One of the things visitors most like about Charleston isn’t that it’s so rich in history—but that its history is in such plain sight. There may be no better example of this than the Second Presbyterian Church, built in 1811 on one of the highest points in the “Holy City.” In fact, one of the reasons that Charleston is known as the Holy City is that so many churches are part of its cityscape. With its unique location and history, the Second Presbyterian Church may be one of the most powerful symbols of this architectural and cultural influence.
The Origins of the Second Presbyterian Church
Although the building itself can be traced to 1811, the origins for the church go back into the 18th century. The First (Scots) Presbyterian Church had been founded in 1731 and eventually outgrew its own church as the congregation expanded.
In fact, the history of Presbyterian churches in Charleston began almost immediately after the founding of the city itself. As Presbyterians dissented from the Church of England, all manner of English, Scottish, and Irish immigrants came to the city to worship freely.
In need of a larger space to accommodate their growing flock, ideas for the Second Presbyterian Church were floated in 1809. While the Wragg family provided the church property, the Gordon Brothers (James and John) were tasked with designing and building the church itself. The result of the $100,000 investment was a beautiful new church on one of Charleston’s most prominent sites.
The Second Presbyterian Church Through History
As the oldest Presbyterian Church in Charleston, SC, this iconic place of worship has now earned a spot on the National Registration of Historic Places. The Presbyterian Church of the United States has also deemed it their number one historical site in the entire country.
In fact, the importance of the Second Presbyterian Church was highlighted in 1852, when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church was held at the site. Thereafter, the Reverend Thomas Smyth proposed a new association for artifacts of the church. The resolution was passed, and the Presbyterian Historical Society was created.
In the church itself, there is evidence of the history that’s taken place. An 1813 hurricane did damage to the roof, and in 1886, a particularly bad hurricane took off the roof entirely on the northern side of the church. Even the pews and the organs found themselves were filled with rain.
Visiting the Second Presbyterian Church Today
The Second Presbyterian Church is just as active as ever. For those looking for sites like this on their visit to Charleston, contact Charleston Carriage Works. While the tour routes are based on a city-mandated lottery system, you’re certain to see many historical sites while enjoying a relaxing carriage ride. There’s nothing like experiencing Charleston’s rich history in a horse-drawn carriage, which makes the history really come alive.