Old St. Andrew’s Parish Church in Charleston is the oldest church structure south of Virginia that still hosts regular weekly services. The church was one of 10 Anglican churches established in South Carolina by the Church Act of 1706, which named the Church of England as the official church of the state. The Church Act went on to divide South Carolina into parishes, and by law residents of all denominations paid taxes to the Anglican church. St. Andrew’s was among the wealthiest parishes.
St. Andrew’s Church served planters who owned vast rice and indigo plantations along the Ashley River and also controlled the South Carolina government due to the Church Act. Built between 1706 and 1708, the church building was remodeled in 1723 in the design of a cruciform. The renovation also expanded the building to meet the needs of a growing membership. Old St. Andrew’s Church is the only extant colonial cruciform church in South Carolina.
Though the church suffered damage in a 1764 fire, it soon was rebuilt within the surviving exterior. However, despite the fact that the church had seen a great deal of growth in the decades before, its membership began to decline around this time. Priests began visiting local plantations and focusing their messages on slaves as a means of influencing their thoughts and subsequent behavior. As a result, fewer plantation owners needed to leave their homes to attend worship services. Still, Reverend John Grimke Drayton, owner of nearby Magnolia Plantation, remained rector of St. Andrew’s for 40 years, preaching to both whites and slaves.
Though many churches and plantations were burned by Union troops during the Civil War, St. Andrew’s Church was spared, though it closed during this time and did not reopen until 1876. Like most structures in the vicinity, the Great Earthquake of 1886 harmed the church; unlike many others, St. Andrew’s survived. However, when Reverend Drayton died in 1891, the church ceased holding services and did not again receive worshipers until 1948 when West Ashley neighborhoods began to see rising populations. Today the church thrives as a member of the Diocese of South Carolina, which split from the national Episcopal Church in 2012.
Old St. Andrew’s Parish Church is listed in the National Register:
(St. Andrews Parish Church) The present St. Andrews Episcopal Church building dates from 1764 and is cruciform in shape. The first church on site was built ca. 1708, enlarged in 1733, and burned in 1764 and probably rebuilt the same year. With passage of the Church Act in 1706 by the Colonial South Carolina Assembly, this church became one of the administrative centers of colonial government, serving as a place where proclamations and public notices were read and posted, vital statistics were recorded, poor relief was dispensed, and destitute orphans were apprenticed. The building maintains the architectural integrity of a rural colonial parish church of the 1760s.
The use of cast and wrought iron in the balustrade of the alter rail and pulpit is unique. The main entrance is at the west end of the building at the base of the cross. The façade consists of a six-panel double door. In the gable is a clear glass oculus with mullions. Facades of the nave consist of three 12/12 double sashed windows to each side, surmounted by semicircular fan windows. The sides of the transepts have the same type windows as does the nave: one window to a side and a total of four. The gable ends of the transept match the façade of the base of the nave. The chancel contains a single 12/12 window with semicircular window in either side; the chancel façade consists of a centrally placed, but raised, semicircular window. Quoins are located on all outer corners. The cornice at the eaves is denticulated.
More Pictures of Old St. Andrew’s Parish Church