Quintessentially Lowcountry: Old Sheldon Church a landmark in so many ways

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Quintessentially Lowcountry: Old Sheldon Church a landmark in so many ways

By JULIANN VACHON jvachon@beaufortgazette.com 843-706-8184
Published Friday, April 9, 2010   |  420 Words  |  news

Tucked away among tall oaks swept with Spanish moss sit the Old Sheldon Church ruins, a site with enough political, historical and architectural significance to fill a book, said historian Larry Rowland.
Today the ruins, located about 30 miles from Beaufort, provide a "stunningly beautiful and dramatic" backdrop for destination weddings, visitors, photographers and history buffs.
Formally known as the Prince William Parish Church, the church was primarily funded by British loyalist William Bull and bordered his Sheldon Plantation Settlement, Rowland said. The cornerstone was laid in 1751 and the first service held in 1757, Rowland said.
It became the first temple-form Greek revival building in the Western Hemisphere and signified the beginning of Greek revival architecture, he said. Many courthouses, libraries, college buildings and other structures were built in that style.
"It's ironic because the Bull family were huge loyalists ... yet the type of architecture that they brought to America became a symbol of American democracy," he said.
The British burned the church during the Revolutionary War. It was rebuilt from its remains in 1826 but met a similar fate in 1865, when Gen. William T. Sherman's troops set it on fire during the Civil War.
Today, the weathered yet formidable brick ruins look like "they're growing up out of the ground," said photographer Lindsey Mahaffey, owner of Sosa Bella Photography in Greenville.
Mahaffey and her team photographed a destination wedding at the ruins in November for a couple from Mississippi, she said.
"It's absolutely gorgeous and stands out among other wedding destinations," Mahaffey said. "There's nowhere else in the state like it."
The site also is intricately linked to the Parish Church of St. Helena, said St. Helena archivist Bob Barrett.
Prince William Parish was formed from the St. Helena's parish, which was established in 1712, he said.
In the 1970s, the ruins and surrounding property were transferred to the church and a trust was set up to fund their maintenance, Barrett said.
Parish Church hosts a church service and picnic at the ruins every year on the second Sunday after Easter. A silver communion set and other relics of the Old Sheldon Church dating to 1750s will be used during the service, Barrett said.
The Rev. Andrew C. Pearson of St. Helena said descendants of the Prince William Parish likely started the annual service in honor of the church's history.
"It's like a homecoming of sorts," Pearson said. "It gives everyone a chance to remember the heritage."