Although this regal old Church stands in a nearly unbroken forest of oaks and pines on a little traveled dirt road, it was once the beating heart of a thriving community. North and south along the Santee River, thriving rice plantations shipped Carolina Rice – famed as the world’s finest – to England, Holland, Portugal, France and other far-flung locations.
When they ventured up the Santee River in 1687, French Huguenots began selecting plantation sites. Their original settlement was called Jamestown and the larger area came to be called French Santee. Because they were escaping religious persecution, the establishment of a place of worship was top priority. The first church took shape in Jamestown and served roughly one hundred French settlers. The St. James Santee Parish was officially chartered as a parish for the Church of England in 1706.
The 1768 construction of St. James Santee Episcopal Church at Wambaw, now widely known as Old Brick Church or simply Brick Church, was preceded by four other chapels built for the convenience of a population on the move. After all, before the advent of automobiles, it wasn’t easy to get their families to church!
More than a century after Brick Church, yet another Chapel of Ease for Wambaw was constructed in 1890 in McClellanville. This is the building now used every Sunday. Nonetheless, Brick Church is well maintained and used for special services, and a Sunday-after-Easter service followed by a picnic, is a tradition for many.
The area’s prosperity is clearly reflected in its beauty. The vaulted ceiling showcases original plaster work. The pews are made of hand pegged cypress. It is built of brick imported from England, although the portico’s columns were created from local bricks cast to a graceful curve. The flagstone floor has withstood the ravages time – including both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars – nearly unscathed.
The Brick Church at Wambaw was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1972. Today, it is highly valued for its architectural and historical significance. Learn more at StJamesSantee.org.
Front, back, and inside pictures of the church graciously provided by Arthur Ellis Photography.