Part of the old brick wall of the 2nd Presbyterian Church gives way | New


And then the wall collapsed.

People at the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston guess the bricks spilled on the sidewalk around 2 p.m. on November 17. The domed wall at the corner of Charlotte and Elizabeth streets has threatened passers-by for years, the threat increasing each time rain saturates the high cemetery behind.

Fortunately, the city erected soft fencing and barricades in the spring after a contractor working at the church noticed the curve of the bulge seemed to be getting bigger. A few parking spaces were blocked.

So when a large part of the old brick wall collapsed, no one was hurt and nothing was damaged. Except for the innocent sidewalk under the rubble, which probably needs municipal attention now.

By 4 p.m., city officials were on site to secure the area and remove any hazards from public rights-of-way, city spokesman Jack O’Toole said. The assumption is that the loose bricks will be incorporated into a new wall, he said.

Correct assumption. The loose bricks will be incorporated into the new wall, said Russell Smith, a contractor working on other projects at the church who is familiar with the repair plans.

These plans are the result of a settlement reached in August between the city and The Dewberry. The nearby luxury hotel agreed on August 3 to pay the cost of repairing and rebuilding the wall in exchange for the right to continue operating its rooftop Citrus Bar.

The bar was part of plan B for the roof of the hotel. In 2017, city zoning officials objected, citing noise concerns raised by residents of the Mazyck-Wraggborough neighborhood. A legal confrontation ensued which ended with the agreement to repair the wall.

Patterson Smith, treasurer of the Second Presbyterian Church, called the structural failure “good news” and a “win-win-win”.

It’s because the church and the city worked together to recognize the danger to public safety and The Dewberry provided a solution, he said.

“The good news is we were all paying attention,” Smith said.

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The old brick wall has been protruding from the sidewalk for years, and the bulge was getting worse and worse with each pouring rain. On November 17, part of the wall fell, even as plans are being made to repair it. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

The Reverend Cress Darwin, pastor of Second Presbyterian, speculated that recent rains may have saturated the cemetery ground, causing it to sprawl and push against the bricks.

Or maybe an already unbalanced wall just couldn’t stand.

“Thank God it was rolled up and no one came through,” he said. “We can celebrate that finally the city and the church and the community and the business have all come together. Everyone was looking for their personal interest to be taken into account, but it was done. It is a testament to the cooperative nature of the people of Charleston.

The lower part of the wall did not fall. It continues to push back the well-populated graveyard, so there’s little chance of the dead seeing the light of day.

The wall is believed to date from the mid-1860s and its construction was part of an effort to extract earth from one of the highest parts of the peninsula. Materials taken away may have been used to reinforce the city’s Confederate defenses.

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It is unclear who is responsible for the old brick fence. Is it part of church property or does it belong to the city? Charleston attorneys researched the structure’s history in 2018 and found no records indicating the city had ever accepted responsibility for maintaining the wall.

Its current state is the result of approximately 150 years of neglect. But that neglect has come to an end.

John Moore of Ellinwood + Machado Structural Engineers is almost ready to apply for necessary permits and share plans with city officials, Russell Smith said.

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The cemetery wall of the Second Presbyterian Church photographed in 2021. File/Staff

As the scope of work has not yet been approved, it may change. But for now the plan is to remove the old wall, clean out the individual bricks and store them, dig a trench into which concrete footings can be poured and rebar installed, build a reinforced concrete wall to hold the cemetery, then a brick wall in front of him which is well attached to his younger brother. The concrete wall will be invisible from the street.

It will all scale down, following the contours of the terrain, Smith said. At one end, the interior retaining wall will retain perhaps 2 feet of sacred ground; at the other end about 5 or 6 feet.

The hope is that work can start in earnest early next year, he said.

Soon the old wall will be like new.

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