Today occupied by a small playground, the southwest corner of Beaufain and Wilson Streets was once the site of the first church building to house Calvary Episcopal Church, the oldest African American Episcopal congregation in Charleston.[1]  Calvary Church, now located at 106 Line Street, was established in 1847 by the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina for the religious instruction of free and enslaved African Americans in Charleston, separate from white parishioners. For nearly a century, Calvary’s original church building served as an important spiritual center for much of Charleston’s Black community. However, in 1961, Calvary Church was demolished as a result of redevelopment pressure that disproportionately impacted historically Black neighborhoods and institutions in Charleston during the mid-20th century.

Constructed in the Early Classical Revival Style in 1849, the design of Calvary Church represented a combination of Greek and Roman influences.[2] Built of brick with a white stucco finish, the one-story church building accommodated up to 400 people.[3] The front façade featured a broad entablature and pediment over a paneled door with an elliptical fanlight flanked on each side by Tuscan pilasters and semicircular niches. Full-height, triple-hung windows spanned the east and west facades, with a semicircular apse located at the rear. [4]

The congregation faced one of its earliest, and most severe trials before the construction of the church was complete. On July 13, 1849, a riot began at the Charleston Work House, a notorious penal institution utilized primarily for the punishment of enslaved people, located less than one block away from Calvary. Led by an enslaved man named Nicholas, approximately 37 prisoners temporarily escaped the Work House, inciting the panic and anger of the white community.[5] The day following the riot, a mob of white Charlestonians assembled in an attempt to destroy the church in retaliation; while the Calvary Church congregation was closely surveilled by an all-white clergy, many in the community viewed the founding of Calvary Church as a dangerous and unprecedented allowance of Black independence, and sought its destruction.[6] Notably, violence was quelled by prominent local attorney James L. Petigru, known for openly representing free people of color, who convinced the mob not to destroy the church.[7]

On December 23, 1849, Calvary Church was consecrated by Rev. Christopher Gadsden, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of SC.[8] By the end of the following decade, Calvary had one of the largest Sunday School programs in the city, and eventually claimed the membership of some of Charleston’s most prominent African American citizens, like Justice Jonathan Jasper Wright. Calvary’s growth continued into the early 20th century. By 1940, however, neighborhood demographics in the area now known as Harleston Village were shifting toward a predominantly white population, resulting in the loss of congregants at Calvary. Simultaneously, the Housing Authority of Charleston began pressuring the congregation to relocate as the newly-constructed, white, housing project, Robert Mills Manor, surrounded the church on all sides.[9] As a result, the congregation ultimately purchased a piece of property at 106 Line Street as the new location for the church, where services are still held today. On November 25, 1940, the last service was held at Calvary Church on Beaufain Street.[10]

Following relocation, old Calvary Church stood vacant for 20 years until the Housing Authority submitted a request for demolition on April 29, 1960. In spite of community opposition to the request, all attempts to save the Church from demolition ultimately failed and after being deemed unsafe, Calvary was razed in August, 1961.[11]


[1] K. R., “Do You Know Your South Carolina: Calvary Church: Extension of Robert Mills Manor Forces Negro Episcopal Congregation to Vacate 90-Year-Old Building,” The Charleston News and Courier, July 22, 1940.
[2] Calvary Episcopal Church, “Calvary Episcopal Church Profile,” n.d., http://www.episcopalchurchsc.org/uploads /1/2/9/8/12989303/calvary_episcopal_church_profile.pdf.; K. R., “Do You Know Your South Carolina: Calvary Church.”
[3] “Calvary Church, Charleston, in Beaufain-Street.,” Charleston Gospel Messenger and Protestant Episcopal Register (1842-1853), January 1850.; Calvary Episcopal Church, “Calvary Episcopal Church Profile.”
[4] Calvary Episcopal Church, “Calvary Episcopal Church Profile,” n.d., http://www.episcopalchurchsc.org/uploads /1/2/9/8/12989303/calvary_episcopal_church_profile.pdf.; K. R., “Do You Know Your South Carolina: Calvary Church.”
[5] Bernard E. Powers, Black Charlestonians, 17.
[6] Bernard E. Powers, Black Charlestonians, 17.; Calvary Episcopal Church, “Calvary Episcopal Church Profile.”; K.R., “Do You Know Your South Carolina: Calvary Church.”; Robert F. Durden, “The Establishment of Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church for Negroes in Charleston,” 77.
[7] Bernard E. Powers, Black Charlestonians, 17.; Calvary Episcopal Church, “Calvary Episcopal Church Profile.”; K.R., “Do You Know Your South Carolina: Calvary Church.”; Robert F. Durden, “The Establishment of Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church for Negroes in Charleston,” 77.
[8] Calvary Episcopal Church, “Calvary Episcopal Church Profile.”
[9] Calvary Episcopal Church, “Calvary Episcopal Church Profile.”; Edward G. Lilly, ed., Historic Churches of Charleston, South Carolina, 131.; K.R., “Do You Know Your South Carolina: Calvary Church.”; “71 Beaufain Street (Calvary Chapel) – Property File,” Charleston Past Perfect, accessed June 9, 2020, https://charleston.pastperfectonline.com/archive/2A7D91C8-2A24-473F-AB0F-052572729247.
[10] Calvary Episcopal Church, “Calvary Episcopal Church Profile.”; Edward G. Lilly, ed., Historic Churches of Charleston, South Carolina, 131.
[11] Barbara J. Stambaugh, “Calvary Chapel Demolition Ordered by City Officials: Attempts to Preserve Church Fail.”

Calvary Episcopal Church

71 Beaufain Street

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Book: Bernard E. Powers, Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1885. University of Arkansas Press, 1999.

Profile: Calvary Episcopal Church. “Calvary Episcopal Church Profile,” n.d.

Journal Article: Durden, Robert F. “The Establishment of Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church for Negroes in Charleston.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 65, no. 2 (April 1964): 63–84.

Finding Aid: Inventory of the Reverend Stephen Bradford Mackey Papers, 1900 – 1993. Reverend Stephen Bradford Mackey Papers, 1900-1993. Avery Research Center, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC. AMN 1116.

Newspaper Article: R., K. “Do You Know Your South Carolina: Calvary Church: Extension of Robert Mills Manor Forces Negro Episcopal Congregation to Vacate 90-Year-Old Building.” The Charleston News and Courier. July 22, 1940.

Newspaper Article: Barbara J. Stambaugh, “Calvary Chapel Demolition Ordered by City Officials: Attempts to Preserve Church Fail.” The Charleston News and Courier. July 26, 1961.

Website: “Who We Are - Calvarych-Sc.” Calvary Episcopal Church

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