Restoration: Phase 1
Funded and Completed
The church was closed in 2017 due to serious water intrusion and the deterioration of the steeple’s foundational timbers.
Phase 1 work, which was fully funded by private donations, included: Replacement of the sanctuary roof and internal gutter system.
- Restoration of the crenelations on the north parapet wall to match Walker’s original design.
- Restoration of the interior chancel wall and ceiling was accomplished by removing damaged plaster, restoring plaster surface to its 19th century design, and repairing the vaulted chancel ceiling and returning its color to Marian blue.
- Upgraded the electrical system for three phase service and installed a new 26-ton HVAC system.
- Secured the steeple with cribbing and steel supports so that it is safe to provisionally re-open the church as restoration efforts continue.
Restoration: Phase 2
Fundraising in Process
Phase 2 completes the work to permanently stabilize the steeple that had started in phase 1.
- With the steeple temporarily secured above the failed foundational timbers, the rotted foundational timbers will be removed and replaced with new engineered treated beams.
- With replacements completed, a 180-foot crane will lower the steeple to its original position and reattach the spire onto the new, modern and more secure framing.
- Scaffolding will be raised 130 feet to access the steeple’s exterior in-order to replace the wooden shingles, copper ridge caps and update the lightning protection system.
- Replace all the original internal gutter where the wooden steeple connects into the masonry base with copper.
Restoration: Phase 3
Restoration of Exterior Stucco
In an effort to modernize the historic finish in the 1970s, the original exterior rough caste stucco was completely covered with Portland cement. However, modern Portland cement deeply damages historic mortar. As a result, large chunks of the new modern “skin” are falling off the building and destroying the original masonry underneath.
- Remove all Portland cement from the entirety of Trinity Abbeville’s exterior surface.
- Repoint all mortar joints.
- Completely cover the church with rough caste lime stucco, score faux Ashlar blocks, and paint with a deep pink colored lime wash to restore the original 1860 appearance of the church.
Restoration: Phase 4
Restoration of Interior Plaster
There have been repeated attempts to repair the interior plaster over the last century. The original finish is covered with multiple layers of paint, plaster and sheetrock mud. Leaks attributed to the failing internal gutter system have caused much of the plaster to erode and fail. Successful repairs of the roof and gutter system in Phase 1 have stopped the leaks into the interior. Now that the walls are dry they can be restored with appropriate plaster and historic finishes .
- Remove all failing plaster down to the 1860 original base and masonry.
- Repoint all mortar joints.
- Restore the interior stucco finish with the original faux ashlar blocks, mark score lines, and paint with mineral coating that reproduces original 1860 finish.
Restoration: Phase 5
Restoration of Historic Windows and Organ
William Gibson Windows
The stained glass window of the Chancel and the “SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN” window on the north wall are from the studio of William Gibson, the Father of Stained Glass in America. Both were shipped to Trinity Abbeville from his New York Studios in 1860. Trinity Abbeville is one of the few churches in the nation to retain such magnificent examples of Gibson’s artistry.
The internal lead framing has deteriorated, there are numerous broken panes from external projectiles and the exterior wooden framing has deteriorated.
- Remove the windows to be re-leaded, repair the 160-year-old wooden exterior frame, and reinstall with protective covering.
John Baker Organ
The historic tracker organ, designed and built for Trinity Abbeville in 1860 by master organ builder John Baker of Charleston, is one of the rarest musical instruments in the Southeast. John Baker learned his craft from New York’s famed organ builder Henry Erben before moving to Charleston in the 1850s and becoming what is believed to be South Carolina’s only organ maker. This instrument is one of only two Baker organs remaining in the United States.
Dismantled in 2002 by an unscrupulous repairman and left in pieces, the organ has not been functional for over 18 years. The good news is that all of the organ’s elements have been found and deemed in good order for its restoration.
- Remove all organ components to an organ restoration experts’ workshop for repair.
- Restore organ to its original configuration and working condition using an electric air handler.
- Re-install the organ to its intended location in the church gallery.
Phase 1: Steeple Restoration Begins: April 8, 2020 - BEFORE COMPLETION
Trinity Church dates from 1842 with the construction of a small wooden building. In 1858, the growing and more afﬂuent congregation decided to build a larger and ﬁner structure. Architect George Edward Walker of Columbia, who had also worked on the state capitol building, was inspired by the advocacy of Gothic Architecture by the New York Ecclesiological Society of which his mentor Edward Brickell White was a member. It was their intention to create a more Christian Architecture for the 19th-century American landscape, one that soared to the heavens and uplifted the soul.
The cornerstone was laid on June 27, 1859, and the church was consecrated on November 4, 1860. The nave is 43 feet wide and 81 feet long; walls are of solid handmade brick, and the steeple soars 125 feet tall and was the tallest steeple in SC outside Charleston and Columbia. The ﬁnal cost of the building, including the organ, windows and bell, was $15,665 which was funded by church members, along with liberal donations from friends in Charleston and the Lowcountry. The congregation of 90 members held an optimistic vision of the future as they constructed a church that could hold 4 times that number, not including the balcony where they enslaved communicants would have worshipped.
Trinity holds a virtual “library” of rare 19th-century American stained glass, including at least eight windows dating to the church’s erection in 1859/60. The magnificent chancel window is attributed to the New York studio of William Gibson, considered the “father of stained-glass painting in America.” Gibson was also the brother of John and George Gibson who provided stained glass for the U.S. Capitol building. Stylistic similarities point to Gibson’s studio as the source also of the “Suffer Little Children” window and the medallions with symbols of faith adorning the tops of the church’s other stained-glass windows. Trinity represents only the fifth location in the world where Gibson’s work has been found as well as the second-largest collection of William Gibson stained glass yet discovered. The Epiphany window, Trinity’s only 20th-century stained glass, was installed in 1941, and was crafted by the famed J & R Lamb Studios. Trinity also contains extremely rare windows that utilized a process called Diaphanie; whereby translucent colored prints on paper were purchased from a print shop and fixed to glass by adhesive or starch and then varnished to make them more translucent. These are the only documented diaphanic windows in SC.
The steeple bell was the gift of Col. J. Foster Marshall of Abbeville, who was killed at the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862. During the war, a Confederate ofﬁcer requested that the bell be melted down for manufacture of a cannon, but fortunately the request was never pursued.
The rare John Baker “tracker” pump organ was one of the ﬁrst organs in Abbeville County and is one of only two Baker organs remaining in existence. Tracker refers to the mechanical link between keys or pedals pressed by the organist and the valve that allows air to flow into pipe(s) of the corresponding note. They were incredibly complex instruments—the height of 19th-century technology—and are very rare to find intact today. John Baker was born in England where he learned his craft of organ construction before coming to New York City to work for celebrated organ builder Henry Erben. He came to Charleston in 1851.
Trinity of Abbeville is currently closed to visitors due to severe deterioration of the steeple. Years of water intrusion has created rot in the 12’ X 12” massive timbers that support the spire, causing it to lean. Due to the unsafe conditions, the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina made the decision to close the church to both congregation and visitors until the stabilization of the steeple can be accomplished. The John Baker Tracker Organ was dismantled years ago for renovations by an unscrupulous repairman who never completed them. Fortunately, all the organ’s components are stored in boxes and available for restoration. When restored, it will be the sole remaining Tracker organ built by John Baker that is still playable. The magnificent chancel window by Gibson is in a fragile state of repairs and must be completely dismantled and rebuilt with new lead and framing.
Trinity’s Future is up to you!
In November 2019, Preservation South Carolina entered into a lease agreement with the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina for 5 years in order to manage the $3,000,000 budget for Trinity’s stabilization and restoration.
Due to the availability of approximately $780,000 from previous donations, Preservation SC has begun the work to begin the stabilization of the steeple.
Meadors Inc of Charleston is managing the construction and architectural requirements on the repairs to the roof, steeple, and internal gutter systems.
Though the work on the steeple is commencing, this still leaves the project short of the $2,300,000 needed to repair the stucco, both external and inside the sanctuary; repair and restore the William Gibson windows; and rebuild the John Baker organ.
Restoring Trinity means more than repairing the bricks, mortar, windows, and frame.
The funds raised will also be utilized for business development, using Trinity as a wedding/concert venue and creating a reserve fund for future maintenance. This way the small but growing congregation can have peace of mind knowing that, once the structure is fully restored, their building will be an economic driver for the community as it shelters them for worship once again.
Though Trinity is closed for repairs, the congregation is still active and holds services in the Parish Hall behind the church at 103 Bowie Street. Come worship with us: Sundays at 11:00 AM and Wednesdays at 6:00 PM