Beaufort News

After fence, more changes may be coming to Old Sheldon Church ruins. Here are the plans

Old Sheldon Church deserves our respect

Bill Sammons, a volunteer with the Parish Church of St. Helena, explains the most important things to keep in mind when you visit the Old Sheldon Church Ruins to help protect the building that was built in the 1750s during an interview July 28, 20
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Bill Sammons, a volunteer with the Parish Church of St. Helena, explains the most important things to keep in mind when you visit the Old Sheldon Church Ruins to help protect the building that was built in the 1750s during an interview July 28, 20

The public eventually will be able to walk among the Old Sheldon Church Ruins as part of grander plans for the site, but they’ll be under supervision.

A fence was installed Saturday around the remnants of the Greek Revival church, first built in the 1750s and later burned multiple times. A barrier had been planned for some time to limit what preservationists called “casual vandalism” at the site.


But recent theft of bricks and an objectionable photo snapped at the sacred site accelerated the process, church officials said.


A committee associated with the Parish Church of St. Helena Trust, which owns the ruins, plans for visitors to again walk among the brick archways and columns once restoration work is complete and visitors can be supervised.


“We’ve got a lot of plans ahead in terms of making this an even better place for people to come learn the history of the Lowcountry, hear the sacred story and experience this great space,” said Shay Gaillard, rector of Parish Church of St. Helena.


Footage of the Old Sheldon Church ruins in Yemassee, S.C.



Church leaders want docents to be on site to open the gate and lead tours on new walking paths within the structure.



Grass within and around the church walls will be replaced with a material that doesn’t threaten to degrade the bricks. New signs will tell the history of the church.


Other options being considered are a parking area on the same side of the road as the ruins that would funnel people through a ranger station and onto the site. Such a setup would allow the church to collect donations for property upkeep and eliminate the need for the current fence, said Chris Campbell, a Parish Church of St. Helena member and Sheldon resident whose family has long been associated with Old Sheldon Church.


“Then there’s somebody there all the time,” Campbell said. “That’s the plan in the long run.”


Following recommendations from a report prepared by the Preservation Society of Charleston in 2016, trees were trimmed to keep branches from rubbing the soft bricks. The bricks were sprayed with herbicide to kill vegetation that could affect the structure.
Security lights were installed to deter visitors at night.


Preservationists recommended keeping visitors in an enclosed area near the entrance to the Old Sheldon Road property. But church committee members wanted people to be able to get closer to the ruins and adjacent gravesites while not touching them, said committee chairman Warren Parker.


Parker pointed out a cavity in one of the church columns he said was evidence of people prying away loose bricks as souvenirs.

Church officials are working with the Beaufort County Open Land Trust to limit access to the parking lot across the road from the ruins during certain hours.

Caretakers of the ruins also have worked with County Councilman Paul Sommerville to have the state pursue traffic calming measures on the rural stretch of highway. Speeding cars are a threat to visitors crossing the road, and the vibrations from larger vehicles could potentially affect the sacred structures, said Bill Sammons, Old Sheldon’s caretaker.

Sammons acknowledged the fence won’t keep everyone out but was necessary after recent events. Stolen bricks were posted for sale online, and a woman posed topless in one of the church’s archways, Sammons said.

“If somebody wanted to get in there, they could get into Fort Knox,” Sammons said. “This will dissuade a lot of people.”

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