Church of the Week: Fair Hope Church
By Bill Segars
We are back in Darlington County this week, barely in. We have traveled to 1116 E. Lynches River Rd, southwest of Lamar, between Cartersville (Hwy. 76) and Carters Crossroads (Hwy. 401), on the Darlington/Lee/Florence County line at Fair Hope Church. I give you this much direction because if you haven’t been to a funeral here, you probably don’t have a clue as to where this church is. Based on the limited location information that I had in 2006, I had a hard time finding it, and I wasn’t going to a funeral there.
Fair Hope had its beginning in 1872 as the direct result of one man, or certainly one family, the Commander family. Capt. Joseph Commander was born into a Presbyterian family that attended Mount Zion Presbyterian Church in the Sumter District in 1800. When he acquired land on the Darlington District side of Lynches River, he found most of his good neighbors to be either Baptist or Methodist. So Capt. Commander, a veteran of the war with Mexico, helped form Lynchburg Presbyterian Church in 1855. Keep that church name in mind; you may see it again, because Lynchburg Presbyterian still stands today. The main problem with Lynchburg Presbyterian was its location. In order for the Commander family to get there, that required a 14 mile round trip by wagon, over bumpy roads and crossing Lynches River on the ferry every Sunday- a trip they made for 17 years.
As Capt. Commander’s family begin to grow through marriage, this long trip became more difficult for the clan to make. The difficulty of travel coupled with the fact of sheer numbers- his six children married and had children, and a few more local citizens became interested in the Presbyterian religion. In 1872 the Commander family had enough people to form their own church, Fair Hope. There is not a complete list of all of the charter members of Fair Hope, but on the preserved list there are only two names that do not have a direct connection with the Commander name. These are Mr. & Mrs. John Rose, and Mrs. Jane Carter. Mrs. Carter may have been kin to Capt. Commander’s daughter-in-law. Other local names that you may recognize that did marry into the Commander family are Severance, Scarborough, and Carter. So, it’s fair to say that Fair Hope was a family church.
Capt. Commander lived for eight years after the founding of Fair Hope. He died in 1880, and is buried in the well-maintained Fair Hope Graveyard. His son-in-law, Robert Murrell Severance, became the second elder of the Church.
Now the building itself; this little 30’6”X40’4” building was built at the time of the congregation’s 1872 organization in the center of the present graveyard, of course on land donated by Capt. Commander. There is no record of who built the building. I think that it would be safe to say that the Commander family certainly played a large role in furnishing the material and labor to erect the building. The original building was built in the typical Meeting House style: a small rectangular, gabled roofed structure with two front doors, clear glass double hung windows and having a chimney on each side for the two pot belly stoves to exhaust the smoke. You can look up “Meeting House style” in an architectural dictionary and you may very well see a picture of Fair Hope’s building.
For an unknown reason, in 1911 the building was moved about 200 feet to the left and closer to the present road. At that time, the present 10’ deep porch, brick columns and the steeple were added to the front of the building. As the congregation began to grow, several other noticeable additions were made to the building to house educational and fellowship space.
Fair Hope has also seen history made here. In 1890, the Pee Dee Presbytery held their annual session here, which proved to be one of the largest gatherings ever held here with standing room only attendance. Later on in 1967, Fair Hope selected Mrs. Dorothy Scarborough as a Ruling Elder; she was the first female Ruling Elder of a Presbyterian church in Darlington County and eastern South Carolina.
With declining membership in early 1969, the strong willed, determined Commander trait became obvious again when the Presbytery wanted to close Fair Hope due to its small congregation. The congregation understood, but would have no part of the closure or abandonment; this was their church, the church that they all grew up in and loved. Closing Fair Hope was not an option. After much prayer and soul searching, their answer came in: becoming an independent church. So on April 8, 1969, Fair Hope was chartered as an Independent Church with The Holy Bible as their charter. With this new breath of life, Fair Hope continues to serve its loyal membership of the rural community as it has since 1872.
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 40-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 750 religious edifices throughout the state.