At the intersection of Mount Vernon Highway and Glenridge Drive, there is a lovely, old stone church. Today the sign out front reads “Providence Place”, which is a project of the First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs, located across the road. The story of Providence is interwoven with First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody Baptist Church.
Providence Baptist Church began with Reverend William G. Akin, who donated a portion of land in Dunwoody for the church in 1853. Akins land was along what is now Chamblee Dunwoody Road and Roberts Drive. Akins is remembered in local history books as a tall, broad shouldered man with a coal black beard.
The church was in the area where Caldwell Banker Real Estate and New Hope Cemetery are located today, along Chamblee Dunwoody Road. The building was made of logs and hand split shingles. Civil War maps show the name Providence for the Dunwoody area and indicate a church named Providence.
There were eleven charter members of Providence Baptist Church: W. G. Akin, Elizabeth Cochran Akin, W. M. Johnson, W. C. Johnston, Joseph E. Walker, Samuel Johnson, Elizabeth Johnson, Nancy Johnston, Mary Walker, Harriet Densmore, and Mary Reeves.
Following the Civil War, the members of Providence went different directions and the church was no longer active. However, in 1876, Reverend S. S. Bailey suggested a brush arbor church be established along what is now Mount Vernon Highway to encourage Baptists from Sandy Springs and Dunwoody to attend. A brush arbor church is an outdoor place for worship.
Following the brush arbor, a frame church was built at Glenridge Drive (then known as Old Roswell Road) and Mount Vernon Highway (then known as Lawrenceville Road) in 1878. A second wood frame church was built on the same property in 1884.
In 1886, the congregation of Providence decided that Dunwoody should have their own church and eleven members of Providence were given letters to start the Dunwoody Baptist Church. Bunyan Cheek and his sister Myra Cheek Martin were two of the founding members and gave the land along Chamblee Dunwoody Road for the church to be built in 1903.
The stone church in Sandy Springs began in May of 1938, when a groundbreaking ceremony was held. The new Providence Baptist Church was consecrated in 1942 and served the community, until the brick church was built across the road in May 1967 and the name became First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs. Reverend E. B. Shivers, Jr. was pastor at the stone church beginning in 1958 and continued at the new First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs until 1979.
Pastor David Shivers, son of Rev. E. B. Shivers, is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs today. He grew up with the church and in a house on the opposite corner, the southwest corner of Glenridge Drive and Mount Vernon Road. Pastor Shivers shared his memories and gave me a tour of Providence Place.
Pastor Shivers also attended the kindergarten of Annie Houze Cook, which operated out of the old Providence Church. He graduated from that program in 1965. The kindergarten program began in 1949 and continued until the early 1980’s. Annie Houze Cook taught at Crossroads Elementary and Hammond Elementary Schools before opening her popular kindergarten.
The Baptist church continued to own the older stone building until 1973, when it became Northside Independent Methodist Church. Then, three years ago, Sandy Springs Baptist bought the church back. They have begun a project to restore the old church and Sunday School and kindergarten buildings behind the church. The building is now known as Providence Place.
Today, the stone chapel and classroom building are being restored by First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs for new purposes, as a center for the arts, worship, and community outreach. Orbit Performing Arts Academy is utilizing the Providence buildings for their rehearsals, costume and set storage, and rehearsals.
For more information about Providence Place and the restoration project, visit their Facebook page, @ProvidenceProject,SandySprings. To learn more about Orbit Performing Arts Academy, visit orbitartsacademy.com.
If you attended Providence Baptist Church or the Annie Houze Cook Kindergarten, share your memories and photographs with Past Tense by emailing Valerie at email@example.com.
Other sources cited include: “The Story of Dunwoody” by Ethel Spruill and Elizabeth Davis, “Sandy Springs Past Tense” by Lois Coogle, “Images of America: Sandy Springs” by Morris V. Moore, Kimberly M.Brigance, Heritage Sandy Springs.