Austria history thrives at New Ebenezer in Effingham Co. - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Living history thrives in New Ebenezer

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Former State Rep. Ann Purcell is a Salzburger descendant. Former State Rep. Ann Purcell is a Salzburger descendant.

In the 1700s, an Austrian pastor sought a religious utopia on the Georgia frontier.  

That utopia thrived, but fell silent for many years until recently. This week's One Tank Trip is to New Ebenezer. 

The Salzburgers settlement of New Ebenezer is located off of Ga. Hwy 21 between Rincon and Springfield. Former State Rep. Ann Purcell and Salzburger descendant speaks for its past and present. 

"We have so much history to share, so much has been brought forward for Georgians and Americans to know what the trials were for our families that came here," she said. 

The Salzburgers fled to New World to escape religious persecution. A symbol of their faith still stands - the Jerusalem Lutheran Church, which was completed in 1769.  

The church may be the oldest active church in the state of Georgia, but the pews are not original. William T. Sherman stayed at Ebenezer one night. He spared the church, but burned the pews for warmth. 

The structure bears its own history. There are cracks from the great Charleston earthquake of 1886, handprints of the women who carried the bricks in their aprons to build it and a weather vane that sat atop of the church was used for target practice during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. 

Hundreds of pieces of history are on display. They're handed down from families tracing their roots through the Georgia mud across the sea. 

"Through the adventure of the museum, people really get the feel of what Ebenezer is all about," Purcell said. 

Photographs, quilts are just some of the historical items that are on view. The best part of the museum is the newly opened Loest research library where visitors can trace their roots. 

Museum Curator Martha Zeigler can trace her own lineage. She has a photo of herself and her family standing in front of a church in Austria that has ties to Ebenezer. 

The once thriving town on the red bluff is now quiet, but far from gone. Each Labor Day, they host an annual festival. 

From Savannah, it's less than an hour and 15 minutes round trip and uses about a quarter tank of gas.

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