The Old Presbyterian Church

History is not another name for the past, as many people imply. It is the name for the stories about the past. ~A.J.P. Taylor

South Carolina is rife with stories, and one of the local stories involves General Sherman and his March to the Sea. It’s a well-known story of Sherman’s blazing of the South from Atlanta to Savannah during the Civil War. Once he’d reached Savannah, he turned his sights to South Carolina. And that’s where my town and the stories of the Old Presbyterian Church come in.

The congregation formed in 1835, attended services in a wooden building with a gallery on all sides for the slave church members. It was headed by James Henry Thornwell, called ‘the greatest Presbyterian divine in the South.’ Construction of a new brick church began in 1860 and was dedicated in 1862.

Just in time for a visit from the Union troops. The horseshoe divots in the floor of the Old Presbyterian Church attest what that visit was like.

In February 1865, as Sherman made his way to South Carolina, one of his units, led by Major General Judson ‘Kill Cavalry’ Kilpatrick, sheltered his horses in the church. The pews were used as feeding troughs.

Can you imagine the stories?!

Kilpatrick was supposed to stay until Sherman met up with him – more horses? – but was driven out by Major General Joseph ‘Fightin’ Joe’ Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry after only five days.

The church remained a home to the Presbyterian congregation until 1926 when they built a new church and rented this one to other congregations and civic groups. In the mid-1970’s it was deeded to the local historical society with a vision to turn it into a cultural arts center. But first they had to get rid of the bats . . .

Yes, in the twenty years the church had remained empty, a huge snowy owl and 2000 bats had made the church their home. Yes, that’s a 2 and three zeros. That’s a lot of bats and a lot of guano – almost 10 tons of it to be exact. Yes, tons. Enough bat poop to cause a section of the roof to buckle and collapse.

Can you imagine the stories?!

Bat boxes were set up around town and eventually all the bats found them. Not quite sure where the snowy owl went. The roof was fixed and other needed repairs and renovations were completed last year. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Earlier this month the Historical Preservation Society held an Open House so we could see the transformation. It is now ready for literary readings, book signings, concerts . . .

Apse

Chandelier

Balcony cornice

Transom window

All good stories have a strong beginning, an interesting middle and a strong ending. The Old Presbyterian Church had a strong beginning, a crazy – batty? middle and now as the Old Presbyterian Cultural Arts Center, a very fitting end.

Or maybe another beginning . . .

facts/information for this post were gleaned from years of stories about the Old Presbyterian Church in The Lancaster News, most recently in articles by Gregory Summers

 

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7 Responses to The Old Presbyterian Church

  1. Claire A. Iannini says:

    You are a wonderful journalist – how interesting and enjoyable this story was – so much so that I was sorry it was over. But of course, then I realized, as you said, it really is just another beginning. Loved the journey you took us on, and cannot wait to visit the Old Presbyterian Church, especially to see the horseshoe imprints on the floor, and feel again the story you shared with us!

    • Thanks, Claire but the information came from articles already written. I’ll write those other stories! During the Open House they had live music by Ananda. It gave me goosebumps it was all so beautiful – the church and the music. I can’t wait until they start holding events there. And the cemetery is interesting too . . . but that’s another story 🙂 ~Kim

  2. Roxie says:

    lovely church, excellent story! history in our backyards, what could be better?

    • It really is pretty, my pictures don’t do the wood or the windows justice. The inside walls were originally stuccoed and they’re leaving them as is. Sooo much history in our area – will be fun to go exploring.

  3. LOVE THIS! Can I share it?

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