Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church
Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church
I had the pleasure of going in to the Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church on Broad Street and meeting Roger Mower, a church member and historian. He spoke with me in detail about this magnificent and historical structure.
“This is the oldest church in the country,” he said of the building. “It was built in 1721 and was originally about 10-12 miles up Black River. Back then, Britain was in charge of everything and the church was where the townspeople would meet for, not just religious gatherings, but political, as well.”
I was feverishly jotting notes so Mr. Mower offered to let me sit in one of the pews so I could write more comfortably.
“These are so beautiful,” I said of the square, box shaped pews with prayer stools under them. “This is so unusual.”
“Yes, they’re made for families. They’re not assigned to any particular family,” he explained. “These are all original pews, too. They used to be rented, or bought, for a year to help pay for the church and the upkeep, but now, you can come in and just sit down anywhere you like and listen to the services.”
“Original?” I asked shocked that something this beautiful has lasted hundreds of years.
“Yes, the floors, too,” Mr. Mower confirmed, “Many things in here are original pieces of work. The back of the church where it’s curved was added in 1804 to enlarge the building, and the front was extended in 1824. However, the second set of doors that you came through is the original entrance into the church.
“The four windows in the corner are original, too.” He waved his arm in the direction the four corner windows. “You can see where the glass has bubbled with age if you get close enough. Later, when stain glass became popular, they put some stain glass windows in and then took some of them back out and replaced them with the original design, but those in the back were never touched so those structures have always remained.”
He walked us around and showed us so many things. When I started this story, I didn’t think would have enough information to fill up my pages, but now, I find I cannot find enough space to include this abundance of details.
For instance, the tile in some of the isles is hundreds of years old, as is the (absolutely beautiful) “18th century wine glass pulpit.” He shared with us how it had been dismantled at one point to accommodate a past pastor with a “bum leg” and then later reestablished.
As we walked and talked, he spoke of the division of the church that occurred somewhere around the late 1730’s. “The old church was later renamed, Prince Frederick Parish,” he announced.
“Wait! That’s Old Gunn Church,” I exclaimed. “I wrote about that place, too.”
“Well, yes,” Mr. Mower confirmed, “But Prince Frederick is the little white church you pass just as you turn right off Hwy 701. Later, they built, what is now called, ‘Old Gunn Church.’ It was built just down the road from Prince Frederick, which they had left abandoned. After Old Gunn burnt down, the parish returned to the first Prince Frederick Parish.”
Mr. Mower went on to explain that after the Civil War, when the British left around the first part of the 1800’s, they set the city on fire. As a result, it burnt part of the roof before the firemen were able to put out the fire.
“Was that the same fire that took out some of Front Street?” I asked while writing my notes.
Mr. Mower shook his head and smiled. “No, it wasn’t the same fire.”
As I snapped a few pictures and decided to make this a photo album and not just a story, he went on to tell me the church used oil lamps until 1901 and by 1980 when they put in Colonial Chandeliers. It was at this time that the stain glass windows were redesigned back to their original look (with the exception of the four windows at the front).
I mentioned to him about my brother coming to visit sometime and dragging him there to visit the old church. “Well, we’re here Monday through Friday from 12-3 if you bring him,” Mr. Mower offered. “And if you’re interested in coming to the services, we have three...8am, 9am, and 11am.”
We ended our trek around the church at the front doors. I noted a remarkably beautiful stone relic. “What is this?” I asked when we stopped in front of it.
“This is a Baptismal basin,” he explained. “During the Civil War it was dragged out with chains or rope and then later found in someone’s front yard.” With a laugh he added, “They were using it to grind rice in the bowl.”
Before leaving, we ran into Doug Miller. She looked so familiar to me. I know I’ve seen her in town many times, but she was the (retired) librarian at Winyah High School before it burned down.
After our tour of the Episcopal Church, and several photographs later, we walked through the cemetery a few feet and I snapped extra pictures. The church also owns the property (old library) behind them as well as the Prince Frederick Parish in Plantersville (the sister church).
If you haven’t been to the church, I encourage you to visit, if only to relish and bask in its beauty. The simplicity of the era is amazing. Take the tour and get lost in a space of time that our lives had left behind centuries ago.