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Church of the Cross

Church of the Cross - Audio
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     Only three pre-Civil War buildings in Bluffton are open to the public and the beautiful, and much photographed Church of the Cross is one of them.  It was spared during the Burning of Bluffton when Union troops set fire to the town.  Was it an act of Divine Providence or did the Union army purposefully save it so future generations could enjoy this church set on a bluff along the May River?  We will never know for certain,  but in the end, the important thing is thatthe site, constructed of unfinished cypress and listed on The National Register of Historic Places, is here today for you to visit, reflect and marvel at its elegant design.  Enjoy!

If you were a member of elite Lowcountry plantation society in the years prior to the Civil War—this was the church you were likely to attend.  Constructed in 1857 in the fashionable Gothic Revival style of architecture, the Church, with its rose colored windows imported from England and its elegant, fanned arches suggesting Palmetto trees, provided the perfect setting for the sophisticated taste of its high end congregation. 

At the time, Bluffton was a summer destination for wealthy plantation owners from inland South Carolina like the Popes, Kirks and Coles. These families spent summers in town to escape the heat of their plantations and illnesses like typhoid that were ever present during the summer “sickly” season.

Take a moment to stop in the churchyard and enjoy the view of the river.  Beautiful isn’t it? But if you were here on this same spot the morning of June 4, 1863, your view would have been very ominous.  On the horizon, a convoy of Federal warships and troops dispatched from Hilton Head Island is heading toward you.  One thousand Union soldiers will soon land about a mile from where you stand.  Their objective: Rid Bluffton of Confederate troops and lookouts who were providing valuable intelligence on Union Army movements in the Lowcountry.


As the Federal troops landed, they quickly fanned out through the town with orders to torch specific homes, but soon the entire town was engulfed in flames.  Fortunately, the Church was spared, but the congregation fled, and services would not be held there again until 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War.  Today, it is a vibrant Anglican Parish with over 1,800 members.

The Church of the Cross is one of only two, pre-Civil War buildings in Bluffton that are open to the public.  Docents welcome visitors throughout the week and share the fascinating history of this beautiful church.

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