City Directories and History: The Thornwell-Elliot House is significant for its connection with Rev. James H. Thornwell, Jr., pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill from 1882 to 1905 and a leader in the religious life of the town. It is also significant for its architecture, which provides an excellent example of Victorian vernacular design, with some elements of the Queen Anne style. The house was built in a period of growth in Fort Mill following the location of the railroad and the development of the town as a market center. During this period, there was an expansion of residential properties. While the exact date of construction is unknown, from the evidence of deed transfers it can be assumed that the house was built prior to 1877. The L-shaped house has a lateral gable to the left and a front facing gable to the right. The front gable has a rounded arch louvered vent with decorative barge board. The porch has a hip roof, chamfered posts with decorative brackets, and turned balustrade. The house remained in the Thornwell and related Elliot family until 1970. Listed in the National Register June 11, 1992. [Courtesy of the S.C. Dept. of Archives and History]
“Lt. James Henley Thornwell. Jr., born 13 May 1846 in Columbia, S. C., was the son of the famous philosopher and distinguished leader of the Presbyterian Church and also controversial president of South Carolina College, Rev. Dr. James H. Thornwell and Nancy White (Witherspoon) Thornwell. He was only 16 when he joined and was appointed lieutenant. He was later elected lieutenant of Co. B, 4th Regt, SC Reserves and Co. C, 19th Battalion of Cavalry. After the war he entered S. C. College and graduated in 1868. He read law with Wilson and Witherspoon in Yorkville and was admitted to the bar in 1869. He switched to the ministry a few years later and was licensed to preach in 1874. From 1882 to 1907 he served Unity Presbyterian in Fort Mill and Ebenezer in Rock Hill. He died 30 December 1907. Dr. Thornwell married Florence Earle and they had nine children.” Information from YCGHS, September 1993
The Rock Hill Herald reported on Feb. 4, 1903 – Ms. Julia Thornwell, daughter of the Rev. J.H. Thornwell of Fort Mill, has just commenced a school at Salters.” On Feb. 11, 1903 the Fort Mill Graded School now has an enrollment of 130. The Supt. is J.A. Tate and teachers are Ms. Thornwell and Ms. Hamilton.
The Rock Hill Herald on May 16, 1903 reported, “Ms. Julia Thornwell returned to her home in Fort Mill from Salter’s Depot where she has been teaching school.”
In February, 1882 Rev. James H. Thornwell, Jr., was engaged as supply, entering upon his duties in April of that year. He was later called for one half his time at a salary of $450.00, and installed as pastor in May, 1883. Rev. L.R. McCormack, pastor of Allison Creek Church, presided, propounded the constitutional questions, and charged the congregation. Rev. William Pharr, a former colleague of Mr. Thornwell’s from Concord Presbytery, was present and invited to charge the pastor.
Mr. Thornwell had been previously called as pastor of the Fort Mill Church (the name of this church was changed back to Unity, the original name, in 1924) in November 1882. He served both churches until his death, preaching two Sabbaths a month at each church, the first and third Sabbath at Ebenezer.
On January 18, 1885 the Session voted to organize the Sabbath School again, electing Peter Garison as superintendent and Leitner Shurley as secretary-treasurer. The Church celebrated its centennial on Saturday and Sunday, July 28 and 29, 1888. Why it was not celebrated in 1885 is not known. The Yorkville Enquirer on August 1, 1888, gives the following account of this celebration: On Saturday at 11 A.M., a large congregation assembled, and Dr. Thornwell called the meeting to order. Delegates representing the following churches were present: Allison Creek – A.D. Choate, then aged 92 years; who had been dismissed at the formation of the church in 1854; Col. W.B. Allison, and S.D. Simril.
Bethesda – J.L. Moore, R.E. Sadler, John Starr, Richard Sadler. Steele Creek – J. Walter Potts, Thomas W. Neely.
Rock Hill – Capt. J. Frank Workman, Reese Workman, Joe Tap Steele and others.
Fort Mill – L.N. Culp.
Bethel – S.L. Steele, Willis Patrick.
Rev. Roger Martin, a former pastor of Allison Creek Church, delivered a chaste and eloquent address of welcome.
Letters of regret for absence were then read from Rev. B.P. Reid, and I.N. Withers, who were expected to respond to Mr.
Rev. J.S. White then delivered an address upon the nature of the church, its indestructibility, and our relations to it. This address was just such as all expected- learned, practical and touching. His closing remarks melted the entire audience to tears. Then came dinner. This was an Ebenezer dinner. These it is related as a fact that after the war, the Synod of South Carolina, in looking around for some place that was competent to entertain them, decided that “Ebenezer can and will feed the Synod.” The writer has heard some talk of these Synod dinners. Well, this was a Centennial dinner.
After dinner, Rev. D.E. Jordan, D.D., of Winnsboro, delivered an address upon the “Present opportunity of Presbyterianism,” giving a rapid sketch of the past history of the Presbyterian church. He showed what was required and how it was met. Then presenting the danger that confronts us, he clearly exhibited our opportunity and duty. He most beautifully portrayed that in the past, God often called upon his church and his people to choose between their love of life and their love of truth and his cause, and now he called upon them to decide between their love of money and fidelity to his cause.
“The history of Ebenezer and her schools and what she has done for education,” by Prof. J.H. Wilson, our present teacher, traced back our school to 1819, and claiming that she was of much more ancient date, he eloquently compared her lost antiquity to a burial at sea. We have seldom heard a more graceful speech, and join heartily in the expression of an Ebenezer man, “I feel proud of our teacher.” Then followed a sketch of the Elders and Deacons of Ebenezer. The sketch of the elders was read by Peter Garison, the oldest of Ebenezer elders. Mr. Garison has been an elder for 43 years, and has led the music for 45 years. The sketch of the deacons was read by T.M. Carothers. The fine music, presided over by Miss Ella Avery, supported by her choir of beautiful ladies and handsome gentlemen, was a most enjoyable feature of the occasion. On Sunday morning the church was filled. The sermon was by Rev. D.E. Jordan, D.D. A sketch of the church and pastors was read by Rev. J.H. Thornwell.
In the afternoon a mass meeting of the Sunday School children was held. The assemblage was greater in the afternoon than in the morning, having been reinforced by four wagon loads of children from Rock Hill Sunday Schools. Addresses were delivered by Revs. W.M. Anderson, Roger Martin, and D.E. Jordan. The addresses were all good and in excellent taste. The exercises were closed with the benediction by Rev. D. Harrison.
In 1890 the congregation determined to build a brick church. The following committee was appointed to solicit funds: Dr. W.B. Fewell, Peter Garison, S.M. Carothers, S.A. Fewell, E.L. Garison, S.L. Milling, Henry Massey, AT. Neely and John A. Shurley. The sum of $1,900 was promptly raised and Messrs. Peter Garison, A.F. Fewell, J.H. Barry, J.B. Neely and R.T. Fewell were appointed a building committee. On the 7th of June, 1890, the contract was let to Mr. A.D. Holler, of Rock Hill. On the 16th of June the first brick was laid, and on the 27th of June the cornerstone was laid with Masonic honors, by Major A.H. White, of Rock Hill, acting Grand Master of Masons of South Carolina. Appropriate addresses were delivered by Rev. J.S. White and Dr. J.H. Thornwell. On September 23, the contractor turned over the church to the committee and on Sunday, October 5, 1890, the church was dedicated. It was a great and memorable occasion. On Friday night a sermon was delivered by Rev. B.P. Reid, pastor of Bethesda Church. On Saturday morning and again at night, Rev. W.M. Anderson, pastor of the Rock Hill Church, preached.
On Sunday morning, the house was filled to overflowing. Doctor Thornwell made a short statement concerning the career of the Church, the doxology was sung, and the invocation made by Dr. F.R. Beattie, professor in the Theological Seminary. The ordinance of baptism was administered to Annie Caroline, infant daughter of Mr. and Mrs. E.L. Garison. An anthem was sung by the choir, composed of Miss Ella Avery, organist, Misses Mecca Avery, Minnie Fewell, Mrs. A.B. Fewell, Mrs. J.H. Wilson, Miss Annie Lyle Roddey, and Messrs. J.H. Wilson, A.T. Neely, W.A. Fewell, and Peter Garison. Rev. J.S. White announced the 100th Psalm, which was sung by the congregation. Doctor Beattie read the lesson from the Scriptures, and Rev. J.M. McClain of Allison Creek offered prayer. Doctor Beattie delivered the dedicatory sermon from the texts Isaiah 42:9, 43:19, and Rev. 21:6 – Theme, “The new things set forth in the Bible.”
The building committee then made its final report to the congregation and turned over the keys to the pastor. The deacons of the Church then came to the front and the pastor turned over to them the keys with an appropriate address. A prayer was offered by Rev. W.M. Anderson, preceded by a hymn, and recess was taken for dinner. Dinner was served on the grounds as was customary in those days. In the afternoon the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered and addresses were delivered by Rev. J.S. White and Doctor Beattie. Thus ended one of the greatest days Ebenezer has ever experienced.
The first service in the new building, before its dedication, was the funeral of Mr. Joseph Miller, who died on September 26. The building and furniture cost about $2,500.00. The old building was sold to E.P. Steele. In 1891 Davidson College conferred the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree upon Mr. Thornwell. [Courtesy of the History of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church by S.B. Mendenhall – 1985]
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