St. Andrew’s Parish Church2604 Ashley River RoadCharleston, SC 29414843-766-1541
Brief History of Saint Andrew’s Parish ChurchBuilt in 1706, this simple, elegant church is the oldest surviving structure used for worship south of Virginia. It is South Carolina’s only remaining colonial cruciform church.St. Andrew’s Parish Church (commonly known as Old St. Andrew’s) was one of ten Anglican churches in South Carolina established in 1706 by the Church Act. It was built to serve the Anglican planters along the Ashley River, a thriving tidal waterway that connected them to the city of Charles Town and to each other. The ancient building holds a full schedule of worship services every Sunday. Some of its earliest counterparts are still used, but less often. (None are as old.) Others have been replaced or augmented by newer buildings, some centuries old themselves, some modern. Still others have vanished, or their ruins stand in eerie silence to ages past. Visitors to this national treasure see a beautifully restored building, but the church hides a past that has left it for dead many times.Rice, indigo, and slaves brought prosperity to the lands along the Ashley River, where some of the wealthiest plantations in colonial South Carolina were located. The church was expanded into the shape of a cross in 1723 to accommodate a growing population. It burned in the 1760s but was quickly rebuilt inside its existing walls. But the parish declined before the Revolution and into the antebellum era. Ministering to the slaves, at the church and three plantation chapels, became the focus of the clergy. For forty years, Rev. John Grimké Drayton, the renowned horticulturalist of Magnolia-on-the-Ashley just north of the parish church, was rector. The church was one of the few buildings along the Ashley that Union troops did not burn to the ground during the Civil War. It became a polling place and did not reopen until 1876, eleven years after the war ended. The parish was at the epicenter of two of the most important events of late nineteenth century Charleston: the phosphate mining boom along the Ashley and the Great Earthquake of 1886, which caused significant damage to the church. After Rev. Drayton died in 1891, St. Andrew’s lay dormant for the next fifty-seven years. In 1948 Episcopalians moving to the West Ashley suburbs reopened the dilapidated church, even though it was far away from new residential developments. Dogged perseverance brought slow but continual improvements. A parish house was built, then expanded twice in quick succession. Hurricane Hugo (1989) caused major damage to the graveyard. Into the twenty-first century, the church undertook the most extensive restoration in its history and celebrated its tercentennial. In 2013, after undergoing a deliberate process of discernment, Old St. Andrew’s aligned with the Diocese of South Carolina and left The Episcopal Church. For more than 300 years, St. Andrew’s has survived, indeed has prospered, against all odds.