HISTORY OF BETHEL
Bethel Presbyterian Church, organized in 1728, has survived the monarchs of England, the hardships of the American Revolution, the trials of the Civil War, the problems of the twentieth century, and six houses of worship. The history reflects “an intimate portrait of the changing manners and customs of a people through one of the most eventful periods of human history.”
Bethel was established by Archibald Stobo on the old stagecoach road (Highway 64) leading from Charleston to Savannah. The first building was used until 1746 when a “more handsome and adequate structure was erected.” Charles Fraser, the Charleston artist, preserved in his Sketchbook a likeness of that building, which was destroyed by a forest fire in 1886. Easter sunrise services have been held periodically on the historic site.
In the early 1800s the area surrounding Bethel became unhealthful in the summer because of malaria; therefore, many of the inhabitants moved to the summer colony of Hickory Valley, which later became Walterborough. In 1821 the trustees and minister obtained a subscription for building a church at Walterborough to be an appendage to the Bethel church at Jacksonborough. The rental of a church pew was $10 per year and “all persons who held pews in the Bethel church were entitled to a bench in the Walterborough church without an extra expense.” This building lasted until 1860 when a “handsome structure with a portico, tower, and a gallery for colored communicants” was built near the site of the original building. It had a short life because a tornado in 1879 destroyed it and all other churches in town.
Almost immediately a beautiful new church was constructed and dedicated in 1880. This white clapboard building made of heart pine went up in flames in 1966 from unknown causes. By 1969 the fourth sanctuary on this lot was a brick structure erected with materials as fireproof as possible.
In 1976 Douglas Hall, the educational building completed in 1951, was totally renovated, and a fine Möller pipe organ was built for the sanctuary. The 1890 Bethel Bell, which had fallen during the 1966 fire, was placed on a permanent structure in the side garden in 1997.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the church and grounds were refurbished. The sanctuary was given new carpeting, church pew cushions, and structural repairs. Douglas Hall received wallpaper, painting, carpeting, and new window treatments. The facilities-enhancement plan including handicap accessibility, paved road and side parking, landscaping, and sanctuary roof repair was completed in time for the 275th Anniversary of Bethel in 2003.
The continuing faith of the congregation in this twenty-first century is evidence of Bethel’s mission to witness to the abundance of life in Jesus Christ through worship, fellowship, and service to others. Today, the sixth church building is testimony that the “rugged determination and humble reliance on the providence of Almighty God” have enabled the congregation to survive and prosper through every single era of American history.
Laura Lynn Hughes, church historian 1999- 2013
David Hiott, church historian 2014 - 2019