Down the Road

Worshipping beneath the willows

By Robert Clark

Photography by Robert Clark

For those with an affection for religion, architecture, history, travel and photography, discovering churches in South Carolina will become an inevitable passion.

From the towering steeples in Charleston to the tiny country churches of the Upstate, historic destinations are no more than a three hour trip from Columbia. On your journeys you will find cemeteries with grave markers dating back to the mid-1700s, country churches nestled beneath live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, beautiful interiors glowing with heart pine wood and iconic themes of architecture from centuries past.

Research will provide excellent details and directions on church locations throughout the state. Some valuable resources are: sciway.net and archivesindex.sc.gov. Refine your search to a certain county or town to find a church listed.

Here are some trip tips: take along a travel companion — it’s safer to travel together and you can have some excellent “life conversations” along the roads you travel.

If you are into photography, study the images in this feature and see how you can use light to bring out details, convey your feelings and provide dimension to your subject.  Every trip provides you with a photographic challenge to learn from.

Travel the backroads when possible. You will find more churches on the backroads when traveling to the small towns of South Carolina. You will also discover country stores, farms, historical properties and just plain quirky subjects. Maybe the best part is you won’t battle all the traffic on the interstates.

Try to plan your trip during the days of Thursday through Saturday. Almost all barbeque joints across South Carolina get cranking on Thursdays and that gives you another “excuse” to hit the highway.

I have traveled South Carolina for more than 34 years, and I always get a thrill when I come upon a church I’ve never seen before. Get a good South Carolina road map, don’t eat too much, close all the gates behind you and watch out for the logging trucks. I wish you great discoveries!

Sharon Methodist Church-Kinards: Built between 1904 and 1905, Sharon Methodist is the only church located in Kinards. Nearby, you can find an old country store and post office. During most summers, you can see hayrolls in fields adjacent to the church.

Top left: Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church: These wooden doors have weathered prosperous and desperate times in the small village of Mt. Carmel — listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Top right: A Light Within: The last moments of sunlight transforms the interior of this country church off of Highway 301. Wavy glass windows and chipped paint tell a story of time endured. 

Above: Smyrna Baptist Church: Built in 1827, this National Register of Historic Places church is located near Allendale.  The architecture of this church is of the meetinghouse style popular for churches built in this era.

St. Helena Chapel of Ease: Fire destroyed this church in 1886. Built in the mid-1700s, the tabby method — a mixture of oyster shells, lime and water — was used in the construction due to bricks being difficult to obtain locally.

Opposite, clockwise from top left: Holly Springs steeple: Towering thunderheads silhouette this steeple and is located in the Upstate community of Holly Springs. 

The Church of the Cross: Built with unfinished cypress in 1857, this Carpenter Gothic style church sits on a bluff overlooking the May River in Bluffton.

St. Helena Parish Church: The full moon rises over one of the oldest steeples in America. The church is a member of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese. Union troops occupying Beaufort used the church as a hospital during the Civil War.

Pineville Episcopal Church: Built in 1810, the community of Pineville was once a summer retreat for plantation owners escaping malaria from the Lowcountry. The church was one of only four Pineville structures to escape burning by Union troops.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins: Formerly known as Prince William Parish Church, it held its first service in 1757 and was burned during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The building’s architecture reflects the first attempt to replicate a Greek temple in America.

Antioch Baptist Church: Huge stones support this country church’s foundation. Antioch Baptist Church broke away from a neighboring church over the principles of communion. Listed in The National Register of Historic Places, this church’s architecture is classic meetinghouse style.

Top left: Old Stone Church-Clemson: The Old Stone Church started construction in 1797 and when finished in 1802, replaced a log cabin church on the banks of a local river. On the cornerstone of the church’s front elevation is inscribed “1797.”

Top right: Longleaf Pine Heartwood Pews: Illuminated by the late afternoon sun, floors and pews constructed from longleaf pine heartwood glow as a golden ethereal light fills the church interior.

Above: Church in Springtime: On most years, the arrival of springtime blooms and Easter celebrations combine to delight the soul.

Mary Jenkins Community Praise House: Although small in stature, this Praise House provided huge religious and cultural support for the Gullah Community in Frogmore. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, four known existing Praise Houses remain on St. Helena Island.

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