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Saving Trinity, Part III

The Decades Astonish & Steal

By Tom Poland

Author’s Note: This three-part story portrays a church in danger of collapsing and the people who love it. France’s Gothic cathedrals inspired architect George Walker’s design for Abbeville’s Trinity Episcopal Church. The church contains rare 19th-century American stained glass and a chancel window attributed to William Gibson, America’s father of stained glass painting. A rare John Baker “tracker” organ was in use for a while. Among Trinity’s illustrious members and clergy were Rev. William Porcher DuBose, founder of the University of the South’s School of Theology, John A. Calhoun, nephew of U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, and Armistead Burt, former Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress. The outlook is bleak, but determined people are fighting to save this treasure of a church. If you’d like to donate to Friends of Trinity Abbeville visit http://friendsoftrinityabbeville.org/donate-now/

May in a door now closed (Photo by Bill Fitzpatrick)

A notice on the front door warns that you look at the church at your own risk. The church stands empty. Closed. Nothing new. Trinity Episcopal closed during the Great Depression. “When my mother and aunt came back here to live in retirement, they tried other churches and it just didn’t work,” said May. “So, they got some friends who had grown up in the church with them and reopened the church. The first service was on November 1, 1948.”

October marks the 175th anniversary of the church’s founding but all these years later no singing, no praying, nothing takes place in the church. The hammering of woodpeckers shatters the silence.

What needs to be done? A lot. The first thing the church needs is to stabilize its steeple. “It’s hanging by a thread,” says Jean. May said the church steeple is a bird condominium. “One day an owl came to church. Another day a squirrel came to Sunday service. As the squirrel walked down the aisle, as all the ladies drew their feet up, the preacher stopped his sermon and blessed it.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Saving Trinity, Part II

The Decades Astonish & Steal

By Tom Poland

Author’s Note: This three-part story portrays a church in danger of collapsing and the people who love it. France’s Gothic cathedrals inspired architect George Walker’s design for Abbeville’s Trinity Episcopal Church. The church contains rare 19th-century American stained glass and a chancel window attributed to William Gibson, America’s father of stained glass painting. A rare John Baker “tracker” organ was in use for a while. Among Trinity’s illustrious members and clergy were Rev. William Porcher DuBose, founder of the University of the South’s School of Theology, John A. Calhoun, nephew of U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, and Armistead Burt, former Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress. The outlook is bleak, but determined people are fighting to save this treasure of a church. If you’d like to donate to Friends of Trinity Abbeville visit http://friendsoftrinityabbeville.org/donate-now/

May’s home (Photo by Bill Fitzpatrick)

Owing to the need to save money for their daughters’ college tuition, it took May and her husband fifteen years to move to Abbeville After her mother died. That was in 1977. “We came and never looked back,” she said. Her husband took early retirement and she quit teaching first grade. “No more,” she said, but more was in store. A school in the country urgently needed a teacher. “I pitched in and ended up teaching four more years, but that gave me four more years of retirement money.”

She never said so but May went from loathing to loving this old home. Like the sequoia out front, the home’s roots run deeply. The site where she lives has had two homes on it. J. Foster Marshall, who died at the Battle of Second Manassas, built the first house, which burned in 1880. The present house rose from its ashes. Among its features: a staircase with steps crafted from pine strips flanking black walnut, a musket over a fireplace, a stout sideboard graced by crystal, and a 2014 Stewardship Award from South Carolina Historic Preservation for the Preservation and Maintenance of Robertson-Hutchinson House and Documents.  Read the rest of this entry »

Saving Trinity, Part I

The Decades Astonish & Steal

By Tom Poland

Author’s Note: This three-part story portrays a church in danger of collapsing and the people who love it. France’s Gothic cathedrals inspired architect George Walker’s design for Abbeville’s Trinity Episcopal Church. The church contains rare 19th-century American stained glass and a chancel window attributed to William Gibson, America’s father of stained glass painting. A rare John Baker “tracker” organ was in use for a while. Among Trinity’s illustrious members and clergy were Rev. William Porcher DuBose, founder of the University of the South’s School of Theology, John A. Calhoun, nephew of U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, and Armistead Burt, former Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress. The outlook is bleak, but determined people are fighting to save this treasure of a church. If you’d like to donate to Friends of Trinity Abbeville visit http://friendsoftrinityabbeville.org/donate-now/

May, but don’t call her Miss May (Photo by Bill Fitzpatrick)

August 31. Rain from Harvey’s remnants made the driving tough along Highway 34. The wipers met out a metronome-like beat as log truck after log truck slung sheets of water across my windshield, a clattering collision of water against glass. My destination? Abbeville, South Carolina to meet photographer-writer-historian Bill “Big Sky” Fitzpatrick. A gusty, gray rain seemed fitting for a mission to see who and what might halt the crumbling of historic Trinity Episcopal Church.

I met Bill at the Belmont Inn and we made our way to the home of a woman who understands the importance of saving landmarks. May Robertson Baskin Hutchinson. Later May, daughter, Jean Robertson Hutchinson, and Bill and I would walk the grounds at a church, beautiful still, but crying for salvation.

May, Abbeville’s matriarch, turned 95 April 5. Her 95th birthday raised $11,000 for Trinity Episcopal Church. “Seems like the whole town came,” said May. “It was amazing.”  Read the rest of this entry »