By Lee Brockington
The enchanting little church featured on the front cover of the April issue of Lowcountry Companion Magazine is perched, quite literally, on the edge of the marsh in the heart of Pawleys Island. The sanctuary opened for services in 1947, but the building itself is much older. It originally served as an old Pentecostal Holiness Church in Georgetown but –– through the efforts of the Georgetown Laymen’s Evangelistic Club –– was dismantled and moved to the Island. Overlooking marsh and creek, the land where the church sits was donated by Dr. and Mrs. J.H. Porter of Andrews, SC.
Because so many area folks owned beach houses and “summered” in Pawleys, the idea of a summer chapel was most appealing. Mr. J.M. Layton of Georgetown was an original member of the Evangelistic Club, and for years he cared for the chapel and opened the doors each Sunday. Other summer residents took an active interest in repairs and in organizing the services. In 1970, the Linwood Altman family assumed these tasks.
Local ministers, laymen, and retired ministers alternate preaching duties, and special music is performed each Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Interdenominational services are at 10 AM and are often standing room only.
Between 1947 and 1969 Sunday School classes for children and young people were also held. From 1970 to 1980, student ministers from Georgetown’s Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church conducted services during the summer. From 1971 to 1985, the newly organized Catholic Church (Precious Blood of Christ) used the chapel each Sunday for Mass. The Catholic church then moved to its larger site now on Waverly Road.
The charming, creekside chapel is often used for weddings and christenings. An average of 25 to thirty such services are held each year.
When the island first discussed incorporation in the early 1980s, it was here the arguments – both pro and con — were heard. The Town of Pawleys Island was incorporated in 1985, and mayor and council members were elected in the chapel, which was used as a polling place. The building miraculously survived Hurricane Hazel (1954) and Hurricane Hugo (1989), although it suffered damage in both storms.
The pulpit was given by Dr. and Mrs. Julian Kelly in memory of guests at their Tip Top Inn, which opened in 1932 and was destroyed by Hugo in 1989. The pulpit Bible was given by Mrs. Stan Brading of Sumter on July 4, 1965. The pulpit chair was given by the family of Wade O. Camlin III. The pulpit table was given in memory of Robert Stanton Hucks, Amelia Fox Stanton, and William Stanton by their family. Except for the Bible, these memorials replaced what was lost in Hurricane Hugo. The pews survived the saltwater surge, as did the portrait of Jesus.
Within seven months of the “Storm of the Century,” Pawleys Island Chapel was restored to use in the service of the Lord. Renovations in 1990 and 2005 allow 200 worshippers to experience a lack of pretense and a sense of kinship in a shared piece of paradise.
Lee G. Brockington is a historian and educator on the Waccamaw Neck. She is Senior Interpreter at Hobcaw Barony. She is editor of Pawleys Island, Stories from the Porch, a collection of oral history interviews, as well as author of Plantation Between the Waters, A Brief History of Hobcaw Barony and Pawleys Island, A Century of History and Photographs. Her newest book, State of The Heart – edited by Aida Rogers with a foreword by Pat Conroy – is scheduled for release in May of 2013. Lee and her husband, Bill Shehan, were actually married in the Chapel in 1990. Theirs was the first wedding ceremony following Hurricane Hugo!
Pawleys Island, A Century of History and Photographs provided the source material for this article. The book was compiled and written by Linwood Altman – father of Alan Altman – and Lee G. Brockington. (Joggling Board Press/Evening Post Publications, 2009)
The 278-page hard back pictography begins with an introduction by two of Pawleys famous vacationers; Cokie and Steve Roberts. They detail their love for the sandy, four-mile island and what it has come to mean to them as individuals and as a family.
Each chapter represents a decade. When you begin the story of Pawleys’ last century at page one, you glimpse a time when there were no Georgetown bridges, no causeways onto the Island and no Highway 17 (at least not as we know it now). By the end of the first chapter, everything changes.
“I believe this book reflects all the change between Pawleys Island and Georgetown over the past century” said Mr. Linwood Altman of the Civic Association’s latest work. “This coffee table time capsule is the culmination of three years of hard work, photo hunting, editing, delays, more delays, and waiting but it was well worth it.”
Other books published by the Pawleys Island Civic Association include Pawleys Island Stories from the Porch and Pawleys Island, Historically Speaking.