St. Andrews Episcopal

McIntosh County
Org 1841
Photography by Wayne Moore

On the St. Cyprian’s page we discussed the incredible history that belongs to the small coastal village on the banks of the Altamaha River that we know as Darien, founded by Scottish Highlanders in 1736 just three years after the founding of Savannah. There are five very historic churches in this little village, the Presbyterian Church being the first since it was the native religion of the Highlanders. It was almost a hundred years before the other religions began to establish themselves in this part of McIntosh County. The Baptists organized their first church in 1834, the Methodists in 1836 and the Episcopalians in 1841.

According to the church history, the church was originally organized as St. Peters in 1841 but the name was changed to St. Andrews in 1842. The original sanctuary, completed in 1844, was a wooden structure located about 200 feet north of of the present Sanctuary. ‘The first church was a plain wooden building with an attached vestry room and an excrescence on the roof called a belfrey, which held a bell, then thought almost as necessary as a pulpit. It was built by subscription, the subscribers furnishing the money for the purchase of material and sending their colored carpenters and masons to perform the work.’

During the early 18th century Darien had prospered as a sea port for many years but a series of calamities and setbacks were on the horizon. In the 1830’s and 40’s the railroads radically changed the commercial transportation system of Georgia’s agricultural economy. The railroads had bypassed Darien and all the cotton was now sent to Savannah for export. The Darien Bank, a very important financial institution in the state, failed and Darien’s fortunes began to sink with it. However, the churches survived, as they always did, and provided sustenance and spiritual comfort to the many coastal inhabitants.

They would certainly need it as the Civil War was approaching and Darien’s fate was particularly brutal. The record shows that ‘Darien was invaded, looted, and burned to the ground on June 11, 1863 by Union troops, which consisted mainly of black soldiers commanded by two white officers. Col. James Montgomery is blamed for the pointless destruction and was later relieved of his responsibilities. The other officer was 25-year-old Col. Robert G. Shaw, who died about a month later during a famous assault on Battery Wagner on Morris Island, which guarded the southern approaches to Charleston harbor.’ All the churches in the village, with the exception of the Methodist church were burned to the ground along with the rest of the town.

The Beautiful church you see above, completed in 1879, is of classic 14th century English architecture and not something you would expect to emerge from the ashes of Darien immediately after the carnage of the Civil War. It came about as a result of a collaboration between a local timber merchant, James K. Clarke, and the Rev. James W. Leigh. Rev. Leigh was an Englishman who married Frances Butler in 1871. Frances was the daughter of Pierce Butler, the founder of the famous Butler Plantation, located just across the river from Darien. Rev. Leigh and Frances came to Darien in 1873 to take over leadership of the plantation in the aftermath of the war. The Butler Plantation had been the largest and richest of the pre-Civil War plantations in McIntosh County. Rev. Leigh was a well known English member of the clergy, having been Vicar of Stoneleigh and Lemington as well as Dean of Hereford.

It was with this background that he and Mr. Clarke engaged an English architect in 1874 who submitted plans based on a 14th century Gothic stone church located near Manchester, England. The church was to be built on the former site of the Darien bank, with local timber coming down the Altamaha river to the sawmills in Darien. Thus, architecture of St. Andrews is unique among 19th century Georgia churches as you will see in subsequent photos. The exterior seen above is an early example of the Carpenter Gothic style that flourished during the last quarter of the 19th Century. It exhibits the basic characteristics of that style, i.e. steep pitched roofs, pointed arched windows, wood siding and fanciful detailing. The sanctuary interior presents a more austere, somewhat brooding appearance in keeping with the vaulted, stone 14th Century Gothic church on which the architect based his interior plan. We are grateful to the congregants of St. Andrews for their loving care and outstanding stewardship of this architectural treasure. The rich history of Darien and the story of its rebirth after the war is just that….quite a story. The jewel of McIntosh County and the Georgia lowcountry.

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