Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Camden is one of Robert Mills’ architectural masterpieces. Finished in 1822, it is a prime example of Greek Revival architecture.
Robert Mills mentions Bethesda Presbyterian Church in his 1826 publication, Statistics of South Carolina: “A handsome church has been erected in the upper part of the town, with a portico of four Doric columns in front, and a neat spire in the rear, containing a bell. The interior is arranged so that the floor and pews rise as they recede from the pulpit, giving an advantage to the audience, both in seeing and hearing.”
The monument in the foreground (seen below), also designed by Robert Mills, is where Baron Johann de Kalb is buried. The memorial was dedicated in 1825 with the cornerstone laid by the Marquis de Lafayette, a good friend of de Kalb.
A German, Baron de Kalb was sympathetic to the colonists’ cause of independence from the British. He died at the Battle of Camden in 1780, at the hands of Cornwallis’ men.
Bethesda Presbyterian Church is listed in the National Register:
Bethesda Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1822, possesses national significance as an example of the work of Robert Mills. One of only a few Mills churches remaining in the United States, Bethesda is distinctive both for the quality and type of its design and for the stage it represents in Mills’ career. Architecturally Bethesda is representative of a distinctive phase in Mills’ career. No longer a journeyman, but not yet the preeminent Federal architect designing the nation’s early monumental buildings, Mills displayed in Bethesda the work of a maturing architect strongly influenced by Jeffersonian classicism.
Bethesda, with its neo-classical temple form, represents “an important stage in Mills’ creation of a distinctly American classical style. The south façade has a tetrastyle Doric portico and entablature. The north façade, while referred to by Mills as the rear of the building, is the current entrance to the church. It has a tristyle Tuscan portico with double scissor stairs that lead to the two gallery entrances. The steeple is located above the church’s north gable, directly above the interior balcony. According to Mills, “the interior is arranged so that the floor and pews rise as they recede from the pulpit, giving every advantage to the audience, both in seeing and hearing.” The De Kalb Monument, located in the churchyard, reflects Mills’ concept of classical style and represents one of his smaller memorial designs. The marble monument resting on a granite base was constructed in memory of Baron de Kalb, a German who became a major general in the Revolutionary War and who died at the Battle of Camden. The Marquis de Lafayette laid the cornerstone to the monument in 1825.