Actual Factual Georgia

Q: What’s the story behind the town of Bethlehem, and do they still put special Christmas postmarks on letters mailed from there?

A: You don't need a bright star to find Bethlehem. Just follow the line of folks who drive to the small Barrow County town every December to give their Christmas cards a special seasonal postmark. The Bethlehem post office began adorning Christmas cards on the day after Thanksgiving this year, continuing its long tradition of stamping "Greetings from Bethlehem" on them. The town's website says a record 294,161 letters came through the little office in 2009, but a postal worker said they did around 100,000 last year and this year's rush had started slowly. Bethlehem likely was named after the local Bethlehem Methodist Church, which dates to the late 18th century, and goes all out with the Christmas theme. Its streets are an homage to the nativity story, carrying names like Mary Avenue, Joseph Street, Manger Avenue and Star Street, and there's a live nativity pageant every December. If you go, you can't miss the post office. It's on Christmas Avenue.

Q: I’ve heard that Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. President to be born in a hospital? Is that true?

A: That's the plain truth. The only Georgian to become president was also the first president to be born in a hospital. James Earl Carter Jr. was born at the Wise Sanitarium, where his mother Lillian was a registered nurse, on Oct. 1, 1924. The small hospital in Plains was considered the Mayo Clinic of the South in the short time it existed. It was built in 1921, but a fire damaged the building in 1936 and the founding doctors relocated their practice to nearby Americus. It later became the Lillian G. Carter Nursing Center and a historical marker on the site tells the story of the hospital and its famous baby.

Q: Can you tell me about the oldest church building in Georgia?

A: In 1733, a group from the Jerusalem Lutheran Church were exiled from Salzburg, Austria, and made their way to the new English colony at Savannah. They arrived in 1734 and went up the Savannah River and started the town of Ebenezer, which was later moved closer to the river. The church members quickly organized worship services and built an orphanage in what is now Effingham County, but didn't begin building the church until 1767. Using clay from the area, they built walls that were 21 inches thick and finished the building two years later. Ebenezer no longer exists, but the church is still there and holds services every Sunday.

What do you want to know about Georgia?

If you’re new in town or have questions about this special place we call home, ask us! E-mail Andy Johnston at q&a@ajc.com.