Trinity Episcopal Church dates from 1842 with the construction of a small wooden building. In 1858, the growing and more affluent congregation decided to build a larger and finer structure. Architect George Walker of Columbia, who had also worked on the state capitol building, found inspiration for his design in the magnificent Gothic cathedrals of France. This was quite appropriate, since Abbeville was named by John de la Howe for his native home, Abbeville, France.
The cornerstone was laid on June 27, 1859 and the church was consecrated on November 4, 1860. The nave is 43 feet wide and 81 feet long; walls are of solid handmade brick and the steeple soars over 120 feet tall. The foundation contains brick dust, an expensive addition, which assured the church building would remain steadfast for centuries. The final cost of the building, including the organ and bell, was $15,665 which was funded by church members along with liberal donations from friends in Charleston and the lowcountry.
Trinity holds a virtual “library” of rare 19th-century American stained glass, including at least eight windows dating to the church’s erection in 1859/60. Legend passed down generations told that the chancel window was of English origin and ran the blockade in the Civil War. Found to be a window intended for a Northern church, Trinity’s members decided to keep and install the window, altering it to fit the existing space. Historical research in 2014 has disproven this legend and shown, instead, that the window is actually much more valuable. Experts now attribute the chancel window to the New York studio of William Gibson, considered the “father of stained glass painting in America.” Gibson was also the brother of John and George Gibson who provided stained glass for the U.S. Capitol building. Stylistic similarities point to Gibson’s studio as the source also of the “Suffer Little Children” window and the medallions with symbols of faith adorning the tops of the church’s other stained glass windows. Trinity represents only the fourth location in the world where Gibson’s work still exists as well as the largest collection of William Gibson stained glass yet discovered.
The Epiphany window, Trinity’s only 20th-century stained glass, was installed in 1941, and was crafted by the famed J & R Lamb Studios.
The steeple bell was the gift of Col. J. Foster Marshall of Abbeville, who was killed at the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862. During the war, a Confederate officer requested that the bell be melted down for manufacture of a cannon, but fortunately the request was never pursued.
The rare John Baker “tracker” organ was one of the first organs in Abbeville County and was still in use until 2006 when it was dismantled for renovations. The organ is still housed at the church with hopes soon to have the organ reassembled for use in regular worship services at Trinity.
Among Trinity’s more illustrious members and clergy were:
Rev. William Porcher DuBose, founder of the University of the South’s School ofTheology one of the foremost theologians of the Episcopal Church
John A. Calhoun, nephew of U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun
Armistead Burt, former Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress