Georgia 4-H was one of 20 historic preservation projects honored by The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation during its 44th annual Preservation Awards ceremony in Macon. Georgia 4-H was specifically honored for Excellence in Restoration, recognizing exemplary restoration of the Rock Eagle 4-H Center Chapel.
According to The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, the chapel represents “an accurate restoration project depicting the form, features and character of a historic building as it appeared at a particular period of time.” The Georgia Historic Trust for Historic Preservation touts the restoration project as “requiring sensitive upgrading of mechanical systems and other code-required work to make the site functional.”
The chapel, considered the geographical center and heart of the Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton, was originally constructed in the 1950s and has served as a gathering place for countless Georgia 4-H’ers as well as a popular wedding venue. The structure was designed by Grady Smith, an architect with Cooper, Barrett, Skinner, Woodbury and Cooper, and was known for its native rock walls hand-gathered from the surrounding property and its distinctive wooden roof trusses.
In 2019, the chapel was nearly lost to fire. After months of renovation and painstaking craftsmanship, the Rock Eagle Chapel has been returned to its simplistic elegance. With the rock walls still in place, the original 1953 blueprints were used to guide a full restoration. Douglas fir trees from North Carolina were sourced to recreate the trusses and interior paneling. Several original light fixtures were restored and reused. A surviving charred pew sits as a reminder, while the new pews were handcrafted with the woodworking skill of the originals. The front door’s 1950s era hardware and hinges are intact, and the company that created the first stained-glass windows was able to recreate replacement windows.
Nearly $500,0000 was raised by the generosity of more than 300 donors to help complete the $1.3 million project. The largesse included a lead gift of $200,000 from 4-H alum Sen. Kelly Loeffler. In addition, more than $65,000 was donated at the 2019 Georgia 4-H Foundation Gala through a special “paddle raise” segment of the evening. Because of those gifts, along with more than $500,000 from insurance and $300,000 from Rock Eagle’s operation budget, the restored chapel proudly stands tall while retaining historic connections to the original building. Rock Eagle 4-H Center attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, and serving as one of Putnam County’s largest employers, the chapel’s restoration is vital for the center.