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Historic Campbell Chapel A.M.E Church Restoration

The Historic Campbell Chapel A.M.E Church is a sacred space whose story is one of resilience, community and celebration. Its history begins in 1853 when the chapel was built by a white Methodist congregation in Bluffton, South Carolina. Twenty years later in 1874, the chapel was sold to 9 freedmen. Today the congregation whose ancestors purchased the chapel continues to thrive.

Despite the historic significance of the building, it was excluded from Bluffton’s Historic District nomination in 1996. This oversight was rectified on April 26, 2019 when the chapel was listed on its own merit to the National Register of Historic Places; a distinction shared with only one other building in the area.

The nomination lists the significance of the site as, “… significant under Criterion A – Ethnic Heritage: Black, for its associations with the African American community in Bluffton during Reconstruction and the late 19th century. The church provided a location where congregation members were educated, practiced their religion, and expanded their outreach and participation in the greater community.” (complete NR nomination)

The Campbell Chapel A.M.E church congregation used the chapel for many years but outgrew the space and built a new church next door. Overtime the historic chapel fell into disrepair. Today the congregation is seeking to amplify their story through the restoration of the building as a cultural arts center.

To restore the chapel, the building must first be assessed and documented. This information will aid in the production of architectural drawings and a restoration plan. The intention is to return the interior of the chapel to how it would have appeared when it was purchased in 1874. Currently there are no known images of the chapel interior before alterations were made. With no pictures to study and the addition of newer materials and finishes added over time, an investigation of the building is needed to find clues to its original form.

The first step in the process to restore the Historic Campbell Chapel began early last year thanks to support from the town in the form of funding from the Beaufort County Council accommodations tax

grant. James McGhee, the architect designing the project has been hard at work developing the plans for the restoration. Despite challenges from the pandemic, the work is moving forward, building on assessments done by Savannah College of Art and Design students from 2003 and 2018 as well as site visits. The work accomplished so far has relied on nondestructive investigative techniques. To determine what original material still exists in the sanctuary a more aggressive approach will be needed and include removing new materials added over time such as drywall, carpeting and a drop ceiling.

To learn more about the history of the chapel visit the stop on the Discover Bluffton Tour and check back here for updates.

Written by S.Cox

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