Leaving Columbia, South Carolina we head West on Interstate 20 into the state named for King George II. Clearly our early founders had a difficult time running from and staying true to the crown of England. Before we arrive in the current state capital of Georgia, Atlanta, let us investigate the capital journey from coast to railroad crossing.
Savannah was the first capital of Georgia, established as the colony capital in 1751. Shortly after statehood it began to share capital status with Augusta in 1785 to include other parts of the growing state. By 1795 the state decided it needed another king figure and moved the capitol to Louisville (named for King Louis XVI of France) in Jefferson County. This relationship lasted almost 10 years before a fourth capital location moved a little west and north to Milledgeville in 1804 where an actual Capitol building appeared until the civil war.
Further to the north in 1837, a transportation hub was beginning to form at the intersection of two railroad lines. The chief engineer of the Georgia Railroad envisioned a connection of commerce between two oceans and called the new town Atlantica-Pacifica. Shortened to Atlanta, it grew until General Sherman came to town in 1864 and burned the city to the ground. The only structures that escaped the fires were churches and hospitals.
How did the churches avoid the ashes? A growing cotton industry and other commerce drew a sizable immigration of Catholics to the area. In 1861 the Atlanta Catholic Church appointed Fr. Thomas O’Reilly as pastor. He and Fr. Jeremiah O’Neil became known for their ministry to soldiers on both sides of the war between the states. Fr. O’Reilly became aware of Sherman’s order to burn the city of Atlanta to the ground in 1864. He used his influence to convince General Slocum and other army staffers that there would be mass desertions if they persisted in burning the churches of the city. Many of the soldiers in Sherman’s army were also Catholic and had been served by the Catholic ministry.
He also convinced Sherman’s staff to spare the courthouse, city hall, Central Presbyterian, 2nd Baptist, Trinity Methodist, and St. Philip Episcopal. After the war, this area would become the building block for Atlanta’s reconstruction. The capital was moved from Milledgeville to Atlanta in 1868. In 1869, the cornerstone for The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was laid to replace the damaged, but still standing, Atlanta Catholic Church. City hall was deeded to the state to build a new Capitol structure that was completed in 1889. Atlanta, Georgia has been rapidly growing from that point onward.
I visited this historic block in 2013 and found a vibrant street festival between the Capitol and Central Presbyterian. Around the next corner a line was forming at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for Saturday morning meals for the homeless.
Fathers O’Reily and O’Neil must surely be smiling. Even King George can afford a grin, because the State of Georgia found a permanent home for a state Capitol.
As one of the original 13 colonies, South Carolina owes much of its early history to the crown of England. In 1663, the first owners began to establish roots in Charleston as it became the first capital. The Church of England was established as the first official Church of South Carolina in 1706. Up until 1778, all of the basic religious expenses were covered by taxpayers. At this point, the South Carolina Constitution disestablished the church. The next 15 years of transition from the old capital in Charleston to the new one in Columbia scattered church ties.
The new capital in 1790 was no more than a village at a crossroad in the middle of the state. Slowly but surely, different denominations started to appear. First Presbyterian Church, Washington Street Methodist Church and the Baptists, all set up shop on Marion St. a couple of blocks northeast of the new capital buildings. Missing from the equation were any remnants of the original Church of England. However, that changed with the arrival of Rev. Theodore Dehon in 1807.
Dehon, elected to Bishop four years later, saw the need to reestablish an Episcopal presence where state government and the newly founded South Carolina College where already in place. He formed the following organization (which is quite the tongue twister): the Protestant Episcopal Society for the Advancement of Christianity in South Carolina., or S.A.C. for short.
S.A.C. wasted little time. They elected a missionary to spend six months in the town reviewing what could be done to advance S.A.C. interests. They spread the word, organized 11 esteemed members of the community and started to influence the General Assembly. The Assembly donated four lots on Marion Street to be divided between the newly formed Episcopal and the previously established Presbyterian. Straws were drawn and suddenly the Episcopalians were the new owners of property on Sumter Street between the previously established Marion Street churches and the capitol grounds.
In 1814, S.A.C. laid the cornerstone for Trinity Episcopal Cathedral which majestically stands to this day, just east of the South Carolina State House.
Construction on the State House began in 1851, but was slow to be complete, eventually finishing in 1907. Defective materials, changing architects, the Civil War and reconstruction poverty all contributed to the slow pace.
There are six bronze stars placed around the state house marking the spots were Sherman’s Union Army cannons hit the building. You will notice the Greek revival style similar to the capitols we have already visited on this trip.
Church and state history in South Carolina is a story of domination, perseverance, re establishment and now peaceful co-existence. Visitors can travel on a short trip from Charleston to Columbia and explore this separation of state and church themselves. This writer will continue his southern march next week in yet another state that moved an original capital from the coastline to the center of the state.
Moving south from Richmond on I-95 to US-64 West, we approach the Capitol on New Bern Avenue. New Bern was the original capital of North Carolina, but just like Williamsburg in Virginia, it became susceptible to attacks from the sea. Raleigh was chosen, planned, and designed specifically for use as a state capital in 1788. It has four public squares and a central Union square where the Capitol building is located. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1831 and replaced by the current building in 1840.
Today, on the four corners of the Capitol square, there lies four churches. A pair of First Baptist churches on the NW and SE corners. First Presbyterian church on the SW corner and the Episcopal Church, Christ Church on the NE corner. First Baptist Church on the SE corner began with 23 people meeting in the State House in 1812. First Baptist Church of Raleigh was built in 1859 on the NW corner. First Presbyterian was organized with about 40 adults and children in the old State House in 1816. A meeting house was built in 1818, destroyed by fire and replaced by the current structure in 1900. Not to be outdone, leaders of Episcopal Diocese were committed to establishing a church in Raleigh. Christ Church on Capitol Square was established in 1821 on the NE corner.
Dean Smith, legendary basketball coach at The University of North Carolina, became known for his four corner offense that sealed a win at the end of the game. In Raleigh, the four churches on the corners of Capitol Square have surrounded the state with the hope of preserving victory in North Carolina’s garden of God.
For now, your weary traveler needs to catch some sleep at a truck stop just south of the border. We will see you at the next stop in Columbia.
There are two choices when leaving Washington, D.C.: north to Maryland or south to Virginia. Travelling salespersons and separation researchers are not efficient in a March storm, so south we go. The first detour is the Jefferson Memorial (and yes, Thomas Jefferson is going to be a frequent companion along our many stops) and then on to his home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia, arriving in Richmond in about an hour and a half.
I stopped at the visitor center and explained my state and church project. The volunteer said that I was lucky. St. Paul’s Episcopal was next to the Capitol and had lots of history. Additionally, Jefferson designed the Virginia State Capitol. A few left turns and there I was in capitol square, staring at a magnificent white temple. To the left on E. Grace St. was the equally white St. Paul’s Episcopal with a welcome sign for its famous Lenten lunch. One block further on E. Grace was St. Peter’s Catholic with an active bus stop near the front steps. This time the Virginia Supreme Court was beside both the statehouse and St. Paul’s.
While governor, Thomas Jefferson moved the capital to Richmond from Williamsburg for security from the British Navy. Then, while serving in France as secretary of state, he was asked to design a capitol for Virginia. As a self-taught architect, he, along with French architect Charles-Louis Clerisseau, modeled the building after the ancient Roman temple Maison Carrée.
The cornerstone was laid in 1785. After the Civil War, a collapsed balcony in 1870 that killed sixty-two and injured 251, and eight fires, the current reconstruction stands impressively over the James River.
St. Paul’s Episcopal has its roots in a theater fire on the site in 1811 that took 72 lives. Monumental church was built from its ashes. Growth led to a committee that toured Philadelphia and became inspired by the size of St. Luke’s. The committee commissioned St. Luke’s architect to design a replica for Richmond. According to St. Paul’s Episcopal current website, “The resulting building is a masterpiece of the Greek Revival style, and a stately complement to Thomas Jefferson’s temple-form capitol across the street.”
Richmond, Virginia has common characteristics at its neighboring church and state. Designed beyond its borders but resting beautifully, side by side today.
Washington, District of Columbia.
The U.S. Capitol was completed in 1800 and at first separation of church and state was nonexistent. Religious services were held within its halls every Sunday and attended by presidents starting with Thomas Jefferson. This continued well into the middle of the century with preachers of numerous faiths taking turns leading in assembled worship.
My first visit in March 2013, I was looking to find the closest current churches to the Capitol building. Within two blocks behind the east entrance was a neighborhood of multiple places of worship. Separating this neighborhood from the Capitol are two iconic buildings: the Library of Congress (or Jefferson Building) and the Supreme Court. No hedges or walls of separation. Just words of interpretation regarding the relationship between church and state.
There is a road that acts as a gap in this hedge of words between the library and the Supreme Court. A one-and-a-half block down East Capitol street from the visitors entrance one will find the closest church in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, namely Lutheran Church of the Reformation. Within six blocks both north and south of the church lies Faith Tabernacle United Holy Church of America, St. Joseph’s Capitol Hill Roman Catholic Church, St. Mark’s Episcopal, Waugh Methodist Church, Capitol Hill First Baptist Church and Capitol Hill Presbyterian. Seven churches that lie in the shadow of the U.S, Capitol.
Symbolism through the passage of time speaks volumes on the first stop of our tour. In 1800 the United States Capitol was born. In 2020, a garden of God has clearly been established in the Capitol Hill neighborhood two blocks away. In the landscape between these churches and state, men and women chronicle and debate the significance of the divide.
For a truly unique stroll to where the church bells toll in Washington, D.C, wander the streets in the Shadow of our Capitol dome.
Stay overnight just 2 miles away
Hampton Inn Washington DC NoMa Union Station
501 New York Avenue NE, District of Columbia, DC, 20002, United States
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