of the structures that once stood there. It honors some of the founding members and families, particularly the family of Elder Calvin G.W. Williams, a prominent pioneer convert and generous supporter of missionaries to the area, who donated his family cemetery, and the surrounding  two acres of land to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in June 1905.

 

Aside from the monument, the old church well, and Utah Cemetery, there are few traces left of Utah Church. The chapel was sold and moved several miles to the north, just over the Coffee County line in the Stokesville community. There, it was used by another denominational group for a short time before being left vacant for some years. Later, at various times, it was used for storage, and even as a residence. Sadly, the historic building was demolished by its latest owner in 2018. All that remained of the oldest Mormon-affiliated structure in the State of Georgia was a pile of debris from the demolition. It has since been burned.

 

Its sister chapel, Cumorah Church, still stands intact a few miles southeast of Douglas, in Coffee County, but is at considerable risk of dilapidation, despite great efforts by its owners and others to preserve it. It is the hope of everyone involved with the Satilla River Saints Project that Cumorah, now the oldest standing Mormon structure in the State of Georgia, can be rescued and preserved.

* * *

A complete history of Utah Church, and
the Little Utah community is forthcoming,
and will be available on this page very soon. 

* * *

 
 

HISTORICAL PHOTOS

 

UTAH CEMETERY

2020.0416 -- Utah Cemetery
Find A Grave
Little Utah LDS Monument, Axson, Georgia

 

↑  Click Above for a transcript of the

 information on the Little Utah Monument  (PDF) 

 

 

←  Click the box on the Left for Find A Grave's 

page for Little Utah Cemetery.

 

STORIES: ARTICLES, BLOGS, ETC.


THE CHANGING PAST OF COFFEE COUNTY

Jonathan D. Hepworth

Master's Thesis, Clemson University

December 2012

Litte Utah
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Sunstone Podcasts
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MAPS & GEOGRAPHICAL RESOURCES

S.R.S. ONLINE Maps

Click Here to view a Google Map with locations significant to the story of the Latter-day Saints along the Upper Forks of the Satilla River.

 

 

This map is periodically edited and updated.

Suggestions  and/or  Questions welcomed.

MormonPlaces Database

Click Here to view  the 

MormonPlaces Map, created by the BYU Geography Dept., which shows historic Mormon sites around the world.