Beaufort News

Port Royal church demolition tabled in attempt to save historic building

Porter's Chapel AME as seen on Monday, Oct. 12, 2015 in Port Royal.
Porter's Chapel AME as seen on Monday, Oct. 12, 2015 in Port Royal. dearley@islandpacket.com

A historic Port Royal church will live for at least six more months as preservationists work to save the structure.

Porter's Chapel African Methodist Episcopal will remain at the intersection of Old Shell Road and 16th Street after the Port Royal Historic Preservation Commission voted Tuesday to postpone demolition for 180 days.

Representatives of Beaufort's Jericho AME Church, which owns the property, had asked the town for permission to demolish the building. The chapel first showed up on maps at the location in 1925 and is believed to have come over from Parris Island at the beginning of the 20th century.

The congregation doesn't have the money to renovate the building, which has been vacant and in disrepair for years.

Jericho AME Pastor James Mack said this month the church had exhausted its options, but commission members presented new ones Tuesday. They told Mack to reach out to the Historic Port Royal Foundation and to write state legislators and nonprofits in search of grants.

Members of the Historic Port Royal Foundation toured the building when it was for sale, and the main sanctuary is said to still be intact and stable.

"It's a beautiful sanctuary," said commission member Anna Ellerbe, who is also secretary and past president of the foundation. "It would be a shame for it to be torn down."

Ellerbe wrote state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort after Tuesday's meeting searching for options.

The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation does not currently have money available for renovations but wants to visit the building, Ellerbe said.

The hope is that money can be given in memory of Clementa Pinckney, the state senator who once preached at Porter's Chapel and was killed in the Charleston church shooting in June.

After 180 days, the commission can vote to postpone demolition another 180 days, Port Royal planning administrator Linda Bridges said.

Mack said he is open to having the building relocated but that church trustees would have to receive permission from the AME Church before anything was done.

The building hasn't been used for worship in about 10 years, Mack said. Jericho AME trustees had hoped to use it to generate revenue for the struggling church, either as a gift shop or a history center as part of a Penn Center program.

There has been talk of relocating the building to Paris Avenue as a welcome center or keeping in its current location as a small library.

The property was on the market in 2006, but the offers were for about half of the listing price, Mack said. Commission member Buddy Brown and Town Councilman Tom Klein suggested the church order a new appraisal.

"There is a solution to this that can make everybody happy," Klein said.

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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