Winthrop University Chapel – Rock Hill, South Carolina
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Now on the campus of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, this building, known affectionately by locals as the “Little Chapel,” was built in Columbia around 1823 as a carriage house. The brick structure was designed for the estate of Englishman Ainsley Hall by noted architect and South Carolina native Robert Mills. It originally sat behind the Hall mansion, now known as the Robert Mills House for its celebrated architect. Hall died before his grand home was completed, and the property was sold to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia. Columbia Thelogical Seminary opened in the Robert Mills House in 1830, and the carriage house seen here was used as a chapel.
Many of the state’s most illustrious Presbyterian ministers taught at the seminary, including Dr. James Thornwell, for whom the Thornwell Home for Children in Clinton is named, and the Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, father of President Woodrow Wilson. In fact, the Woodrow Wilson Home in Columbia is located not too far from the former seminary site. Though President Wilson lived in Columbia for only four years during his boyhood, he is said to have professed his acceptance of Christ in this chapel in 1873 while residing near the seminary. President Wilson was a member of neighboring First Presbyterian of Columbia for the duration of his life.
In 1886 another school was founded on the campus of the Columbia Theological Seminary by Dr. David Bancroft Johnson. Called the Winthrop Training School for Teachers, classes were held in the seminary chapel until the school was moved to Rock Hill in 1895. When the seminary relocated to Atlanta in 1927, the Ainsley Hall estate sat unoccupied. In 1936 the seminary donated the chapel to Winthrop and moved the structure to its Rock Hill campus. The chapel was dismantled and rebuilt during the move.
Today the building serves the students of Winthrop University as a chapel, following its roots as a sanctuary and a Winthrop building. The chapel was restored in 2005, with a bronze bust of Winthrop University founder Dr. David Bancroft Johnson gracing the entrance. The green space in front of the chapel exhibits a sculpture garden and is also the site of an amphitheater.
The Winthrop University Chapel is listed in the National Register as the Memorial Chapel in the Winthrop College Historic District:
The Winthrop College Historic District includes twenty properties of historical and architectural merit that were constructed between 1894 and 1943 and that reflect the growth and development of the college as an innovator in education in South Carolina. These properties include academic classrooms, administrative and dormitory buildings, and an amphitheater. The historic district is significant as the first state-supported college for women in South Carolina, for its dominant role in the education of teachers for the state’s white public schools, and for its innovations in teaching methods from 1895 through the 1930s. The district is architecturally significant as an unusually intact collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century college buildings. Prominent architectural styles exhibited include Gothic Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, Classical Revival or Neo-Classical, and Neo-Georgian or Colonial Revival.
Winthrop was named in honor of the chairman of the Peabody Education Foundation, Robert C. Winthrop, who had done much to help Dr. David B. Johnson, superintendent of the Columbia Graded Schools, to organize the Winthrop Training School in 1886. Originally located on the grounds of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Columbia, Winthrop was chartered by the state legislature in 1887, with Dr. Johnson as President and Governor Ben Tillman as chairman of the Board of Trustees. In compliance with the Peabody Education Foundation Board, the Winthrop Board of Trustees tendered the college to the state in November 1891, making it the first state-supported college for women in South Carolina. In 1893 the college was renamed the Winthrop Normal and Industrial College of South Carolina. The college opened in Rock Hill in 1895. In 1920 the name was changed to Winthrop College, the South Carolina College for Women. The college became a co-educational institution in 1974 and is now known as Winthrop University.
Winthrop University Chapel Info
Address: 1043 Founders Lane, Rock Hill, SC 29733
GPS Coordinates: 34.940002,-81.033140
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