Established in 1680, St. Philip’s Church is home to the oldest congregation in South Carolina. The current church, located at 146 Church St in Charleston‘s French Quarter, was completed in 1838 and is the third to serve its congregation. The first church was a modest, wooden building constructed in 1681 on the present-day site of St. Michael’s. With the congregation growing, a larger brick church was authorized on the current site in 1710.
It wasn’t completed until 1723 due to Indian wars and damage from hurricanes. This church would house the congregation for over a century, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1835. Work on the present church began later that same year. After the fire, the congregation moved into its temporary home in the Tabernacle at Cumberland Street Methodist Episcopal Church. It remained there until 1838, when its new church was finished. The steeple, designed by noted architect Edward Brickell White, wasn’t completed until over a decade later, in 1850.
The photo below was taken by Dr. F.F. Sams, an esteemed doctor and photographer in the Charleston area, his photos were taken with a homemade camera. The image was contributed by his grandson and namesake, Franklin Sams. Much of Dr. Sams work can be seen in the archives of the Charleston Museum. The photo shows the St. Philips Church as it appeared during a snowstorm in 1903.
St. Philip’s, a National Historic Landmark, is also listed in the National Register
The present church building is the third structure to house the oldest congregation in South Carolina (established 1681). The building, without the steeple, was designed by Joseph Hyde and constructed by 1836. The spire was designed by Edward Brickell White and constructed between 1848 and 1850. The church is stuccoed brick with a single tier of windows on either side. There are three Tuscan porticos. The interior has a high vestibule, is in the style of an auditorium with high Corinthian arcades, a plaster barrel vault, galleries and an apsidal chancel. There are notable wrought-iron gates to the front of the building. The chancel and apse were altered, after a fire in 1920, by Albert Simons, architect. The spire is set upon a square stuccoed brick base with oculi; the steeple is octagonal with pilasters and oculi; the octagonal spire is capped with a weather vane. The imposing tower, perhaps massive for the portico beneath, is appropriately in the Wren-Gibbs tradition.
St. Philips Church – Interior
St. Philips Church – Chapel
This stucco over brick chapel sits in the back corner of the expansive cemetery at St. Philips Church. Built sometime prior to 1850, the chapel was originally used for speciality services throughout the year. Today, the structure is known as Chapel of the Good Shepherd and hosts weekly Sunday School services.
The organ, seen along the back wall of the chapel, was built by the famed craftsman, Thomas Appleton in 1829. Originally stored in the Charleston Orphans House chapel, the organ was moved to the Seamnan’s Home chapel in 1920 and finally was moved here in 1966 when the Seaman’s chapel closed. It is one of the oldest surviving Appleton made organs.
Reflections on St. Philips Church
Shane Blackburn, who contributed the photo below, shares: “Upon my first step on Church Street over 20 years ago, I fell deeply in love with this vista of the French Huguenot Church and St. Philip’s Church. In all honesty, after traveling the world, this is my most favorite spot I ever been to. I have literally sat under the lantern of the Pirate House and stared at St. Philips for hours. It was a perfect quiet morning.
More Pictures of St. Philips Church