St. Michael’s Episcopal Church is the oldest church in the city of Charleston. Its cornerstone was laid in 1752 and the church held its first service in 1761. Aside from an addition in 1883, the building is essentially the same as it was then (aside from normal maintennance and the occasional repair from weather and war). The pulpit, in fact, is the original and still bears a scar from a nearby shell burst during the federal bombardment of 1865.
A slight digression here: I had been under the impression that Charleston escaped significant damage during the Civil War (as implied in yesterday’s post). While it’s true that Sherman spared the city from a full assault by his army, Charleston endured off and on artillery bombardment for over a year. Much of the city was left in ruins, although many historical sites (including this church) escaped major damage. The picture below (from the national archives) is fairly convincing evidence that Charleston did not escape the war unscathed. I don’t know the name of the photographer, but it supposedly was taken in 1865 from the grounds of the Circular Church (also still standing).
Anyway, live and learn. I also learned that St. Michael’s survived some major natural disasters along the way. The steeple, for example, is over 193 feet tall (including the 7.5 foot weather vane). In 1886, this part of the structure sank about 8 inches because of an earthquake (earthquakes in South Carolina?).
In 1938, the church was badly damaged by a tornado, resulting in repairs that took months to complete.
President George Washington worshipped here on a Sunday afternoon in May, 1791. Seventy years later, Robert E. Lee did the same thing (in the very same pew). In hindsight, one could conclude that Washington’s prayers were answered; Lee’s apparently were not. If you take much stock in that kind of thing, that is.
If you’re driving toward Charleston from the James Island / Folly Beach area (on the 30 connector), you can see the spires of both St. Michael’s and St. Phillips rising above the old city. For all practical purposes, they are the “skyline”. There just isn’t anything very tall in the so-called historic district.