Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sawdust and Harlem

Public Service Announcement:  Today is another fun post. Tomorrow I will have a few more questions on the GPS.

Last month I told you a little bit about Pumpkin Center, Georgia.  I thought I might show you a few pictures of neighboring Sawdust/Harlem.


This marker is across the highway from Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in Harlem, Georgia where I am a member.  The community of Sawdust doesn’t really exist anymore but it has a interesting history intertwined with that of the church.

According to the Harlem City Hall website,

“When the Georgia Railroad was built from Augusta to Eatonton, Ga., in 1835, Saw Dust was a main stop. The booming lumber town was founded in 1840, situated a mile from where Harlem is today. Travelers often stayed overnight in the town, which sold liquor and bore a reputation of being a little wild.” 1

Apparently the Methodists weren’t too happy about Sawdust’s reputation.  In 1874, the Methodists moved one mile east in protest of the goings on in Sawdust. The old church building went up for sale and Mr. William Lansdell bought it because he had family members buried into the cemetery. It wasn’t until 1883 that the Baptist’s moved in and Mt. Tabor Baptist Church was founded.2  Harlem Methodist Church is still thriving just a stone’s throw away in Harlem proper.

Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, formally Sawdust Methodist Church
Harlem (Sawdust), Columbia County, Georgia003

Every town has an interesting history if you are willing to do a little sleuthing.  Here is a photo of Harlem’s sign.  You can see what Harlem’s claim to fame is.


What is interesting is that Oliver Hardy moved away from Harlem when he was a young child and never returned.3 You would never know it when you visit the Laurel and Hardy Museum in the middle of town. Close to 40,000  people from all over the country (world?) come to Harlem for the annual Oliver Hardy Festival on the first Saturday in October.  Harlem’s normal population is about 2,500. 

If you were wondering if there was a connection between Harlem, Georgia and Harlem, New York wonder no more.

“It was named by a New York resident visiting relatives who thought the town resembled Harlem, NY, the elite artistic area near New York City.” 4

1 Harlem, Georgia City Hall, “Our History” (http://www.harlemga.org/), A short history of the development of the area that would become Sawdust and Harlem. 

2 Etta Knox Miles (Harlem, GA) oral interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 18 Nov 2012; Ms. Miles is the church historian and has been a member for over 60 years.

3 Harlem, Georgia City Hall, “Oliver Norvell Hardy” (http://www.harlemga.org/), A short bio of Hardy.

4 Ibid., “Our History.”

opyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Hello Mrs Lewis,

    I grew up in Harlem and happily back here now. I am interested in "saving" the old Wilson house next to the historic Columbia Theater in Harlem. I have found out from Jack Hatcher that it was owed by the undertaker George Wilson and his wife and that the home was open for boarders who came up to the Harlem Opera House. Trying to find out who built the house now. The City owns it now, and I fear the plan is a parking lot. I see the home being used in conjunction with the Theater,.

    1. WOW! Nothing much has been down with the theater. There were big plans to restore it and actually use it again but that hasn't happened. Maybe the city would be willing to sell you the house if you were willing to restore it. I would love to hear more! Send me an email to ancestoring@gmail.com.