By Jessica Brodie
HUGER—An effort to restore the historic Eccles United Methodist Church in the Francis Marion National Forest is now gaining community attention as organizers zero in on a goal.
According to Nancy Platt, Eccles member and elementary school teacher who is spearheading the restoration, the work by Artis Preservation Contractors is expected to cost roughly $75,000, covering a new roof, timber framing and the repointing of the bricks on one of the foundational corners.
“We’re focusing on the three main structural needs to make the building habitable,” Platt said.
Eccles’ original building, constructed in 1882 and tucked deep within the rural area northwest of Mount Pleasant, has long been admired for its rustic, old timey beauty. While churchgoers worship in an adjacent, modern structure, the original house of God stood in all its natural glory, slowly declining over the years because of extensive rot, heavy wood deterioration, weathering damage and some biogrowth.
In spring 2022, a historic preservation class at the American College of Building Arts in Charleston spent the semester analyzing the historic building and then producing a master plan with historical research, condition assessments and remediation suggestions for the church.
The class, led by Professor Christina Butler, recommended not over-restoring the building or modernizing it heavily with new electricity and climate control. Instead, they suggested the church, which is essentially one great piece of longleaf pine, be repaired as needed and preserved overall—a far less expensive option than complete restoration and modernization.
Eccles organizers have established Eccles UMC as a charitable entity and created a GoFundMe campaign, as well as begun seeking grants for the project. To date, Eccles said, they have raised nearly $15,000 toward the goal, and they also discovered a historic preservation grant from the state that can possibly help, though that grant cycle doesn’t start until the end of the calendar year.
The church is also hosting a Gospel Sing at the site of the old church to help raise awareness and funds for the restoration. The event is set for Sunday, Sept. 24, from 6:30-8 p.m. at Eccles UMC, 1696 Eccles Church Road, Huger, SC 29450. Eight groups/singers are on the lineup, to include the Cordesville Quartet, Kristina Wren Gaskins, J.R. Morris, Tonya Berry, Brenda and Earl Morris Ashleigh Rolader, Jodi and Dale Nobles and Perry Gaskin. A love offering will be accepted.
Eccles UMC set up a Facebook group to encourage support for the project at https://www.facebook.com/groups/266805578870292, and several have commented on what the old church means to them.
One woman reminisced about all the family reunions held there when she was a child, running in and out of the structure with her cousins. Others pledged support for the project and urged others to do the same.
Platt said the beauty of Eccles UMC is in its simplicity.
“You can feel the presence of the Lord, and you feel peace when you step inside,” Platt said, and the whole setting ties in with the natural beauty of the forest all around it. “A huge Christian concept is loving our world, being stewards of the garden God gave us, and there’s something about that church that brings it all together for me.”
While they are first focusing on the three major structural needs, the historic preservation class identified several priorities for the structure, all of which Platt and fellow organizers hope to tackle in time.
First-priority items include repairing a compromised corner post; removing siding on the front wall; bracing stud walls as needed to address a slight bow in the wall; and adding collar tie or ceiling joists to the end of the building to help strengthen the end wall. Second steps include removing siding from entire façade to allow structural repairs; adding flashing and repairing cornices as needed; salvaging as much original siding as possible; installing new replace-in-kind siding as needed to supplement the salvaged original material; repairing historic windows where possible/as funding allows; replacing other windows as necessary; repointing brick piers as needed; repairing metal roof cladding or replace existing; limewashing or using an opaque stain to coat the exterior siding; and repairing the exterior doors where possible.
Last steps include sanding and refinishing the pine flooring; limewashing or painting the interior paneling; and removing the concrete steps.
To access the Eccles UMC GoFundMe campaign, visit https://gofund.me/40380764.