Please note that the Old Sheldon Church Ruins are located on private property. The property is owned and managed by St. Helena’s Church in Beaufort.
Sheldon Church, formerly known as the Prince William Parish Church, has a tumultuous and eventful history. From its first service in 1757 to its present peaceful setting, the church has followed the travails of our nation’s history. It is one, if not the, first churches built in temple form in the United States.
Originally organized and funded in the 1740s and 1750s by William Bull, whose Newberry Plantation bordered the church grounds, the church was named Sheldon in honor of the Bull family’s ancestral home in England. The church was set on fire in 1779 by British troops led by General Augustine Prevost during the Revolutionary War. It was rebuilt from the remaining walls between 1825 and 1826.
Tradition states that on January 14, 1865, near the end of the Civil War, General Sherman’s troops burned the church a second time as part of his “March to the Sea” campaign. While the walls still refused to fall, the church was not repaired again. However, another possible fate has come to light. In a letter dated February 3, 1866, after the end of the war, Milton Leverett wrote that “Sheldon Church not burn’t. Just torn up in the inside, but can be repaired.”
The inside of Sheldon Church was apparently gutted by whites and blacks who needed the materials to rebuild their homes burned by Sherman’s army. This information comes from The Leverett Letters, published by the University of South Carolina Press, and can be found on pages 403 and 405. Please note that the National Register’s description, quoted below, supports the contested theory that the church was burned by General Sherman’s troops.
A tablet located at the Old Sheldon Church reads: “Church of Prince William’s Parish, known as Sheldon built between 1745-1755. Burned by the British Army 1779. Rebuilt 1826. Burned by the Federal Army 1865. Tablet placed by Columbia Committee South Carolina Society Colonial Dames of America 1937.”
The painting below is a rendering done by artist John Wenrich. Achieved by studying the existing walls and entablature, the rendering is an idea of what the church would have looked like before it fell to ruin. The image was found in the book, Prince William’s Parish and Plantations by John Reynard Todd, published by Garrett and Massie in 1935.
Prince William’s Parish and Plantations by John Reynard Todd, 1935
Sheldon’s ruins are listed in the National Register:
(Prince William’s Parish Church) Sheldon Church is said to be the first conscious attempt in America to imitate a Greek temple. Built between 1745-1753, the ruins of the church still retain their classic simplicity. Surrounded by moss-draped live oaks, the original three-and-one-half foot thick colonnaded walls of Flemish bond and the four all-header bond portico columns remain, attesting to the solid construction and master craftsmanship which enabled it to withstand two conflagrations and over two hundred fifty years of existence. Complete by 1753, Sheldon Church was built along a row of seven Tuscan columns (six engaged, one outstanding).
The western façade had an elegant portico, crowned by a triangular pediment with bulls-eye window and cornice with dentils. The large front doorway had a fanlight above and two round-headed windows, symmetrically spaced, on either side. On the north, five bays between the engaged columns were filled with a single tier of tall, round-headed windows; the other bay was left open for a portico. At the eastern end, above the alter, was a Palladian window, with a round-headed window to each side. Sheldon Church was burned by General Augustine Prevost’s British troops in May 1779. General Sherman’s 15th Corps under General John Logan burned Sheldon Church on January 14, 1865 and it was never rebuilt. Marble sarcophagi in the churchyard bear the names of South Carolina leaders.
Old Sheldon Church Ruins – Getting Married
Old Sheldon Church Ruins – Directions
Please note that the ruins rest on private property. The owner, St. Helena’s Church in Beaufort, asks us to share these guidelines for visiting: No climbing on the ruins or grave markers, no touching of the ruins, no littering or defacing the ruins or surrounding property, and respecting the authority of preservationists and St. Helena’s Church members who are charged with maintaining the property.
Old Sheldon Church is located on Old Sheldon Church Road between Gardens Corner and Yemassee. Coming from Beaufort on US 21 North, as you approach the intersection of US 17 at Gardens Corner, bear left, continue through the stop sign and go about 1/4 mile. Turn right onto Sheldon Church Road, which is directly across from Bull Point Plantation. Go about two miles and you’ll see the ruins on the right side of the road.
More Pictures of the Sheldon Church Ruins
Reflections on the Old Sheldon Church Ruins
Contributor Susan Klavohn Bryant shares about her photo, seen below: “We visited the Old Sheldon Church ruins on a cold rainy day which made the site seem even more eerie than usual. The gothic architecture, gnarled oaks, Spanish moss, and crumbling gravestones always remind me of a spooky movie set, but it’s a beautiful setting.”
Sara Dean, the photographer who contributed the picture below, says that Old Sheldon Church Ruins is one of her favorite spots. She points out an interesting detail seen on the interior wall: “To me and others, it is like a face on that wall that is always watching. I walk around down there and have pictures from all angles, and it is like those eyes follow where ever I walk. It is cool and eerie at the same time.”
What do you think?