Renovation takes historic St. Peter's Chapel back in time

emoody@beaufortgazette.comOctober 1, 2012 

Standing in the middle of St. Peter's Chapel on Friday, Beekman Webb painted a picture with words, describing what the church once was and what it could be again.

The peeling walls will be covered with fresh drywall and painted, according to Webb, the owner of Beekman Webb Construction of Beaufort. The flooring will be covered with smooth planks. Exposed rafters will be hidden by a new ceiling. The 1960s-era, multicolored stained glass and aluminum windows will be replaced with wood and period-style glass to look as they did when the chapel was built in 1846.

"I don't think anyone alive has seen it like this," said Webb of the eventual finished product, which will be as close to its original appearance as possible.

St. Peter's Catholic Church is restoring the chapel where its congregation started. It was the only Catholic church between the Broad River and Charleston until 1987, said the current pastor, the Rev. Paul MacNeil.

The intent is to open the chapel for special services, small weddings and funerals and, eventually, public tours a few afternoons a week, parishioner Pat Green said. She already is fielding phone calls from those seeking reservations.

"I think everyone is just so excited to see life being put back in the building," she said.

For almost 150 years, the downtown chapel, which seated up to 140 people, was the center of Catholic life in the area. In 1987, St. Peter's moved services to a 450-seat church on Lady's Island. A sanctuary with a capacity of 1,200 was completed in 2006 on what is now a 30-acre campus on Lady's Island Drive.

The chapel's lot at 710 Carteret St. was deeded to the church in the early 1800s by Michael O'Connor for $33, and records indicate he paid to build the chapel. It was badly damaged by a hurricane in 1898 and repaired the following year.

In the 1940s, the building was expanded to twice its original size by enclosing the front porch and adding the front altar. Those changes will remain, Webb said.

Determining how it originally looked has been a challenge.

Webb is basing the renovations on photos from church archives, but those only date to about 1920, he said. The current windows, which were stained by monks in Georgia in colors influenced by the Lowcountry, will be replaced with restoration glass. A parishioner is donating the difference in the extra cost for the windows, he said. The window panes will arrive in about a month.

In 2007, the chapel was closed when St. Peter's began shoring up the building's foundation, which had begun to shift, causing the walls to bow.

Webb said the foundation is now stable.

"Unfortunately, when they built these old buildings, they didn't know about Highway 21 and the (Richard V. Woods Memorial) bridge and these big trucks that would be idling in front of the church," Green said.

The renovations will take several more months, Webb said.

Meanwhile, Green looks forward to sharing the historic chapel with the community. She calls it "a big part of the Lowcountry history."

Related content:

Renovations expected at downtown Beaufort St. Peter's Chapel

St. Peter's Chapel begins renovations, May 18, 2007

In need of repairs, June 2, 2006

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