502 East DeKalb Street
“South Carolina architect Robert Mills designed canals, churches, court houses and monuments.”
City Directories and History: The Bethesda Presbyterian Church, circa 1822 has been recognized as an architectural masterpiece, and a splendid example of Robert Mills’ ingenious use of the Greek Revival style. Of special note is the steeple, placed at the rear of the church, rather than at the front. At the rear portico is a
scissors stairway leading to the five landings representing “the five porches of Bethesda.” (John 5:2). At the top landing, double doors open to the gallery. Three Doric columns, instead of the usual four, support the roof of the portico. The monument in front was also designed by Mills in honor of Revolutionary War hero Baron Johann de Kalb, who was reinterred here in 1825 (see No. 4). The foundation stones are granite. They are surmounted by an obelisk of white marble. The names of the twenty-four states in existence at that time are cut in foundation stones. The Marquis de Lafayette laid the cornerstone in a spectacular ceremony in which local notables participated. [Courtesy the Camden Tour Book] Take notice of two photographs taken as part of the Historic America Building Survey in ca. 1960 which recognizes this structure as an outstanding piece of American architecture.
The 1820 design by Robert Mills was described by Mills as having, “a portico of four Doric columns…neat spire in the rear containing the bell…intricate steps at rear to the slave galleries…the floor and pews rise as they recede from the pulpit, giving every advantage to the audience.” [Courtesy of the S.C. Dept. of Archives and History]
The original cost of this lovely church was $14,000.
“The most imposing of the structures were designs by Robert Mills, nationally noted as the federal architect and designer of the Washington Monument. He is thought likely to have assisted in the design of the stately brick home at Mulberry Plantation (1820), constructed under the master builder David Bartling. While superintendent of public buildings for South Carolina, Mills was the architect of Camden’s Bethesda Presbyterian Church (1822), which was flanked with the male and female academies of the Orphan Society School, and the architect of the public monument to Baron de Kalb (1825) fronting the church’s DeKalb Street entrance.” (Information courtesy of A History of Kershaw County, S.C. by Joan A. Inabinet and L. Glenn Inabinet, 2001 – The Un. of S.C. Press)
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IMAGE GALLERY via photographer Bill Segars – 2004
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