A historic downtown church rises a little taller now from the same spot where Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops torched it more than 150 years ago.
Ebenezer Lutheran Church proudly hoisted a pair of wooden cupolas atop the towers of its Richland Street chapel Monday.
The chapel, an emblem of downtown Columbia’s rich history kept alive in the midst of a modern renaissance, now matches its 1870 structure before the cupolas rotted away.
“The old architecture of places is what distinguishes one town, one city from another, and that’s what really gives you a sense of place,” said Nancy Stone-Collum, director of the Richland County Conservation Commission, which promotes preservation of history and the environment in the area. “All the new skyscrapers don’t give you that warm, fuzzy feeling. ... It’s important to restore as much as we can.”
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The Ebenezer chapel was built in the footprint of the original 1830 church, home of the first Lutheran congregation in the city. Sherman’s Union troops had destroyed the church on their fiery march through the capital city in 1865. Lutheran congregations from the north chipped in money to help build the new chapel after the Civil War.
German immigrant and architect G.T. Berg, who moved to Columbia to help design the S.C. State House, designed the chapel and served as the church’s minister of music. Berg left long-lasting marks all over the city: His other design credits include the Woodrow Wilson house, 1631 Main St. and parts of the iconic Babcock building on the old state mental hospital grounds.
In 1931, the Ebenezer congregation outgrew Berg’s chapel and moved into a new sanctuary. Since then, the old chapel has served purposes ranging from Sunday School and storage to adult day care and a basketball gym.
Not a single current Ebenezer member – some of whom have lived more than 100 years – can recall the old chapel sporting the cupolas, said Annette Metz, a member for more than 60 years.
She remembers when most of the congregation lived close enough to walk to church and when they’d close down the streets for the children to play outside.
“It’s exciting to see it be refurnished,” Metz said. “Hopefully we’re going to interest the community in it.”
The latest known image of the original cupolas standing atop the chapel dates to World War I. Sometime since then, they rotted away, church members figure.
It was as the congregation prepared to celebrate its 185th anniversary a bit over a year ago that the images of the chapel with the cupolas were discovered.
“We’ve always thought it looked kind of odd to have these flat-topped towers,” said Roger Davis, a church member for more than 40 years. “We feel it’s important to preserve that building because of its historical significance. ... Ebenezer has been a part of the community for many, many years.”
A $46,331 grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission covered a little more than half the cost of cupolas.
Next, the church hopes to secure more grant funding to restore the chapel’s high, pressed-tin ceiling.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.