Prior to the American Revolution, Camden was a part of St. Mark’s Parish, a geographical area that extended from Summerton to the North Carolina state line. The first mention of an Anglican Priest in the area was the assignment of The Reverend Charles Woodmason as missionary to the area by the Anglican Bishop of South Carolina. By the early 1770’s another Anglican Priest, The Reverend Theophilus Drage came to Camden, serving first as a missionary, and then as Rector.
It appears that a church building existed prior to the American Revolution in the vicinity of the grave of Agnes of Glasgow, in what is now Quaker Cemetery. As the Revolution progressed, The Rev. Drage, who was a Tory, fled for his life in 1778, and the church was abandoned.
Numerous attempts to establish a new church failed. Then in 1829, an act of incorporation was granted by the legislature of the state under the name and title of the wardens and vestry of Grace Church. Land was secured and on January 29, 1831, the cornerstone was laid for a new structure “…on the west side of Broad Street, 66 feet south of DeKalb.” This building was well-appointed with, among other things, a “fine toned bell” and a pipe organ purchased from the Erban Company in New York City. A schematic of the church shows 16 slanted pews on each side, and 13 forward facing pews. This building burned in 1867.
The Rev Thomas F. Davis, Sr., Rector of Grace Church, was elected as Bishop of South Carolina in 1853. He agreed to serve with the stipulation that he not be required to move to Charleston, and so during his Bishopric, the See of the Diocese of South Carolina was in Camden. In 1857, Bishop Davis was instrumental in the establishment of a Theological Seminary here. The building housing the seminary was burned in 1865, supposedly by a detachment of Union Troops from Sherman’s Army.
In addition to Bishop Davis, Grace Church produced another giant: noted soldier, philosopher and theologian William Porcher DuBose attended the seminary here prior to the Civil War. Twice wounded, reported dead, captured and exchanged, he was ordained at Grace Church by Bishop Davis in 1863. At Sewanee, DuBose “became Sewanee’s greatest teacher, greatest personality, greatest theologian” and was said to be the “wisest Anglican writer…on both sides of the Atlantic”. Some of his descendents are present members of the parish. Other notables associated with Grace Church over the years include The Rev. Stiles Lines, who also taught at Sewanee following his tenure as Grace Church Rector, and two former priests who currently serve as Cathedral Deans.
In May of 1867 the church building on Broad Street burned. Shortly afterwards, the ladies of the church began a building fund. Amazingly enough, given the financial situation in the south following the Civil War, property was acquired and the first building on the present site at the corner of Lyttleton and Laurens was begun in 1870. The first service and Eucharist was held in the not yet completed building in December of 1871 by The Rt. Rev. Thomas F. Davis, Sr., Bishop of South Carolina. The building was consecrated in 1873 when all bills had been paid.
The first building was a simple rectangular structure in the Neo-Gothic Style. Pointed arches and small suggestions of Flying Buttresses emphasize the architecture. Numerous interior improvements have been made through the years including strikingly beautiful stained glass windows; brass railings, credence shelf and pulpit. Almost all of the accoutrements are memorials. The first addition which was consecrated in 1907 was the Narthex and Gallery, the South Tower and the (North) Bell Tower. In 1922, the Diocese was divided, and Grace Church became the easternmost parish of the newly formed Diocese of Upper South Carolina. In 1932 Grace Church added the Parish House and dedicated it to the Reverend Cameron Greg Richardson who served as Rector from 1928 – 1932. This structure consisted of a stage, an auditorium known as Richardson Hall, 6 classrooms, a kitchen and a study for the Rector. In 1954 a Kindergarten and office building was completed, creating much needed office space and 9 additional classrooms. The final building, Gordon Hall, was added in 1972. It contains 6 new classrooms, and now houses our Kindergarten.
Since 1832, twenty-one rectors have served Grace Church. The congregation has grown from 28 families with 36 communicants in 1832 to more than 300 households at the present time.