Say one thing for old-time Presbyterians: They knew how to build a church.
Consider First Presbyterian Church in Laurens, SC. Built in Victorian Gothic Revival style, it has all the beauty and elegance of any storied European house of worship despite being located in a town with barely 9,000 residents.
Constructed of red brick, it possesses a cross-gabled slate roof, and a two-story mansard-roofed tower. It employs board-and-batten dormers with round windows and an octagonal broach spire. Its decorative brickwork is indicative of beautiful masonry found on many buildings constructed in the US up through the 1940s.
Features of First Presbyterian’s brickwork includes corbelled arcades, blind-raked arcades, soldier courses set with diagonally placed bricks, brick buttresses, and brick chimneys with recessed panels and corbelled bands and caps, according to information about the church detailed by the National Register of Historic Places.
The congregation was organized in the early 1830s, and by the 1840s it was more than 100 members. The church continued to grow prior to the Civil War, with its first standalone structure, on Church Street in Laurens, being built in 1850. By 1860, First Presbyterian’s membership rolls had swelled to 176, including 46 slaves.
First Presbyterian, like most houses of worship in the South, struggled during the war, as not only were a number of its congregants killed during the conflict, but contributions fell off as members sought to keep their own heads above water financially. In 1863, its minster was sent off to serve as chaplain in the Confederate army.
Following the 1861-65 conflict, First Presbyterian slowly recovered, as the region embraced manufacturing and textiles, and also served as a transportation hub, with several railroads serving the town.
First Presbyterian acquired a lot on Laurens’ Main Street for $800 and began construction in 1891. The first service inside the completed structure was held two years later, in April 1893.
During the past three decades, Laurens, like many Southern towns, has fallen on difficult times as textiles and manufacturing plants have closed or relocated. Nearly 500 fewer people lived in Laurens in 2010 than did so 50 years earlier, a trend evident in small towns across the Southeast.
However, even with the problems inherent in struggling town, the Presbyterians of Laurens, SC, have a house of worship they can rightly take pride in.