Church of the Week: Mt. Pisghah UMC
By Bill Segars, Guest Writer
When I was asked to put together some articles about churches in Darlington County, I knew that at some point I’d like to venture out of Darlington County to talk about many other impressive churches that all South Carolinians should see and learn more about. Today starts that expansion, it’s time to venture out a bit and learn more about beautiful church buildings that you may have seen or certainly should see, as well as learn a little about them. Don’t worry though, we still have more in Darlington County to discover, so keep reading, we will come back home.
Invariably when someone around here finds out that I know something about old churches they will ask about two churches in particular. I can hear them now, “Oh you look for old churches do you? What do you know about the one on the back road to Florence, near the interstate?” Knowing full well which one they are asking about I’ll say, “What’s the name of it?” Their reply is like a recording, “I don’t know the name, but it’s that pretty white church with the red roof.”
“That pretty white church with the red roof” is our subject for this week and its name is Pisgah United Methodist Church. Pisgah’s striking appearance and its highly visible location does indeed make it hard to forget, even though its name may not be known by all that drive by it. Along with its “post card setting”, Pisgah also have many interesting historical facts and the past and present congregation is to be commended for their efforts to retain those records and to maintain their building for all to enjoy.
The founding fathers of Pisgah had their roots deeply in grained in this area, which was a part of the Darlington District even before the Revolutionary War. Their attempt to organize into any type of church or religious affiliation seemed to be somewhat scattered and held several different names until February 6, 1806. The name of Pisgah is not associated at all with this date, but there is record of the Darlington District Court reading a “citation” on the estate of a deceased person at “Russell’s Church”. A “citation” was always read at the nearest “church” or “religious gathering place” to where a deceased person lived.
So where did the name Pisgah come from, stay with me we’ll get there. In December of 1813 Dempsey Russell gave land for a building to be built and used as a church. A one room meeting house was soon built and the congregation began to gain new members and grow with enthusiasm. Between 1814 and 1840 this congregation is mentioned in records as “Russell’s Meeting House”, or the “Society at Russell’s”. As the political climate in America began to change so did the climate and personalities in most churches. By 1840 there was not a single Russell on the church roll here. The name of “Pisgah” was adopted, possible because the 31 members felt like it sounded more Biblical. From here forward the name of Pisgah, in one form or another, has appeared in the official records of this church.
Now that we all know the name of “That pretty white church with the red roof”, lets learn about the building. Even though the membership of Pisgah experienced a slight decline in enrollment after the War Between the States when a new church was formed at Wilson’s Crossroads, soon to be Florence, the original Russell land was maintained and a new one room church building was built in 1878 or 1879 for $850. In November of 1913, one hundred years after the first land was donated by the Russell Family, the Hoffmeyer family donated 4 more acres of land for the purpose of building the present building.
This wonderful Carpenter Gothic church building was made basically ready for its first service on Easter Sunday, April 12, 1914; but not without problems. The first problem occurred very early into the building process, even as the lot was being cleared for the new building. A tree that needed to be removed was accidentally dropped on the 1879 church building, partially demolishing it, so the congregation had no place to worship during the construction of the new building. In spite of a few minor setbacks as a result of the ongoing WW I, progress began to appear until work stopped in October of 1913. The original builder quit, just walked off the job, never to return. So the next challenge was to find another builder. Lucius Patrick Raines, a local builder who had recently finish Mt. Elon Baptist Church in Lydia, was talked into completing Pisgah for the fee of $1,075. In December of 1913 work resumed.
A big plus for Mr. Raines to be able to finish the building, that someone else started, was that the building committee did have a good set of building plans to build by. A local mail carrier, L. McDuffie Hicks, had a sincere interest in architecture and had recently completed a correspondence course to become a trained architect. As one of his first projects, he drew a detailed set of plans for the present Pisgah Church.
Even with the first service being held on Easter Sunday of 1914, the building was not completely finished until June 28, 1914 when the congregation celebrated with a Centennial Celebration Service in their new building, which at that time had a value of $10,000. As with many churches, this figure may not have been a completely accurate figure; because many members gave time, talents and materials towards the completion of their beloved church building.
The present congregation, in keeping with its over 200 year tradition of loyalty to their church, continues to do an exemplarily job of maintaining their building at 621 N. Ebenezer Rd., many times over. Hopefully now after learning more about the trials & tribulations that have faced this church; next time you view it, it will be seen as more than “That pretty white church with the red roof”, and you will not need to wonder “What’s the name of it?”
Bill Segars has a strong love and appreciation for history, having grown up on a farm in Kelleytown on land that has been in the family since 1821 . He uses his 39-year building career to combine 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.