“Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.” --Bridget Willard
Driving into downtown Charleston, you can't help but notice the church steeples towering above the city. The churches throughout the Holy City are as beautiful as they are rich in history and architectural design. What I love about Charleston is not just the number of churches but the diversity of religions represented and different architecture in each church.
After a recent trip south to Sheldon, I realized Charleston is not the only place in South Carolina in which to find historic churches. I traveled throughout the area finding churches both interesting not only in their design but also in their history. What I found was a group of churches, some still used others in ruins but all with a story to tell.
The Old Sheldon Church
On a back road near Beaufort, you can find the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church. Between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, all that's left of the church are the exterior walls and columns constructed of brick and tabby. Far enough off the main road, only the wind rushing through the trees can be heard as you walk through the chapel and graveyard.
Completed in 1757, the church was first burned by British troops, rebuilt and years later was burned again by Union troops. Though the church was never rebuilt after the Civil War, it is still used for church services once a year as well as wedding ceremonies.
The ruins are surrounded by trees and grave stones including the vaults of the Bull family which commissioned the building of the church next to their plantation. The church grounds are open to the public and free to visit. This church is located between the towns of Yemassee and Beaufort on the Old Sheldon Church Road.
I first learned of the Strawberry Chapel while reading about ghost stories in the Lowcountry. Named after a bluff on the East Side of the Cooper River's West Bank, Strawberry Chapel was constructed about 1725. According to the historic marker, it was built on land bequeathed by James Child, founder of the long abandoned town of Childsburg.
According to a couple of books, the chapel's history includes the tale of Catherine Chicken who, at age seven, was tied to a tombstone by her schoolmaster one night in 1748. Rescued by a faithful servant, "Little Mistress Chicken" survived and her tormentor was driven from town. Legend says she returns at night to the cemetery. So, go during the day and you don't run into her as well as the many security cameras that monitor the property due to vandalism.
Strawberry Chapel is located on Highway 44 just off SC Highway 402 about 10 miles from Moncks Corner.
Anglican Church on Biggin Hill
Not far down the road from Strawberry Chapel are the ruins of the Anglican Church on Biggin Hill, The church was first completed in 1712 before it was burned by forest fire in 1756 and replaced in 1761 by the building whose walls are still standing today. In 1781, British under Col. Coates burned the church. After the Revolutionary War, the Church was again restored until it was stripped of supplies during the Civil War. About 1886 the unused building was again burned by a forest fire, and people began stripping the building of its brick.
Just off the road, the ruins -- as well as the numerous graves surrounding them -- are interesting to explore.
The church ruins are located two miles north of Moncks Corner on SC Highway 402.
Appleby's Methodist Church
Another hard to find church is Appleby's Methodist Church, built around 1840. The building is very plain but one interesting element of the design is the multiple doors leading into the church. The white frame structure has two doorways -- one door for men, the other for women. A door at the rear of the building was for slaves. The congregation was separated through the church service.
According to the national registry of historic places, the building is an excellent example of a Greek Revival meeting house style church.
The church is located on Wire Road and SR 71 southwest of St. George.
St. George's at Colonial Dorchester
Only the bell tower remains of St. George's, an Anglican parish church, built in 1717. The church sits next to the Ashley River and was once part of Dorchester, a trading village. During the Revolutionary War, the church was burned by the British but was partially repaired and used afterwards.The town was abandoned after the war and the church along with it.
The church is now part of Colonial Dorchester State Park and archaeologists routinely dig at the site for remains of the village for a better understanding of life in colonial South Carolina.
The church is located on State Park Road just off Dorchester Road in Summerville.
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
St. Stephen's Church, built between 1767 and 1769, is an example of a Georgian brick church with its high gable room and ornamental decorations. Different in design and architecture, the church is quite different from any other church in the area. The church was not used between 1808 and 1932 but was repaired two times including once after an earthquake in 1886.
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church is an historic Episcopal church located at 196 Brick Church Circle in St. Stephen.
St Andrews Episcopal Church
Close to the Ashley River, Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church dates back to 1706, the oldest surviving church in South Carolina. Built when the Church of England was established the church was burned and rebuilt in 1764. The church was featured on the mini series, "North and South."
St. Andrew's Parish is located at 2604 Ashley River Road in Charleston.
Indian Fields Methodist Campground
One of the more interesting churches I found isn't really a formal church but a campground. Built in 1848, the Indian Fields Methodist Campground consists of 99 cabins, called tents, surrounding a central open air chapel. The campground was meant to serve a much larger audience than a single church could hold.
The rows of cabins are simple in design with dirt floors and minimal additions such as wiring for electricity. According to the website, services are still held here once a year.
One of the more interesting aspects of the campground was the 99 outhouses directly behind the 99 cabins.
The campground is just off US Highway 15 north of St. George.
While the Holy City has some historic and beautifully designed churches, many others are out around the Lowcountry on back roads just waiting to be found. I know I have missed many but look forward to finding them as I tour the area.
Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at firstname.lastname@example.org.