On my way back from my paddling trip to Beaufort I decided to take a brief detour and visit a couple of places I had wanted to photograph. These were the St. Helena Chapel of Ease and the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease. There are only ruins left of both chapels, but both places are filled with history and photographic opportunities.
According to Wikipedia, a “chapel of ease” is “a church building other than the parish church, built within the bounds of a parish for the attendance of those who cannot reach the parish church conveniently.” In colonial South Carolina the large plantations of the sea islands were remote. It was often hard for parishioners to get to the larger towns, so the local Anglican congregations built these chapels to accommodate the parishioners.
Probably the most famous of the Lowcountry church ruins is the Old Sheldon Church, which was once known as the Prince William Parish Church, located on Sheldon Road northwest of Beaufort. Even though Sheldon Church is often grouped with St. Helena and Pon Pon, this is not technically a chapel of ease, as it was a parish church in its own right. The brick columns and walls are much larger than the typical chapel of ease. I had visited Sheldon on several occasions, and wanted to focus on the other two smaller churches for this trip.
My first stop was the St. Helena Chapel of Ease, which is located on Saint Helena Island. This chapel was built for the convenience of the rice planters who found it difficult to travel to the main parish church in Beaufort. The church was built in 1740 and remained an active place of worship until it was abandoned during the Civil War. It was eventually burned by a forest fire in 1886. The remaining exterior walls were constructed of tabby, a mixture of sea shells and mortar.
I crossed back over to the mainland and headed along the King’s Highway, Highway 17, toward Charleston. In the community of Jacksonboro I turned north toward Walterboro on Highway 64. Jacksonboro road veered off to the right, then crossed Parker’s Ferry Road. I turned to the east on this road, and just before the pavement ended I spotted the entrance to the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease.
Pon Pon Chapel of St. Bartholomew Parish was established in 1725. In 1753 the brick walls that are now in ruins were constructed. Some time around 1800 the church was burned by a forest fire, and was known as “the Burnt Church” on old maps.
Like Sheldon Church, Pon Pon was built of brick. A hurricane toppled most of the remaining ruins in 1959, so that all that remains is the facade and one back corner. The facade has been stabilized with a large iron beam that serves as a brace.
These old church ruin locations are strangely compelling. Overhung with Spanish moss and live oaks, they convey an almost mystical feeling. Several of my Lowcountry Unfiltered friends visited these same three locations and wrote up an article that was published on the front page of Bluffton Today.
In addition to these three churches, other chapels of ease dot the Lowcountry. On Hilton Head all that remains of the Zion Chapel of Ease is the cemetery and mausoleum. The ruins of the Biggin Church, which was part of St. John’s Parish in Berkeley County, can still be seen in the area of Moncks Corner. However, Strawberry Chapel, also part of St. John’s Parish in Berkeley, is still standing.
In some cases the land was transferred from the Anglican Church to other denominations such as Baptist or Methodist. The original chapels were razed and larger sanctuaries were built. In other cases the congregations grew to the point where a chapel of ease became the main parish church. Such was the case with Church of the Holy Trinity in Ridgeland. It had been part of the St. Luke’s Parish until it became a parish in its own right. Further inland, near the community of Stateburg, the Church of the Holy Cross was built when its congregation outgrew the local chapel of ease.
These chapels are just part of the rich religious tapestry of South Carolina. I’m please that even in ruins, some of these locations have been preserved, and that they still convey a since of mystery and wonder.
Below is a Google Map with locations of the above mentioned churches. You can also download a Google Earth file from here:
View Chapels of Ease in a larger map