This blog post has been an amazing journey and has taken several weeks to complete. It has involved lots of people and diving down lots of research rabbit holes. I was able to piece together some answers, but I still have lots of questions. Since this is going to be a multi-page post I thought a table of contents would be in order.
- The Search for Wesley Chapel – Challenges and Puzzles
- Digging into the History of Wesley Chapel
- The History of Wesley Chapel According to The Gaffney Ledger
- The People of Wesley Chapel
- One Family’s Connection to Wesley Chapel
- Conclusions and Remaining Mysteries
On to the story…
As with so many of my explorations lately, this one started with a post to a Facebook group. The post was about an abandoned church in Cherokee County. The ruins looked intriguing, but the kicker was the comment, “I’d love to know more about this old church.” Well, so would I. I knew I had to pay it a visit and try to find out as much about it as I could.
Sometimes I do lots of research before I set out, and sometimes it’s spur of the moment. This was the latter. I saw the post on a Sunday and that evening did some minimal searching. I didn’t have a name for the church, but I did have a location. I figured a cemetery would be associated with the church, but Find-a-Grave didn’t have one for that location.
The next day was perfect for rambling so I set out. I drove pretty much straight to the location without detour or distraction, which is unusual for me. There was a cemetery, but it caught me by surprise. It was well-tended, but the real surprise was how modern these headstones looked.
I’ll come back to these names and photos because they help tell the story of this place. But for now they just added to the mystery of the church. That drew my attention more than anything right now.
While the cemetery was in good shape, the church was anything but. The concrete block structure was overgrown with vegetation and missing its roof.
The rear wall had mostly collapsed and that area was littered with concrete blocks. Getting back there was a bit dicey and I almost took a tumble when a block shifted underfoot. I caught myself, then eased my way back out.
Behind the church there was an outhouse.
There were a few pieces of wood attached to the masonry. Some of these were in the bell tower and possibly used as rafters. It looked like there was wainscoting along the interior walls. All but a small piece of this was gone. Some of the wooden window sills and framing also remained.
The front entrance to the church was unusual. There was a single external door that opened into a very small narthex. It looked like there was a window straight ahead with doors opening right and left.
The front facade was stunning, with thick vines crawling up the tower. It reminded me of Angkor Wat or some similar lost temple in a jungle.
On either side of the entrance were engraved stone panels with information about the church.
The panel to the right had the most information and possibly a history of the church. It identified the structure as Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church. Apart from that, it was illegible. I took photos from various angles and tried all sorts of Photoshop techniques, but, sadly, couldn’t produce anything you could read. I even tried shining a light at various angles, but to no available. I planned to go back with a ladder and large piece of butcher paper to do a rubbing.
The left side was more legible. There was an unusual star, cross, crescent symbol with the words “In God We Trust”. Below that was another dedication plaque with names of prominent members and the minister. Some of the names matched those on the headstones nearby. The date on the plaque was October 12, 1915. At least now I had some names and a date to start my research.
I had lots of questions about this church. What happened to it? Why was it abandoned? Why the apparent difference in ages between the headstones and the church itself? Why was there no Find-a-Grave listing? I’ve come across some church ruins where the cemetery was actually a separate family plot that came later, and I wondered if that might be the case here. Those questions would have to wait until I could dig deeper.
I left the Wesley Chapel ruins and continued south on the Wilkinsville Highway. This is a long road in Cherokee County and it led me to believe that Wilkinsville must have been a significant community at one time. When I arrived there was an old country store with interesting architecture. A side projection had a porch swing, as if this had also served as a residence in addition to a place of commerce. The windows identified it as Osment Grocery.
Across the street was a cotton gin. I didn’t get a photo, but here’s an image from Google Earth.
While Wesley Chapel served the African American community of Wilkinsville, it looks like Salem Presbyterian was the largest white congregation. I stopped by there and briefly walked through the cemetery. There were a few signature headstones from sources I didn’t recognize.
There were several of these with Y. V., which I later learned was the abbreviation for Yorkville.
I continued my travels on down through Lockhart, Chester, Carlisle, and Whitmire, stopping for some photos along the way and checking in a Chester State Park to get another stamp on my SC Parks Passport. However, it was Wesley Chapel that held my attention. It was a mystery, and I really wanted to know more about it.
Continued on the next page…