Church of the Week: Salem Black River Presbyterian, Part 2
By Bill Segars
Last week, hopefully you learned more about Salem Black River Presbyterian than you knew before. This week, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the close surrounding area. I’m beginning to accept that not everyone enjoys and appreciates history (I don’t understand that, but I do accept that). I’ll admit that sometimes reading history can be disinteresting, but living history puts learning in a completely different perspective, tangible, fun. This is the opportunity that you’ll discover this week, living history of Salem Black River Presbyterian Church.
When you visit Salem you see a small white wood frame building behind the main church building. This is Salem’s Session House, a building where the business of the church was conducted, including “the trials of members who had fallen from grace”. Salem and many other churches of this period kept meticulous records of “trials” of their members. Now is not the time to delve into this subject, but if you ever get the chance to read these records, you’ll never watch another Soap Opera again, you’ll be a history buff.
The Session House was built at the same time that the church was built, 1846, by the J. Lomas Company from the simple plan of “it was to be built not less than twenty four feet long by fifteen feet wide and three feet from the ground to the floor”. This contract was entered between the two parties for a cost of $225. Oh the simple life of trust, how sweet it is.
Behind the Session House you’ll find the graveyard. By all means take the time to reverently stroll through this burial ground. It is perfectly laid out and very easy to navigate. Many notable individuals have been laid to rest here with the earliest marked grave being 1794. I realize that I do not need to tell anyone that is reading this article, but when you enter the wrought iron gates, you’re entering a graveyard, sacred ground. Some people that enter do not understand that and they do things that their “Mother would not be proud of”. The graveyard is not haunted, it’s a final resting place, please treat it as such.
The final historic building on the property is also in the graveyard. For your convenience, there is a period, operational outhouse available to you. The best feature about this building is that you can bring five of your closest friends with you, because it has six holes. This is truly living history.
Now back on the serious side of living history. Salem Black River does in fact have an active congregation and they do hold regular services. These services are not held just for a time to worship the risen Lord, but an opportunity to keep everyone in attendance grounded to their historical roots. Member or not, everyone is welcome to feel the moving experience of worshiping in an old House of God where the shutters are opened and the windows raised to allow the cool breeze to blow through. Salem’s membership, as to attendance, is very similar to your church, just smaller numbers. Salem has 30 members on the roll and their average active attendance is 14; fourteen people in a 2709 square foot building, so there is plenty of room for visitors.
Salem’s services are held the second and forth Sunday of every month at 4:00 p.m., except in the month of August, the members say that it’s too hot in August. I realize that it’s August now, so I’ll remind you in September. The time of these services typically will not conflict with services at your regular church, so plan on enjoying this living history experience with friends, bring a car load or a bus load; you’ll be welcomed by Salem’s Southern hospitality. It’s only about 30 miles from the Darlington area, so it can be an enjoyable 45-minute Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside.
This small congregation is an amazing group in their love and appreciation for their old building. They have presently committed to restoring the exterior brick walls of this building. Deterioration of the 1846 mortar and bricks has been monitored for several years and evidence of structural jeopardy is showing up in several areas. In order to salvage the structural integrity of the load bearing walls, they are being inspected and repaired up close. Any spoiled mortar and broken brick are being removed and replaced with a historic lime based mortar and “new handmade” brick over the entire building. In the severely damaged areas, aluminum stiching rods are being imbedded in the mortar to strengthen the joints. In many cases these areas are being found as high as 40 feet above the ground. Over time the lime stucco finish on the water table foundation and the four massive columns have been damaged. This damage will be repaired and a new coat of historic lime based stucco will be applied.
If this sounds expensive, it is. In the small congregation’s dedication to save their building, they have committed to a cost upwards of $90,000. Don’t forget this is the same building that you learned last week cost $5,620 to completely construct in 1846. They have decided not to seek grants or aids to pay for this renovation; but through faith they are convinced that with the help of historically minded friends this goal can be met. They have received some outside help already, one substantial donation, but they need more help. If anyone would like to truly experience living history with a tax deductible donation that can certainly be done by sending your check to Salem Black River Presbyterian Church, 210 Serenity Circle, Mayesville, S.C. 29104. Readers: Read Salem Black River Presbyterian Church Part 1
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.