Editorial | Georgetown project aims to preserve churches’ history

11/19/2013 4:16 PM

11/19/2013 4:17 PM

St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, constructed by former slave Renty Tucker, is now privately owned and the building on Duke Street in Georgetown has not been a place of worship since 1998 when the church closed. A special digital library project of the Georgetown County Public Library may uncover and preserve more of the church’s history from documents and photographs from people who were active in the church.

Documenting St. Cyprian’s story is a focus of “Sacred Accounts,’’ which has six still-active participating churches in Georgetown’s historic district. Besides the former St. Cyprian’s, other no-longer-active churches include Wesley A.M.E. Church, Duke and Queen Street, and Mount Olive Baptist Church, Wood and Duke streets. The idea is to preserve “the history of these churches and the people that faithfully attended them for so many years,’’ says project manager Julie Warren.

“We are looking for anything that helps to tell the story of the churches,’’ including group photos, Sunday school certificates, baptism and marriage documents. “The [participating] churches are gathering items. We’re guiding them in the importance of preservation ... and how to preserve.’’ Documents from the churches and community will be “scanned, rehoused in archival folders and returned. They also get a digital copy.’’ The $26,000 grant (State Library of South Carolina and the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services) includes money for material to properly keep the documents.

The six churches are Duncan Methodist, Prince George Episcopal, Bethel A.M.E., Bethesda Missionary Baptist, First Assembly of God and St. Mary’s Catholic. Two churches in the historic district, Temple Beth Elohim and First Baptist chose not to participate.

Warren has degrees from Lee University in Virginia and the University of Newcastle in England. She was a state park ranger at Hampton Plantation before joining the library as project manager for the digital library. Started in 2007, the digital library has “close to 40,000 images’’ including two wonderful photo collections previously given to the library.

William Doyle Morgan was a banker who served as mayor in the 1890s and early 1900s. He was a progressive man and had the foresight to hire photographers to record images of everyday life. Alfred Trenholm owned the telephone company and was an amateur photographer. W.D. Morgan was a devout Roman Catholic and his home at Prince and Broad served as a worship place prior to construction of St. Mary’s. The Morgan-Trenholm photos include many priceless images of life in Georgetown 100 years ago.

Georgetown’s digital library was one of the first in S.C. public libraries. The website www.gcdigital.org includes a Facebook page that has attracted Facebook users from far-away places. After the September fire on the waterfront, historic photos were posted and the “Likes’’ doubled. Warren has been in contact with a women in Ireland who found the digital library in doing research on her family history.

In the months ahead, she hopes to hear from present and past residents, here and elsewhere, who can help preserve the important history of Georgetown’s churches.

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