Oak trees form a natural gateway leading to the historic Chickasawhatchee Primitive Baptist Church in Dawson, Georgia.

Dawson, a county seat community that lies about 25 miles northwest of Albany in Southwest Georgia, is an important agribusiness center in a region of exceptionally rich farmlands. In the late 19th century, however, the city attracted widespread attention for a much more haunting reason.

The story broke in the Augusta Chronicle on September 26, 1887:

DAWSON, GA., Sept. 23. – A strange story is told here, which is firmly believed by the people of the county. A few nights ago, while a well-known citizen, Mr. Olin Pace, was driving along the public road leading by the Primitive Baptist Church; upon nearing the church a white shadowy object appeared near him in the road, having the shape of a woman, and floating hither and thither as if borne on invisible spirit wings. It gave forth no sound, but moved its long white arms in the air as if in great distress. [I]

Chickasawhatchee Primitive Baptist Church was founded in 1858 and still thrives today.

The church referenced in the story was the Chickasawhatchee Primitive Baptist Church which stands on East Lee Street (GA-32) in Dawson. Founded and constructed in 1858, the beautiful old sanctuary still stands today. It is a white frame structure accessed by a small road that leads through living gateposts provided by two old oak trees. A large cemetery spreads out adjacent to the church.

On a dark night in the days before electric lights, the road leading out of town past the church would have been spooky or picturesque, depending on the frame of mind of the traveler. The white walls of the church and the marble of the tombstones in the cemetery would shine in the moonlight, creating a memorable scene for anyone who passed by.

Mr. Pace, however, claimed to see more than a figment of his imagination:

East Lee Street as it leads from downtown Dawson into the countryside of Terrell County, Georgia.

…Mr. PACE is not a man easily frightened, and is not given to illusions, and, though almost paralyzed with astonishment, he decided to investigate the matter fully. He descended from his buggy and advanced toward the apparition, which retreated slowly as he advanced. Finally, reaching it, he attempted to lay his hand on it, but at once the apparition vanished. After waiting a while for the spook’s return in vain, the gentleman drove away, his mind full to the brim with uncanny thoughts, and his flesh almost creeping from his bones. [II]

Elkanah Stephen “Olin” Pace was a real person. He was 29-years old at the time of the sighting and lived in Terrell County, Georgia. Married to Anna Hunter Saville Pace, he had four children and another one on the way. He was a farmer. [III]

He was also not the only person to see the specter:

The oak trees that frame the entrance to the church grounds.

The ghost has been seen several times since, always in the same place and in the same weird shape. Several other parties, among them Mr. Burgess, wife and daughter, report having seen this unearthly visitant, and the entire neighborhood is aroused. They think it some unhappy spirit which, freed from her tenement of clay, seeks to drown her sorrows in the nightly dew. [IV]

Sightings of the ghost faded over time. Perhaps the advent of the automobile and the resulting increase in the speed of traffic passing along West Lee Street no longer gives her time to appear?

To learn more about historic Dawson and Terrell County, please visit www.terrellcountygeorgia.org.

This map shows the location of Chickasawhatchee Primitive Baptist Church and the route of East Lee Street from downtown past the church and into the farm country beyond:

[I] Augusta Chronicle, September 26, 1887, page 1.

[II] Ibid.

[III] Information on Elkanah Steven “Olin” Pace from Kimberry Keever Family Tree, Ancestry.com.

[IV] Augusta Chronicle, September 26, 1887, page 1.