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Charleston, SC Earthquake - damage to the First Presbyterian Church

The Church's experience in the earthquake

ON the night of August thirty-first, 1886, the City of Charleston, S. C., was visited by the most disastrous earthquake recorded in the eastern portion of the United States. Nearly all of the buildings in the city were damaged and a number of them totally destroyed. The churches, without exception, were seriously injured; [The First Presbyterian Church] being one of the worst. The building is a very substantial structure of brick, the walls nearly three feet thick, and notwithstanding this massive construction there were two breaks in the north wall from the roof to the foundation, and one of a similar character in the south wall. The gable on the west was thrown down crushing the Sunday School building making a total wreck of it. The parapets were thrown to the ground, the arch of every door and window sprung, the keystones of many fell out and the windows badly shattered, while on the front one of the large columns was broken and the upper part turned partly around. In the graveyard, alongside of the church, many of the tombstones and monuments were destroyed, and several shafts twisted out of shape. Truly a scene of desolation confronted all who viewed the ruin.

Upon the first examination it was feared that the building was a total loss and would have to be taken down, and the plans for the erection of a new edifice were submitted by an architect, but upon a more careful inspection being made, it was determined to make every effort to save and restore the historic church. A Building Committee, consisting of John Forrest, M. D., Chairman; A. S. Johnston; A. S. J. Perry, John Barron; W. F. Falconer; H. P. Welch; A Sydney Smith; John Paul and R. B. Dowie, was appointed. The services of Thos. W. Silloway, an architect from Boston, Mass., were secured, and the work of restoration was commenced on the fourth day of January, 1887. A large force of workmen was employed and the work prosecuted with energy.

The Pastor of the church, Rev. W. T. Thompson, D. D., was spending his vacation in Highlands, N. C. As soon as he heard of the disaster, he returned immediately to the city, gathered his scattered people together and inspired them with courage and hope. For several Sundays divine service was held on the Park of South Battery, after which, through the courtesy of the members of the Hibernian Society, the congregation worshipped in the lower room of the Hibernian Hall. On Sunday, June 26, 1887, the congregation had the great joy of once more gathering in their much loved church, restored and beautified, and offering their thanks and praises to the Great Head of the Church, to whom be all honor and glory given.

The following appears on a tablet erected in commemoration of the Earthquake:

This Building was seriously injured and its Lecture Room destroyed
by the Earthquake of the 31st August, 1886.
At a meeting of the Corporation held on the 26th
December, 1886, it was decided that it should be repaired.
Work was begun on the 4th day of January, 1887, under
the supervision of Thomas W. Silloway, of Boston as Architect, with
JOHN FORREST, M. D., Chairman
A. S. JOHNSTON A. S. J. PERRY JOHN BARRON
W. F. FALCONER H. F. WELCH A. SYDNEY SMITH
JOHN PAUL and R. B. DOWIE
as Building Committee.

It was opened for worship in its present remodeled and
greatly improved condition, on the 26th day of June, 1887.
WILSON G. HARVEY, President of the Corporation
W. T. THOMPSON, D. D., Pastor
A. S. JOHNSTON A. SYDNEY SMITH S. E. WELCH
A. S. J. PERRY JOHN PAUL R. B. DOWIE Elders
Presbyterian Churches throughout the country rendered generous assistance.

Centennial celebration of the dedication of the First Presbyterian Church, Charleston, S.C., Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans & Cogswell Co., 1915, pages 20-22

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