On December 20, 1695, the ship “Friendship” arrived in Charles Town. About a week after landing, a couple of men from the ship went north on the Ashley River. They went to Newington Plantation and talked with Lady Rebecca Axtell about acquiring land for a church. She was very happy about the church coming to Carolina and said she would do whatever she could to help them.
In January of 1696 the church received a grant along the Ashley River of 4050 acres. They decided the Town of Dorchester would be built on a bluff overlooking the river (see Colonial Dorchester State Park). They built the church building two miles away before they built the town. The people decided where to build the church either because it was the center of the 4050 acres or because it was high land. Either way, they decided where to build the church. On January 26, 1696 Rev. Lord preached his first sermon at the place selected for the building. Rev. Lord and the people met under the big limb of an oak tree.
In 1696 the people built the church out of wood. Within four years they replaced the wooden structure with a building made of bricks, stuccoed on the outside. The people called it “The White Meeting House.” “White Meeting House” for the color of the stucco, or maybe the name was selected for Rev. John White, the patriarch of the separatist movement and native of Dorchester, England.
The fathers of the church felt that the church was located in a sickly area. They also wanted more land. In the mid 1750s many of the church members migrated to Midway, Georgia near Savannah. Many of the members left but there were some who stayed.
The “White Meeting House” was burned by the British in 1778 but was rebuilt after the Revolutionary War.
In 1831 a new church building was built in what would become Summerville and was used during the summer season. The “White Meeting House” was still used in the winter. By 1859 all remaining members of the Congregationalist “White Meeting House” were enrolled as members of the Summerville Presbyterian Church. The old “White Meeting House” continued to be used for special occasions until the 1886 earthquake. Summerville Presbyterian Church officially obtained the property of the church and cemetery by the action of the South Carolina Legislature in 1882.
In 1894 the building of the Summerville Presbyterian Church was in disrepair and damages from the 1886 earthquake had made the building unsafe. In 1894, under the leadership of Rev. Henry Gillard, the sixty-six member congregation undertook the formidable job of building their present sanctuary. The new building was dedicated in December of 1895. The church bell was a gift from Mrs. E.B. Monroe of Tarrytown, New York, presented to the church in 1898.
Nearly 50 years would pass before more sounds of construction were heard. But in 1945 and 1953 the Wheler building and the Spann building, respectively, were built to provide Sunday School class rooms. In 1965 the educational building including a fellowship hall, and a kitchen were built.
In 1980 the interior and exterior of the sanctuary were refurbished. In 1977 a multipurpose fellowship hall with a stage, commercial kitchen and gymnasium was built. The building was then dedicated. By the way, in the building is a stone threshold from the old “White Meeting House” of Dorchester. The dawn of the 21st century saw Summerville Presbyterian planning, gathering funds, and constructing a new office building on the south corner of the church property thus completing the present Summerville Presbyterian Church complex.
The Summerville Presbyterian Church has been ministering for more than three centuries. One cannot come away without an awe inspiring appreciation of the lives of those people from colonial times to the present days who speak so loudly of their spiritual tie to God Almighty and their dedication and unwavering determination to further the work of Christ and His church.
- 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)