St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

The beginnings of St. Paul’s goes back to Dorchester (see Colonial Dorchester State Park). Dorchester, South Carolina was originally founded by Puritans or Congregationalists back in 1696. But in 1706 the Colonial Legislature passed the Church Act declaring the Church of England the established church of Carolina. For 11 years Dorchester lay within the upper part of St. Andrews Parish. By the year 1717 the number of Anglicans had increased. They petitioned the legislature to create their own parish. The new parish was named St. George. They bought Lot 99 in the center of town.

Construction of a small brick church began in 1718. By 1720 the church was built. The sanctuary measured 50 feet long by 30 feet wide. A chancel projected 15 by 5 feet from one of the walls. The first pastor was Rev. Peter Justian. His successor, Francis Varnod, came in October 0f 1723. St. George’s church was repaired in 1734, new pews were added and the church was enlarged. In 1751 a stylish bell tower was added. By 1765 they had four bells in the tower. Between 1757 and 1760 a tabby fort was built. The fort came into play during the revolutionary war. The fort fell to the British in 1780. The British held the fort until 1781 then left. The Patriots came back and took control of the fort. The British came back taking control of the fort making it a British out post. The people left Dorchester at that time. When the British left this time, in 1782, they destroyed most of the town. They set fire to the houses and to the church, leaving the bell tower.

In 1829 the rector of St. Paul’s Stono, Rev. Philip Gadsden, began to hold regular summer series for his parishioners. At first they would meet in houses, and then in 1830 they built their first church building in Summerville. It was on this site very near the present building. It was consecrated in 1832 by Bishop Nathaniel Bowen. The congregation incorporated as St. Paul’s in 1855. After 27 years the church needed a larger building. In 1857 the present church building was completed and consecrated. St. Paul’s Summerville remained a chapel-of-ease under the vestry of St. Paul’s Stono until after the War Between the States, becoming independent in 1866 when admitted in union with the convention as St. Paul’s Church in St. George’s Parish.

In 1855 the properties of St. George were acquired by St. Paul’s through a

Earthquake rods built into St. Paul’s

state act. The church building was enlarged by 20 feet during 1878. A stained glass window was added behind the alter. The 1886 earthquake caused damage to the building. Earthquake rods were installed in the building after the earthquake. If you look at the outside, you can see the rods today. The church had moved 4” off its foundation.

Ambler Hall was built in 1924 under the ministry of Rev. Francis W. Ambler. He was the rector of St. Paul’s from 1908 to 1940.

On the other side of the church is the parish house, built in 1974. In 1986 the back of the church was added onto. With the new addition to the building several graves were built over. In the 1980s bricks were added to the walls under the new addition. The graves cannot be viewed today but a monument pillar containing the names of the graves is located behind the church.

St. Paul’s in Summerville is the only church in Summerville that has a grave yard around the church. The church properties are located on six acres of land in the heart of the Summerville Historic District. The church building is listed on the “National Register of Historic Places” and is the second oldest church in Summerville.

The current website for St. Paul’s states, “St. Paul’s, Summerville, now counts more than a thousand baptized members. While services and program combine contemporary and traditional, the past is not forgotten; Reminders are found not only in the buildings and graveyard, but also in the membership, which includes descendants of the early planters, and the church silver, which includes a communion service from early St. George’s and alms basins donated by George Sommers Esq. to St. Paul’s, Stono in 1766.”

Written by Mark D. Woodard

Research sources:

  • Hill, Barbara Lynch.  Summerville, SC 1847-1997 Our History. Wentworth Printing, West Columbia, SC (1998)
  • McIntosh, Beth. Beth’s Pineland Village. The R.L. Bryan Company, Columbia, SC (1988)
  • Kwist, Margaret and others. Porch Rocker Recollections of Summerville, South Carolina. Linwood Press, Inc. Summerville, SC (1980)
  • A History of St. Paul’s, Summerville. (2006)