Some years ago, I gave a talk to the South Carolina Conference Historical Society about Methodism in Spartanburg. It is way too long to repeat here, but I want to mention just a few of the historic churches in this area that have contributed to the growth of Upcountry Methodism.
On one of his 1788 visits to the Spartanburg area, Bishop Francis Asbury wrote in his journal, “Our Friends here on Tyger River are much alive to God, and have built a good chapel.” Three older congregations, Liberty northeast of Spartanburg, Shiloh in Inman, and Sharon near Reidville all have their roots in the late 18th or early 19th century. Liberty pre-dates the first Annual Conference in South Carolina, and made a traditional evolution from brush arbor to log structure to frame church. It has served as something of a focal point in the Liberty community for centuries.
Church legend holds that famed preacher Lorenzo Dow helped organize Sharon United Methodist Church, which was called Leonard’s Meeting House, as it was founded by the Leonard family. Lorenzo Dow was perhaps not the kind of fellow you’d want to invite to dinner – he was wild, unkempt, did not practice much in the way of personal hygiene, and was very enthusiastic in his preaching. However, during the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century, he was one of the most influential preachers in America. Stories say that he could hold the attention of a crowd of 10,000, and his autobiography was one of the most popular books in America.
One very old church structure that is no longer an active congregation is Shiloh, near Inman. The church was built between 1825 and 1831, though the congregation is older than that. The church and pews were built without nails. It was discontinued as a regular preaching place around 1912 – most of the people moved from the countryside around it into Inman – but it’s still maintained and there are two services a year there – Homecoming in May and a watch night service at New Year’s – as well as occasional weddings. It is a great example of what an antebellum church would have looked like.
We’re all familiar with the stories of camp meetings, and many congregations around the state have their roots in camp meeting sites. Spartanburg’s Cannons Campground is one such church. In the history of their congregation, there’s a description of a Cannon’s Camp Meeting. The undated letter from an attendee notes that the camp meeting was one of the biggest events of the year in Spartanburg from the 1830s to the early 1900s. Always held in late summer to early fall, when the daytime temperatures had dropped somewhat but before the nights were too cool for sleeping outside, the revivals attracted attendees from all over the Upcountry. Services at Cannon’s were held five times a day, with time for breakfast, a large lunch and dinner, and plenty of time to sit around and visit with friends that they saw infrequently.
There are obviously many more churches with long histories, including Silver Hill, one of many churches founded by Father James Rosemond after emancipation, which has been a beacon to African-American Methodists in Spartanburg for 150 years. Back in years gone by, when Annual Conference met in different cities around the state, the Advocate would often run a long article on Methodism in that particular county. Hopefully I can do that from time to time.