St. John’s Episcopal Church

St. John’s Episcopal Church

Location: 252 S. Dargan St., Florence, SC 29506

St. John’s Episcopal Church is one of the oldest churches in Florence. The first service for the church was hosted by Bishop Well Bell White Howe in 1865. A native of Charleston, he moved to Florence to avoid battle and to serve coastal refugees from the Civil War. The services were held in a classroom inside the Freeman Hotel, where a British widow and teacher, Frances Church, taught classes during the week. By 1866, St. John’s Parish was established, though only about 14 families were a part of the parish.

St. John’s received its name from the passing of Reverend Walter C. Guerry, who was ordained on St. John the Baptist Day. Reverend Guerry preached only once, in 1867, from the gospel according to St. John. Afterward, Reverend LeGrand Felder Guerry, Walter’s brother, took charge of the parish.

J. W. Gamble, the owner of Gamble’s Hotel, which is also featured on this tour, was an early warden of the church. 

The first building for the church was built in 1871 a few blocks from downtown Florence. Services continued to be held here until 1886 when the structure of the building was damaged in an earthquake. For a time, services were then held in a Masonic Hall over a store on the corner of Evans and Dargan Street.

The current building on Dargan Street was built in 1889. The structure was designed by Silas McBee, a religious journalist who went on to edit the religious periodical The Churchman in 1896. McBee decided on a Victorian Gothic style for the church, and the first service was held just before Christmas in 1889, and in 1891, Bishop Howe consecrated the building. 

Some notable figures surrounding the church include:

William Alexander Guerry, the nephew of Walter Guerry, was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. William made attempts to minister to Black congregants within the church during the Jim Crow Era. A priest who worked under Guerry, James Herbert Howard, was angered by these inclusive attempts and shot and killed William before ending his own life. 

Wilmer S. “Parson” Poynor served at the church for 30 years. The local Poynor School, also featured on this tour, was named after him. In 1922, he added a parish house to the Church to prevent them from constructing a new church. Poynor also conducted the funeral service for Joseph Wallace, Sr., who once owned the Red Doe Plantation, also featured on this tour. He first retired in 1946, moved briefly to Alabama, but returned to South Carolina to take charge of Christ’s Church in Mullins before retiring again in 1950. The Florence Morning News wrote that:

“He transcended denominations. The differences that set men apart were not important; it was the identities that mattered, and in all men, he found in the identity of need, whatever the church to which they belonged or didn’t belong, whatever their position in life, whatever the state of their health, whatever the color of their skin.”

Reverend Charles Douglas “Pete” Cooper, was the parish leader of St. John’s for 20 years. During his leadership in the 1990s and early 2000s, the campus surrounding the church grew significantly. Robery Marvin made renovations to the Sunday School wing and added reinforcements for several walls. This period is also when the Schofield Library, the Fellowship Hall, the garden pavilion, and a few other additions were made.

St. John’s, whose history in the Florence area is deep and rich, celebrated its 150th anniversary on October 30, 2016. 

If you are visiting during regular church office hours, you may be able to request an interior tour.

To learn more about the history of St. John’s Episcopalian Church visit the following website: