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.
When stepping into the sanctuary of St. Andrews, its design motif, based on a 14th century, gothic English Church, immediately asserts itself. The interior features a medieval-style, trussed rafter roof system with arch-braced…though very Gothic in appearance… part principals. Since Darien was the epicenter of the heart pine industry in the 19th century, the entire sanctuary is constructed from that noble wood finished in a golden brown stain. The effect is quite striking and creates an atmosphere akin to being in the interior of a mighty wooden sailing vessel. At the same time, the vertical wood wall panel wainscot with the horizontal panels above creates a unified space. Illuminated by the natural light streaming through the tall, clear glass windows, the sanctuary seems to glow.
Stepping beneath the transept arch and down the aisle toward the chancel, altar and pulpit, the feeling of being embraced by this place becomes even more palpable. Surrounded by these arched, Gothic chambers, the sense of intimacy and safety within this sanctuary cannot help being felt. In this view, we can also see and appreciate the quality of the design, fit and finish of the walls, roof , window frames, leaded glass, furniture and decorative elements which is all of the highest order. The most curious and prominent element in this view is the magnificent, painted madallion portion of the window above the altar. It is based on a sacred, triple enclosure symbol. This symbol is formed by three concentric squares connected by four lines at right angles. This pattern has been seen at the Acropolis in Athens, churches in France and in paving patterns in ancient Greece…..it is often referred to as “The Triple Druid Precinct”. The symbol is also associated with the Druids and Celts. Given that the original settlers of Darien trace back to the Scottish Highlanders and northern Britain, such a meaningful pagan symbol makes sense in this church.
In this view we can again see examples of the consummate skills of those carpenters and builders that erected this structure over 130 years ago. Such precise work is why this landmark still stands, and it would be hard to replicate these days. We also see a Saint Andrews Cross banner displayed to the left of the chancel and altar. This is just further evidence of the importance, even today, of the Scottish/British heritage of the original settlers in this area way back in 1735. Finally, we must comment on the quality of the clear glass, leaded windows that are found throughout St. Andrews. The cost of recreating windows such as these in the 21st century would be prohibitive. We feel it is very important that future generations have the chance to see and enjoy all of these triumphs of craftsmanship and pride in the decades to come. They are all here on prominent display at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Darien.
Looking west from the altar, we get a much better sense of the warm, inviting and intimate atmosphere generated by the design, furnishings and decorative elements in place at St. Andrews. Just as important is the presence of many, tall windows that help light up the sanctuary. The present excellent condition of the building and the robustness and vitality of the 21st century congregation is a tribute to this church’s continuous relevance since its inception.
This black and white photo exposes the structural bones and design elements that make this church one of the most unique structures in Georgia. It also demonstrates the positive contribution that its beautiful windows brings to the whole package that is the St. Andrews experience.
The historical marker reads….At the end of this avenue, on high land overlooking the creeks and marshes, Thomas Spalding of Sapelo established his family burial ground. For many years the Spaldings and their kinsmen were buried in St. Andrews Cemetery. In 1867, Charles Spalding, son of Thomas Spalding, gave to Saint Andrew`s Episcopal Church in Darien the land surrounding the family plot, to be used perpetually as a cemetery. On February 20, 1876, the right Reverend Dr. Beckwith, Bishop of Georgia, consecrated the ground now known as St. Andrew`s Cemetery.
In this final view, we are reminded that the exterior of St. Andrews is Carpenter Gothic in design. The wood siding, fanciful detailing and decorative wood “buttress” elements seen above are characteristic elements of that style and tell a story about the tastes of the period. And what a story St. Andrew’s as a whole tells….rising from the ashes of the Civil War with a brooding sanctuary that comes straight from 14th century England, an exterior that could be the poster child for Carpenter Gothic churches…. and all was made of Georgia long leaf pine, a relic of Georgia’s past. The beauty and majesty of this church is inspiration and comfort for us all.
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Wayne Street at Vernon Square
Darien, GA 31305
Longitude: 81 25.942’W
Latitude: 31 22.101’N
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Darien, Georgia was chartered in 1843. It was a large wooden building with a belfry. It was completed in 1844 and services were held here until it was burned in 1863 when Darien was torched by Federal Troops stationed at St. Simons Island, GA. The church was rebuilt and reopened in 1879 with plans secured from England, a copy of a little church in Britain.
• Marker Organization: Georgia Historical Commission and St.Andrew’s Parish Chapter, NSDAR
• Marker Date: 1957
• Marker Text: Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Darien received its charter in 1843, under the Rt.Rev. Stephen Elliott, first Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia. The church edifice, a large wooden building with a belfry, erected on a lot a short distance North of this site, was completed in 1844. The Rev. Richard Brown was the first Rector. This building was burned in 1863, when Darien was put to the torch by Federal Troops stationed on St. Simons Island, and for several years after services were held in a little church on The Ridge.In 1872, James K. Clarke, Mr. Langdon, and Donald Munroe headed a movement to rebuild Saint Andrew’s in Darien. Other members of the church assisted with money and with work. Plans were secured from England, and the edifice as it now stands , a copy of a little church in Britain was built. The church was opened in January of 1879, with the Rev. Samuel Pinkerton as Rector.
Form Submitted By: St. Andrew’s Parish Chapter, NSDAR 12/31/2015