Pinopolis church celebrates 162 years

  • Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The historic St. John’s Baptist Church in Pinopolis. FRANK JOHNSON/INDEPENDENT

Founded in 1851, the charming white clapboard chapel nestled in the woods on Sugar Hill Drive in Pinopolis has a history that dates back 162 years.
Established shortly after Pinopolis was created in the mid-1800s as a summer resort for neighboring planters, St. John’s Baptist Church has experienced many changes through the centuries.
Yet like the scriptural phoenix rising from the ashes, the church is again open with regular services and a small but active and growing congregation.
Services are held every Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m., with Sunday School following. The Reverend Monty Polk, a graduate of Southeastern Seminary Wake Forest, is serving as pastor.
The church’s beginning harkens back to the time when Pinopolis was surrounded by great plantations, most of which are now under Lake Moultrie as a result of the Santee-Cooper Project in the 1930s.
In the 19th century, in order to escape yellow fever and malaria, plantation owners left their homes during the summer. Pine barrens were considered particularly beneficial, thus the creation of summer communities such as Pineville, Summerville and Pinopolis.
Dr. Morton Waring and Frederick Adolphus Porcher were the first to build cottages there. By 1844, there were 12 homes.
The name of the village apparently came about as a joke: “I dated for the sake of the jest several letters which I had occasion to write, ‘Pinopolis,’ and this became the name of the village, which now numbers between twenty and thirty very excellent dwellings,” Porcher wrote.
By 1851, when St. John’s was erected on land donated by the Honorable William Cain of nearby Somerset Plantation, Pinopolis was a favored summer resort not only for nearby plantation owners but Charlestonians as well.
Life in Pinopolis was gentle and slow. At one point Porcher wrote humorously that such was the monotony of village life that on Sundays, services at the various churches attracted capacity crowds.
The first St. John’s Church stood about one-fourth of a mile from the present church’s location. The original congregation consisted of only eight members who had transferred from Goose Creek and nearby Mt. Olivet Church.
The first pastor was the Rev. D. M. Breaker. William J. Dennis and John W. Walling were deacons.
After Mr. Breaker’s resignation in 1856, he was succeeded by the Rev. Peter Huxford Sr.
During the Civil War, the population of Pinopolis burgeoned. Summer resident William Henry Ravenel recalled how the village was filled with refugees forced to flee beleaguered Charleston and how the women kept busy making clothing and medical supplies for their Soldiers Relief Association.
After the fall of Charleston in 1865, Pinopolis only just missed being burned to the ground by Northern troops.
Much of what transpired during the ensuing years was lost after church records were destroyed in a fire at the home of church trustee Cuthbert (J.C.) Hare. What is known is that in December 1884, the church moved to its present location, erected on a one-acre lot Adam Davis Hare had donated to the church.
The church is characteristic of the other buildings in Pinopolis—small and rather simple in design, constructed of white weatherboard.  The interior, while still simple, shows evidence of considerable skill.
Although the church continued to prosper in the ensuing years, by 1926 a majority of the members voted to transfer their membership to Moncks Corner Baptist Church. In March 1945, the majority of those remaining agreed to transfer title of the property to the Moncks Corner church.
There were stipulations, however. The church’s name, building and grounds were to be maintained in good condition in case the church could be reorganized. Services also were to be held at least once a year, if not more often. 
Although the church itself lay relatively dormant, the churchyard continued as a favored place for burials.  On Feb. 21, 1945, Josiah Owens McCants deeded some 2.5 acres of adjoining land, which expanded the burying ground.
Tombstones read like a Who’s Who of Pinopolis and Berkeley County families and include notables such as Senator Rembert Dennis.
In recent years the church also has been the site of a number of charming weddings.
Since its humble beginning in 1851, St. John’s remains an important part of the fabric of the Pinopolis community. Over the years individuals with familial and emotional connections to St. John’s have contributed to sustaining the facility.  
While needed renovations have been undertaken, the church building maintains its historical integrity and the church remains an important aspect of Pinopolis as a National Historic District.
Original oil lanterns still hang from the ceiling and hymns are sung to a pump organ. St. John’s thus offers a unique facility that offers an equally unique worship experience as it continues, 162 years later, its mission of worshipping God and serving the community. 
A special rededication service will be held at St. John’s Baptist Church in Pinopolis at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27. Everyone is invited.
The church is being re-consecrated as an independent body.
For further information, contact the Rev. Monty Polk at StJohnsPinopolis@gmail.com or (843) 899-8070.

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