Church of the Week: Trinity Episcopal Church, Society Hill
In the sleepy little town of Society Hill sits a seldom seen jewel of religious history for Darlington County and South Carolina. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people drive within 150 yards of it daily and do not realize what they are missing. At 159 Burns Street, just off of Highway 15 in Society Hill, Trinity Episcopal Church sits empty, eagerly awaiting each year’s annual service when it come back to life with song, prayer and fellowship.
Trinity Episcopal Church was established on December 19, 1833 by seven men and their families to serve the needs of the local Episcopalians who had been previously worshiping with the St. David’s congregation in Cheraw. Immediately upon organization, the group set out to gather building materials and raise the money needed to build their own church building. In four months the group had erected the present build on a lot which was donated by Elias Griggs for a cost of $1,150. On April 25, 1834 The Rt. Rev. Nathaniel Bowen, D. D., Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, consecrated Trinity Church as “A house suitable for the worship of Almighty God”.
Two of the men that were involved in the establishment of Trinity were Major John Dewitt and his son-in-law John McCullough. John McCollough’s son John Dewitt McCollough, born in Society Hill on December 22, 1822, became very close to Trinity’s first rector The Rev. M. M. Wheeler and found himself intrigued with the construction process at Trinity. When the building was consecrated on April 25, 1934, the eleven year old McCollough gave five dollars of his own money towards the construction and placed his prayer book in the cornerstone of the new Episcopal Church. Why is this important for not only Trinity but for South Carolina also? John Dewitt McCollough went on to become an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church and helped to design and build 22 churches in South Carolina and one in North Carolina, most of which have similar Gothic design features as seen in his home church of Trinity.
This balloon construction building that exists today is basically the same building that was erected in 1834, with very little changes or alterations. There is a good chance that what you see and touch today at Trinity was put there in 1834. The addition of a chancel was made under the direction of The Rev. J. S. Kidney for a cost of $2,000 when he was rector at Trinity between 1858 and 1865.
The other notable change has been the addition of an organ that was installed between 1873 and 1880 when The Rev. Tucker Lee was rector at Trinity. The organ was manufactured by W. B. D. Simons and Co. of Boston MA and installed at a cost of $1,250, which is $100 more than the church building cost when it was built in 1834. The organ was originally a hand pump organ and it was very often the responsibility of the children of the church to pump the organ during the services. Electricity has never been installed in the building, so now that the organ has a fan in lieu of the hand pump operation, an electrical cord is extended to an offsite service pole for electricity on the annual service.
The strong building and supportive community has withstood the test of time for over 181 years. The Charleston Earth Quake of 1886, August 31, 1886 rocked the then 52 year old building and steel rods, commonly called “Earth Quake Rods”, were added to hold it together. These rods are still visible today under the building along with the original wooden pegs and carpenter marks. Preventive maintenance has been done over the years in the fact of new roofing, painting, foundation repairs and general small carpentry repairs. These repairs have been paid for with funds lovingly donated by former member, historically interested individuals and generous donations at the annual services. Without these caring folks, the building may have met the same fate as the congregation itself did.
In 1930, due to declining membership and attendance, Trinity closed as an active church. Unfortunately the original church records were destroyed in a residential fire in 1934, so any known historical accounts have been reconstructed from memory by the older members.
This year’s annual service at Trinity will be held on Sunday, April 26 at 4:00 p.m. The Rev. Ragland Cox will be presiding over the service. He is currently the assistant priest in Georgetown at Prince George Winyah, and has ties to the Darlington County area.
Bill Segars uses his 39-years building career combined with his love of history to develop a passion for historical restoration. Segars was able to find, photograph and research more than 700 religious edifices throughout the state, featured in a show at the Hartsville Museum last year. These three photos are part of that collection.