Church of the Week: First Baptist Church Darlington
By Bill Segars
Much has been written about Darlington Baptist Church of Christ in newspapers, and a book was written about its history. No, that name is not a misprint. Darlington Baptist Church of Christ was this congregation’s original name when it was established in 1831. That name served the congregation well through all of its trials and difficulties of start-up, War Between the States, and Reconstruction for 81 years. I’ll not attempt to rewrite or even summarize the trials of those 81 years. First Baptist Church Darlington has the book “In God We Trust, 175 Years” that’s very interesting reading; if you get a chance, please review it.
The aspect of the church that I’d like to focus on is the campus that you see today situated on the corner of S. Main Street and W. Broad Street, 216 S. Main Street. You may not realize it, but this corner actually houses the second and third church buildings of the three buildings that have served this congregation. The first 1830 building was disposed of for $800 on June 2, 1866. The present sanctuary, the third building, was dedicated on December 8, 1912. At that time, the name was changed to First Baptist Church Darlington. But where is the second 1859 building? Think about that as we continue, we’ll find out in good time.
Unfortunately during a very critical time in the history of First Baptist Church Darlington, 1896 to 1925, all of the church records were lost. What we know about that time has been pieced together from memory, or evidence that the 1912 building reveals. At some time prior to 1912, the decision was made to construct a new building. There is no record of the architect, or the builder of this building. Due to a mortgage, the cost of the building in 1912 was known to be $33,000.
I’m going out a limb here and make a statement based on only one reference concerning the architect of this detailed building. Due to the fine architectural appointments seen on, and in this building, I can safely assume that an architect was employed to design this building. The architectural firm of Shand & Lafaye had just completed St. Matthew’s Episcopal next door in 1906. The Baptists would certainly not be out-done in 1912 with their new building. The church has no record of an architect, but The South Carolina Architects 1885-1935 shows William Augustus Edwards as the architect of First Baptist Church, Darlington. Even though courthouses were Edwards’ main interest in S.C., there are similarities in those buildings with the details seen in First Baptist. Brick Georgian Revival buildings seem to have been his favorite style. He designed the razed 1906 Darlington County Courthouse, so he must have been in Darlington when First Baptist began planning their new building.
My most compelling argument for Edwards’ involvement is that he was raised in Darlington. He was born on December 8, 1866, the son of Augustus Fulton Edwards and Elizabeth Sarah Hart Edwards. After graduating from St. David’s Academy in Society Hill, he went on to study mechanical engineering at Richmond College, and then the University of South Carolina. After graduation, he worked with Hartsville native Charles Coker Wilson, who designed his home church there. Nothing would have pleased Edwards more than to come home to design First Baptist Church.
Regardless of who the architect was, we’ll all agree that the rectangular Georgian Revival building is stunning. Its symmetry, a typical sign of Georgian Architecture, can be seen on all sides. The front portico is supported by four large Roman Doric columns under an entablature with medallions between tryglyphs. The overhang dentil boxing detail houses a built in gutter system to move the water away from the massive gable roof. The six bay exterior solid Flemish Bond brick walls have recessed brick work at the window locations.
The steeple is characterized by several different stages. The masonry square base is accented by sandstone quoin corners with bull’s eye windows. The next tier is also built of brick, but octagonal in shape with round-top open louver vents to allow the sound from the bell to escape. The next tier is built of wood and stucco with bull’s eye windows. The copper spire surmounted by a cross tops the steeple. When the original 2,280 pound bell and frame was installed, 15 men, several pulleys and a lot of rope was required to hoist this unit up and into the second tier.
This is not the original steeple. On April 4, 1984, the top 60 feet of the steeple was blown to the ground during a storm. Ten months and $65,000 later (almost twice as much as the entire church building cost in 1912), a new steeple was raised into place by three men, a small amount of rope and a really big crane.
The First Baptist Church has been very good stewards of their corner lot with additional buildings that have been added to meet the growing membership of the congregation. On January 15, 1956, the $70,000 Jones Building was dedicated as a Sunday School building. Then on December 14, 1975, the Illy McFall Memorial Building was added to the campus as a recreation building. Almost exactly seven years later, a substantial addition was made to the McFall Building. On December 11, 1982, the E. S. Howle Fellowship Hall was dedicated to enhance the spiritual and social growth of the church. A 1996-97 building project added needed office space, and many renovations were made to the existing buildings in an effort to “tie everything together”. While all of the additions do not compete with the architecture of the original sanctuary, they certainly are compatible with it.
We’ve now talked about most all of the buildings on the corner, but where is the 1859 wood siding building? Do you recognize it? Most people will not, but it’s there. In 1924, it was decided to move the almost abandoned structure forward and to the right of the sanctuary, encase it with a brick veneer, renovated it and use it as an educational building. After spending $31,000 to do this, it was later named the Harding Building. The steeple bell was removed and installed on ground level to the left of the building. This disguised 1859 building is like God’s love for us, unseen but always there.
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. If you have comments, please feel free to contact him at: email@example.com.
[Editor’s note: Mr. Segars speak at First Baptist Church Darlington on Thursday October 8 at 11 a.m to present “Churches of S.C.” For more info.Jeff Sifford: 843-393-2874]