Steeple Restoration Begins: April 8, 2020
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