FAIRFIELD COUNTY – In the late 1700s many emigrants from Ireland came to America seeking religious freedom and a better life. Many of these newcomers to the colonies were “Covenanters” of Scotch-Irish descent and were of the Presbyterian or Reformed faith.
Such were the religious conditions prior to 1812 when Salem Presbyterian Church, as it is now known, was founded.
A homecoming and anniversary celebration has been planned there for Sunday. Former pastors, members and friends of the church are invited to attend the day’s festivities which begin at 10 a.m. with Sunday school. A covered-dish dinner will be held in the Fellowship Building at 12:30 p.m. after the 11 a.m. worship service.
Contact the Rev. Richard B. Hodges at 803-635-6097 for more information.
Salem Presbyterian Church was originally known as Little River Presbyterian Church, named for the Little River Creek in western Fairfield County.
In the early days of its existence, like almost all churches of that time, the pulpit was filled by a circuit-riding preacher. It was officially instituted as a church by Congaree Presbytery during meetings of Nov. 12-16, 1812.
The site for the church and cemetery was a “trust deed of gift” from the Means family. As early as 1826, Thomas Means granted a portion of land to the worshippers so that a church building could be erected. Later, on Nov. 17, 1896, five acres of land were granted to Salem Church by Virginia Preston Means, R. Preston Means and John Hugh Means for the sum of five dollar paid by the church’s trustees, David M. Milling, Samuel R. Crawford and David R. Coleman. The Means family had worshiped at Salem Church for many years and John Hugh Means was governor of South Carolina 1850-1852.
The Means family was unwilling to sell the land to the church. Instead, they desired to give the land “on account of the love we have for said church.”
The charter for this particular religious organization by the name of “The Salem Presbyterian Church in Fairfield District” was granted by the S.C. Senate on Dec. 18, 1813. The church enjoyed fraternal relations with the Sion Presbyterian Church of Winnsboro and the Lebanon Presbyterian Church (founded 1775, and presently found on S.C. 34, six miles distant from Salem Church.) The highest recorded membership was in 1918 with 205 members.
The original meeting house in 1812 was a wooden cabin approximately 40 by 60 feet that ran parallel with the public road. This first of what was to become three church buildings was a plain wooden structure having a large auditorium and gallery and a separate session house. This was typical construction for a rural Presbyterian church in the early 1800s.
Former church member and historian, the late Lugenia Gladney Roberts, wrote in 1946,“Through growth, worthy ambition, religious zeal, and untiring effort, by common consent and purpose on the part of the people, this building was removed and in its place a new house of worship was erected … in 1893.”
This construction of a new church building as well as a manse in 1893 was under the ministry of the Rev. G. T. Bourne. The second building was completed in 1894. It too was a wooden edifice but with a spacious auditorium, gallery and meeting rooms under one roof. The frame construction included arched windows and lights, and “a large, lone spire of the structure gave added beauty and dignity to the entire setting,” according to Roberts.
Dedicated in 1894 the building served the church as a meeting place for worship and Sunday School until Aug. 30, 1927, when it was struck by lightning and completely destroyed. For a time, worship services were held under the oak trees by the side of the ruins.
The third, and present, church building was completed in 1928 and dedicated Aug. 16, 1936. Many improvements have been made to the church and manse since that time and a new fellowship building was added in 1978.
Salem Church was for many years a member of the Presbyterian Church, United States (PCUS). In 1973 the church became a charter member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) denomination. Over its 190 years of existence, it has been a member of the Harmony, Bethel and Congaree Presbyteries (PCUS) and the Calvary and Palmetto Presbyteries (PCA). It is located in western Fairfield County on S.C. 215, a fifth of a mile north of Salem Crossroads (S.C. 34/S.C. 215).
Ministers over the years have included the Revs. J. S. Lyons, Charles Harris, Bert Wilkinson, Wilbur Parvin, Marshall Smith, Robert Wallace, James Lewis Russell, John Holmes, Ken Barnes, Dan Smyth and Richard Hodges, pastor since Feb. 1984.
The current membership is 123 with attendance of about 50 members and visitors each Sunday. The church has five elders and seven deacons and a deacon emeritus. A cemetery behind the church has almost 600 burials dating to 1814 and including almost 60 veterans of America’s wars from the Revolution to the Persian Gulf War.
The church is active in the affairs of Palmetto Presbytery and has supported numerous missionaries throughout its history. The church has sponsored a number of its youth in summer missions projects to China, South Africa, Mexico, India and other countries. The church currently supports several missionaries of the PCA as well as other non-denominational missions organizations.
Biweekly Fellowship Suppers, a youth program, ladies circle meetings, and an active Women In the Church (WIC) organization add to the life of the church. The church also enjoys the fellowship of neighboring P.C.A. churches in the Lebanon, Winnsboro and Ridgeway communities.
The church treasurer for many years was the late James O. Coleman and the late Nancy Blair Hendrix was the organist and pianist for many years.