The pens came out and a deal was signed Tuesday to ensure a historic Port Royal church will be saved from demolition — and possibly part of something bigger.
Porter’s Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Old Shell Road is more than a century old. The building has been vacant for years after the congregation dwindled and consolidated with Jericho AME on Broad River Boulevard.
The church’s condition deteriorated, and trustees initially asked for its demolition, not knowing where else to turn and without the means to maintain the building. On Tuesday, the town and Jericho AME signed an agreement that Port Royal would restore the church and move the building to public property, where it can be used as a visitors center or other similar purpose.
“It’s amazing how God works,” Jericho AME pastor the Rev. James Mack told Port Royal Town Council when the agreement was signed Tuesday. “Our first initiative was to tear it down and destroy it. ... We all came to a single point, which is to preserve the building, which is good — a lot of souls have been saved in that building, a lot of marriages and deaths and people coming together.”
Porter’s Chapel was moved into Port Royal in 1901 from Parris Island, where it might have been used as a school for freed slaves. With a connection to Reconstruction, the building could become part of a proposed national monument to highlight the area’s ties to the era, Councilman Tom Klein said.
Port Royal is working with the Lowcountry Council of Governments to secure a grant to restore the building. The church would retain ownership of the lots on the corner of Old Shell Road and 16th Street.
The building was first located on 15th Street when it was moved into town. Its historical significance includes ties to Clementa Pinckney, the state senator and pastor who was killed with eight others in a shooting while leading a Bible study at Emanuel AME in Charleston last year.
Pinckney preached at Porter’s Chapel from 1996 to 1998 as part of a circuit with Jericho. Current church members still maintain strong ties to the vacant building and have worked to learn the story of the churches.
“Even though we’re on the other side of town, we still consider the church as part of Jericho,” church trustee Lonnie Bryan said. “We can tell our kids ‘You see that church over there? That church was a part of our history.’
“And we hope Port Royal will enjoy it also.”