Upper Dorchester church survives without an active congregation
GROVER — Dickie Phalen says his ancestors were among the first parishioners who worshipped here at the one-room white Methodist Meeting House known today as Appleby Church.
If you go
The Upper Dorchester County Historical Society’s annual tour will run 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
The seven sites include Appleby Church, the Koger House, Indian Field Camp Ground, the Charles M. Gavin House, the Klauber Building, the Badham Mansion and the Lourie Theater. (The last two sites will be selling the $15 tickets during the day of the tour).
For more information, visit www.upperdorchestercountyhistoricalsociety.com.
That is part of why he feels compelled to volunteer his time tending the grounds and looking over the property, which hasn’t held regular Sunday services in more than 70 years.
He knows the location of its surviving stone property line markers as well as the sunken path marking the original River Road, later renamed Wire Road after telegraph lines were strung up along it in the early 20th century.
“Twenty years ago, I started cutting the grass out here,” he says. “When I took the church on, it looked like woods.”
His wife Missy and son Henry also occasionally join him and help keep the church’s inside clean of dust and cobwebs.
Not only is the building itself an important artifact, but its site served as muster grounds for South Carolina’s first regiment that enlisted for the duration of the Civil War, Company C of the 24th S.C. Infantry.
“I’ve always loved history,” says Phalen, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Generals Gordon-Capers Camp 123. “I was an education major at The Citadel, and the War Between the States is right down my alley. I give the Southern side of it.”
Appleby Church, as well as Phalen and his fellow re-enactors, will be featured Saturday as the Upper Dorchester County Historical Society holds its annual fundraising tour of historic sites.
Joe Wamer of St. George is a descendant on the Appleby side and one of seven trustees who own and look after the church.
“We just see that it’s taken care of,” he says. “We put a roof on it and painted it 15 years ago. We had a lady die in Miami, Florida, who left the church some money. We were able to take her money and upgrade it.”
The church has its share of mysteries, including when it got its name.
When it was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, researchers said the name “presumably” came from James Preston Appleby, who donated land for the church site.
But Phalen says the church was referred to originally as the Old Methodist Meeting House, and the Appleby family’s association with it stretched over several generations. A few Applebys are among the 11 Confederate veterans buried on the site. Company C was led by Capt. Morgan T. Appleby.
Another mystery is its age. Phalen says records show a church at this same site as early as 1787, but a state architectural analysis said the Greek Revival design likely was built between 1840 and 1850. The church’s history says the church was founded in 1800.
“There is no record of a church being torn down or having burned or anything else,” Phalen says.
Another mystery is why the front facade features two double doors. Phalen says tradition holds that men used the right door while women — and their beaus, if they were courting —used the left. “Now, this probably would be politically incorrect,” he adds.
Inside, the church is divided not only with a center aisle, but also with a waist-high partition about two thirds the way down the aisle. Phalen says black people sat in the back, and there are an unknown number of unmarked graves of slaves behind the church.
Inside the front doors, to both the right and left, are a two small sections of pews that were “Amen Corners,” where elderly women and men sat.
A final mystery is whether the church’s architecture was influenced in any way by the Quakers, who settled nearby. Quaker Road runs into Wire Road about a mile south of the church.
Phyllis Hughes of the Upper Dorchester County Historical Society thinks there might be a connection. “This church has the appearance of a Quaker Church,” she says.
Meanwhile, Phalen intends to keep looking after this unique historical site, including doing more research on those interred here.
Another item on his to-do list includes reinstalling an iron fence that a vandal ripped off a grave site a few years ago. The vandal was caught and prosecuted, and the fence was recovered from an antiques dealer about 50 miles away.
“It hasn’t been returned from the Sheriff’s Department yet,” he says, “but we need to get it.”
Wamer says he is hopeful that descendants will continue to steward the historic building.
“There are a lot of families who are connected to it,” he says. “Anytime we have anything to do, they’ll step up and help.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.