The original Hunter Field Chapel, valued at $28,000, was built after
the Army Air Corps received approval to build Hunter Field in August
of 1940. The installation served as an operational training unit for
several years and became the final staging base for B-17 crews on their
way to the European Theater of Operations in World War II. The Army's
Eighth Air Force was activated at Hunter Field during that period.
The chapel was decommissioned in 1946 after the war and sold to
the Savannah United Methodist Church Board of Missions, rumored,
for only $1.
Today, 70-years later, members of the Whitefield United Methodist
Church are proud of their WWII heritage. The church's pastor, Dr.
Grover Bell, said he imagines that many young Soldiers from the Eighth
Air Force visited the Hunter chapel on their way to combat and prayed
fervently for their safe return.
During the 1940s era, military installations expanded rapidly to
meet the demands of the WWII buildup, according to nationalinfantrymuseum.
org. After the war, the original Hunter Chapel and other
"series 700" temporary buildings were surplus-ed by War Assets
Administration; however, some WWII wood buildings were so solidly
constructed, they remained in use through the 1990s. Some WWII
chapels, like the Hunter Field Chapel, are still in use today.
The National Infantry Museum has preserved an almost identical
chapel to the original one at Hunter as part of the World War II Company
Street exhibit at Fort Benning, pictured at nationalinfantrymuseum.
To prepare for the move into Savannah, the Hunter Field Chapel
was split into two separate structures and transported on trailers to
its new location--four new lots purchased by the Savannah Methodist
City Mission Board at 55th Street and Waters Avenue, according to Dr.
Grover Bell, the current Whitefield United Methodist Church pastor"The move was possible in those days
because we didn't have power lines that
would interfere with the transport," said
Bell. "At that time, DeRenne Avenue was
just a dirt road."
A Savannah Evening Press article,
April 14, 1948, stated there were "many
difficulties too numerous to list," during
the move, set up and remodeling of the
chapel performed by its sponsors at the
Savannah Methodist City of Board of
Missions. After overcoming those obstacles
and a lot of hard work, the first worship
service was held in the church for
its new congregation on Oct. 10, 1948.
Savannah Morning News also commented
on the chapel move in an article
dated Monday, October 11, 1948.
"Real enthusiasm was expressed by
the congregation at the good shape they
found the church. Many said that after
seeing the building when it was moved
from Hunter Field last spring, they never
expected it to be as attractive as it is."
"I can imagine how it must have
looked after being cut in half and the
hauled over dirt streets to its present
location," said John Pigott, an 89-yearold
WWII veteran, who is still an active
member of the church. "Also we don't
know how long the Chapel may have sat
unused on the Base."
Whitefield church history cites that the
name 'Whitefield' was chosen as the
church's name by the congregation early
on but would only be official after the
chartering, which took place January 30,
1949. Church founders chose the name
of The Rev. George Whitefield, a close
friend of The Rev. John Wesley, the founding
father of Methodism, because of his
evangelistic work in the community,
including his establishment of the
Bethesda Home for Boys in Savannah.
The original charter members who established
the church totaled 164; today, there
is only one surviving member.
Attendance has also dimensioned.
Bell said that several years ago, membership
peaked at approximately 600 members
but today it has dwindled to 135.
Hunter Army Airfield Garrison chaplain,
Maj. Jon Wilson visited Whitefield
UMC and remarked at the building's
pristine condition. Wilson said the architecture
and layout of the chapel models
that of the Dobbins Air Force Chapel,
where he was previously assigned.
"The chapel is designed to be multidenominational.
It was probably used
for both protestant and catholic congregations,"
said Wilson. "Just like the
Dobbins chapel, there is a station behind
the alter where the Catholic priest stands
which is separate from the pulpit where
the protestant preacher stands."
Wilson noted that the simple, clean
lines of the war-type chapel are still
intact at Whitefield and the design mimics
other chapels still in existence since
"The original siding is still here but
it's painted," he said. "The light fixtures
have been upgraded and the alter railing
looks like the original."
The heart pine pews match the
church's original décor but they're not
the original ones, according to Pigott.
"The backs on the original pews were
straight boards and a lot less comfortable,"
Bell, the 85-year-old pastor who has
ministered at various churches during
his 63 years of service, said there are
many life changes surrounding the history
of Whitefield UMC church.
"Some are good and some are bad,"
he said. "Our lives have become busy
and complicated; the whole idea of religion
has changed in our society. We have
reached out to neighbors and invited
them to attend but we haven't gotten
much interest in recent years. Children
in surrounding neighborhoods attended
in the past but now they have grown
up and moved away. Many of our neighbors
choose to attend larger churches
with a younger congregation and contemporary
At the church's 25-year celebration,
G. Richard Korn, Whitefield UMC pastor
at that time, said the church was young
with many years of growth to follow. The
previous year, The Rev. Jacob Lackey said
"Let us stand at the front of the battle
for Him who died for us … that the years
may be more glorious years of service."
Just like aging Soldiers, church parishioners
at Whitefield United Methodist
Church don't want to retire. They want
to stay in the battle for Christ and bring
light to the world.
"We live in a safe, stable community,"
said Bell, about the church's location.
"We have open services and open communion.
We welcome children and
adults from all races and backgrounds
to come join us in worship."
Methodists and those not affiliated
with the Methodist denomination may
rent the church chapel for weddings and
ceremonies. If interested in church attendance
or in renting the chapel, call for
additional information at 912-355-8420.