Salem Black River Presbyterian Church – Mayesville, South Carolina
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The Salem Black River Church is located on SC 527, just a few miles from Mayesville, a small town of roughly 1,000 people in Sumter County. The church was formed by Scots-Irish settlers in 1759. The church is located on private property. It is open to the public for Sunday services twice a month.
A log meeting-style house and a wooden frame building occupied this space before the first brick building was constructed in 1802, giving this church its nickname of “Brick Church.” The present church was built in 1846 and stands as one of the earliest brick churches in South Carolina.
Prior to Emancipation, slaves sat in the slave gallery, segregated from the white worshipers below. The slave gallery above the sanctuary is now used as a balcony for all members. After Emancipation, freedmen who had attended Salem Black River Presbyterian Church left the congregation and formed their own church, Goodwill Presbyterian.
The cemetery dates from 1794 and sits on land officially deed to the church in 1830. Salem Black River Presbyterian Church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places:
(Brick Church) Salem Black River Presbyterian Church, built in 1846, is a well-preserved example of Greek Revival architecture. From the time of its organization in the mid-eighteenth century until the present, Salem Church has played an important role in the development of history of the surrounding rural community. The church has been virtually unaltered since its construction. It features massive stucco-over-brick columns, a gable roof and a pedimented portico. Basilican in plan, the interior of Salem Black River Church is simple. A slave gallery extends along three sides and is supported by square paneled wooden pillars.
Detailed History of Salem Black River Presbyterian Church, Part I
Below is a two-part article that was contributed to the South Carolina Picture Project by Bill Segars of Hartsville. It originally appeared as two separate columns in his local paper, The Darlington New & Press. Part I was published on July 13, 2015, and Part II was published on July 18, 2015.
Several weeks ago I mentioned that when a local person finds out about my interest in old churches, they invariably will ask about two buildings; Pisgah in Florence County is one, and our church this week, Salem Black River Presbyterian in Sumter County is more than likely the other. Both are very striking in appearance and are located on well-traveled roads. After fielding questions about both buildings over the last 12 years, less seems to be known about Salem than Pisgah. It’s almost mystical in the unknown air of this building.
Salem, located at 1060 North Brick Church Road (Highway 527) outside of Mayesville, is in a more remote area than Pisgah. It doesn’t have a church office or a regular preacher, so there is very seldom a car parked at the building. So it just sits beside the road all by itself, leaving everyone that sees it to wonder about its history. Does it have an active congregation? If so, when do they meet? The questions run from one end of the spectrum to the other, but all are interesting. There is an historical marker in the front yard, and while many people do stop by to read it, the marker only piques their interest about this stately building.
The present building is old, built in 1846, but Salem Meeting House was established well before that, in 1759, as a daughter church of Williamsburg Presbyterian in Kingstree. David Anderson, a captain in the militia, donated a portion of his 300-acre 1753 land grant near the Black River for the construction of a log meeting house. In 1768 that building was torn down and a wood-framed building was erected on the same ground, facing the Kingstree to Camden road. In 1780 it was around this building that General Thomas Sumter‘s militia and Lieutenant Colonel Banastre (Bloody) Tarleton’s British regulars bivouacked under the trees at different times as they tracked each other in the American Revolution‘s backwoods battle. Luckily, Tarleton left without burning the church, which he had a habit of doing.
After the Revolutionary War, the Scots-Irish in the area felt the need for a larger, more substantial building, which they built using brick in 1802, again on the same sacred ground. By now the name of Salem Black River Presbyterian Church had been adopted. This brick building served the congregation well for 44 years; the congregation, however, may not have served the building well because by the early 1840s their building was determined to be “beyond repair.”
A committee of six men was established to begin the process of building a new building, what we would know today as “the building committee.” These men drew the basic plans for the present building on one sheet of paper. The plan was enough information for the J. Lomas & Company, of Columbia, to provide a price of $5,620 to build the designed building. It was also agreed that the thousands of bricks needed to construct the exterior solid brick walls would be made from the clay that could be found locally.
The 2,709 square-foot building is truly a marvel of construction for any time frame, but particularly for 1846. Its Greek Revival style building measures 45’8″ x 59’4″ plus an 8′ x 45’8″ front porch. This article, and others, has mentioned “solid brick walls.” This term means that not only is each individual brick a solid unit (a brick unit not having holes, as most people are accustomed to seeing today), but that the entire wall is brick in its thickness (no wood studs as most people are accustom to seeing today). A “solid brick wall” is a load-bearing wall; the roof and floor load are carried and supported by these walls. Here at Salem, the foundation walls are 24″ thick and the main wall between the pilasters is 16″ thick. The thinnest walls, 8″ thick, are the two gable walls in the attic. The pilasters, an extra thickness of brick, are positioned in specific locations due to the extra load support needed at those locations, rather than simply for appearance.
Entering the interior of Salem Black River is as if you’re stepping back in time. It has been repaired due to Hugo damage, but it maintains its original charm in many of the original elements. The pews are handmade of pine lumber that has been faux painted to resemble oak wood. The pews maintain the original doors with numbers assigned to the individual families who rented each particular pew. The pew rental rate depended on the location of that pew as it related to the pulpit. It is recorded in the early years of the church, that if all of the pews were rented, $945 per year could be raised; typically this money was assigned to pay the preacher. The balcony railing was made in Charleston by Mr. W. T. White for the cost of $148.41. The freight charge to have it delivered from Charleston was $3.88.
That’s enough of a construction lesson for one session, so let’s get back to the history of the building itself. Even though the building appears to be original, and in fact it has not changed in size or appearance, it has been maintained. Primarily its repairs have occurred due to natural disasters. Six large steel shields, which are attached to three steel earthquake rods running through the 45’8″ width of the building, can be seen up high on the exterior walls. These were installed after August 31, 1886, when Charleston was struck by an approximate 7.0 on the moment magnitude scale earthquake which shook the East Coast. Then the copper roof was replaced after September 22, 1989 due to Hurricane Hugo. Other minor repairs, some helpful and some not as much, have been performed over the building’s 169-year life; all were made so as not to repeat the 1802 building’s “beyond repair” condition.
There are many more interesting facts about this building and the people who love it enough to make sacrifices. Next week you will be able to learn more about these facts and, most importantly, how you can experience the feeling of worshiping in and serving in this historic jewel affectionately known as Old Brick Church. (Bill Segars, July 13, 2015)
Detailed History of Salem Black River Presbyterian Church, Part II
Last week, hopefully, you learned more about Salem Black River Presbyterian than you knew before. This week you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the close surrounding area. I’m beginning to accept that not everyone enjoys and appreciates history (I don’t understand that, but I do accept that). I’ll admit that sometimes reading history can be uninteresting, but living history puts learning in a completely different perspective – tangible, fun. This is the opportunity that you’ll discover this week, living the history of Salem Black River Presbyterian Church.
When you visit Salem you see a small white wood frame building behind the main church building (seen above). This is Salem’s Session House, a building where the business of the church was conducted, including “the trials of members who had fallen from grace.” Salem and many other churches of this period kept meticulous records of the “trials” of their members. Now is not the time to delve into this subject, but if you ever get the chance to read these records, you’ll never watch another Soap Opera again – you’ll be a history buff.
The Session House was built at the same time that the church was built, 1846, by the J. Lomas Company from the simple plan of “it was to be built not less than twenty-four feet long by fifteen feet wide and three feet from the ground to the floor.” This contract was entered into by the two parties for a cost of $225. Oh the simple life of trust, how sweet it is.
Behind the Session House you’ll find the graveyard (seen above). By all means take the time to reverently stroll through this burial ground. It is perfectly laid out and very easy to navigate. Many notable individuals have been laid to rest here, with the earliest marked grave being 1794. I realize that I do not need to tell anyone who is reading this article, but when you enter the wrought iron gates, you’re entering a graveyard, a sacred ground. Some people who enter do not understand that, and they do things that their “Mother would not be proud of.” The graveyard is not haunted; it’s a final resting place, so please treat it as such.
The final historic building on the property is also in the graveyard. For your convenience, there is a period, operational outhouse available to you (seen below). The best feature about this building is that you can bring five of your closest friends with you, because it has six holes. This is truly living history.
Now back to the serious side of living history. Salem Black River does in fact have an active congregation, and they do hold regular services. These services are not held just as a time to worship the risen Lord, but as an opportunity to keep everyone in attendance grounded to their historical roots. Member or not, everyone is welcome to feel the moving experience of worshiping in an old House of God where the shutters are opened and the windows raised to allow the cool breeze to blow through. Salem’s membership, as to attendance, is very similar to your church, just smaller in number. Salem has 30 members on the roll and their average active attendance is 14. Fourteen people in a 2,709 square-foot building means there is plenty of room for visitors.
Salem’s services are held the second and fourth Sunday of every month at 4 PM, except in the month of August; members say that it’s too hot in August. I realize that it’s August now, so I’ll remind you in September. The time of these services typically will not conflict with services at your regular church, so plan on enjoying this living history experience with friends. Bring a car load or a bus load; you’ll be welcomed by Salem’s Southern hospitality. It’s only about 30 miles from the Darlington area, so it can be an enjoyable 45-minute Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside.
This small congregation is an amazing group in their love and appreciation for their old building. They have presently committed to restoring the exterior brick walls of this building. Deterioration of the 1846 mortar and bricks has been monitored for several years and evidence of structural jeopardy is showing up in several areas. In order to salvage the structural integrity of the load-bearing walls, they are being inspected and repaired up close. Any spoiled mortar and broken brick are being removed and replaced with an historic lime-based mortar and “new handmade” brick over the entire building. In the severely damaged areas, aluminum stitching rods are being imbedded in the mortar to strengthen the joints. In many cases these areas are being found as high as 40 feet above the ground. Over time the lime stucco finish on the water table foundation and the four massive columns have been damaged. This damage will be repaired and a new coat of lime-based stucco will be applied.
If this sounds expensive, it is. In the small congregation’s dedication to save their building, they have committed to a cost upwards of $90,000. Don’t forget this is the same building that you learned last week cost $5,620 to completely construct in 1846. They have decided not to seek grants or aids to pay for this renovation. Through faith, they are convinced that with the help of historically-minded friends this goal can be met. They have received some outside help already, with one substantial donation, but they need more help. If anyone would like to truly experience living history with a tax-deductible donation, that can certainly be done by sending your check to Salem Black River Presbyterian Church, 210 Serenity Circle, Mayesville, SC 29104.
Reflections on the Salem Black River Church
Photographer Brandon Coffey of Charleston, who took two of the pictures above, says the following about visiting Salem Black River Church: “If you have never ventured out to the church it is quite striking. You drive for what seems like an eternity through picturesque farmland and woods to stumble across a very impressive and massive structure that seems out of place in its simple surroundings. Quite an interesting place.”
Contributor Kelly Lee Brosky, who took the photo above, shares her experience at Salem Black River Church: “We are a small local paranormal group and we came across this beautiful old church. While doing a daylight investigation of the very old cemetery, I snapped this picture of the gorgeous old church.”
Salem Black River Presbyterian Church Info
Address: 1060 Brick Church Road, Mayesville, SC 29104
GPS Coordinates: 33.932789,-80.160979
Salem Black River Presbyterian Church Map
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