A Brief Church History
(This history is excerpted from the 150th Church anniversary
booklet (1928-1978), printed in 1978.)
On March 11, 1828, the Reverend Urias Powers met with eleven persons who had been members of Presbyterian churches in other places and organized the Cheraw Presbyterian Church. This small group used the second floor of the Cheraw Academical Society for their church activities until a church was built at the corner of Market and Third Streets. The building first used is now the Matheson Memorial Library at 612 Kershaw Street in Cheraw, a gift of the Matheson family to the community in 1961.
Mr. Powers, a native of New Hampshire, graduate of Dartmouth College and Andover Theological Seminary, was sent to South Carolina by his denomination, the Congregational, to work among the Negro slaves. After living here a short time, he united with the Presbyterian Church by joining Harmony Presbytery, which at that time included Cheraw. He came into this community which the Reverend N. R. Morgan, a Presbyterian minister on missionary assignment from Fayetteville Presbytery in 1820, describes as having "no signs of religion at all. There was not a man in the place who professed religion, of any denomination."
In December, 1830, the State Legislature passed an act authorizing the Cheraw Presbyterian Church to form a society with corporate rights and powers. The first business attended to was the appointment of a committee to purchase land on which to build a church. This was done in 1831 when lots numbers 97 and 98 of the town plan were purchased for $193. A building was sufficiently completed by the spring of 1832 to enable the congregation to hold a revival meeting conducted by the Reverend Daniel Baker, D. D.
The sessional report to the Presbytery in April, 1832, shows a total of thirty-one communicants.
In July, 1832, a weekly prayer meeting was established. This service has continued to the present day.
In 1838 Mr. John C. Coit, an elder in this church, entered the ministry and was ordained and installed as minister. He became the first pastor of the church, as those preceding him were Stated Supplies. A native of Connecticut, this minister served also as President of the Merchants' Bank of Cheraw. The first deacons were elected this same year.
In 1841 the Session House was built. Church records do not indicate the origin of funds or definite purpose of this building. It has had a variety of uses, including a place for holding mid-week prayer services, Sunday School classes, choir practices and small chapel weddings.
It is interesting to note that as early as 1845 the church was contributing generously to the cause of education. In 1853 during a difficult period when there were only fifty communing members, the church contributed $1014.50 for benevolences.
On April 2, 1859, the Reverend William B. Corbett was installed as the second pastor of the church.
In May of 1859, the church purchased from the Reverend John C. Coit, his home and adjoining lots for $4,000. This property included the home on Third Street now occupied by the Poston family. This manse was used until 1889 when it was sold, and a building erected on a lot adjacent to the church lot.
Mr. Corbett served the church during the difficult years of the War Between the States and was permitted to accept the Chaplaincy of the Fourth South Carolina Regiment in 1865. During the occupation of the town by Sherman's Army the pews were removed from the church, and a dance or some other form of entertainment was held in the sanctuary, with the pulpit used for the band stand. The church bell was removed and molded into cannon for the Confederate Army.
In 1869 Mr. Corbett resigned and was replaced by the Reverend Edward Henry Buist of Charleston, S. C. The Synod of South Carolina met in this church, possibly for the first time, in October, 1873.
On September 11, 1882, Mr. Buist died suddenly. The Reverend Thornton C. Whaling was installed as the next pastor on November 25, 1883. He was later to serve the First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Virginia; and the one at Dallas, Texas. He went on to become President of Columbia Seminary, professor at Louisville Seminary, and Moderator of the General Assembly.
In 1890 the church was partly remodeled when the pulpit was changed from the front of the church to the rear and the pews reversed. A small steeple was added to house a bell. On October 8, 1893, the Presbyterial Society conveyed all of the church property to the Board of Deacons, as trustees for the church.
In September, 1892, the Reverend Archibald Hunter McArn, a Cheraw native who had been reared in Laurinburg, N. C., accepted a call as pastor of this church, to begin January 1, 1893.
In 1903 the first pipe organ was installed in the church. Also during this year the hour for holding Sunday School was, for the first time, changed from the afternoon to the morning hour. In 1906 the Sunday School was completely reorganized to include Cradle Roll, Primary, Intermediate, Junior, and Senior Departments. A Men's Bible Class was formed. Several "societies" were merged into the Women's Auxiliary in 1920, but women were prominent in church affairs before and after this date. In material and spiritual affairs, they have served this church faithfully.
The congregation approved a plan of extensive improvements in 1922. The church was brick-veneered, the ceiling restored as it was originally, and the choir loft and a Sunday School addition completed. A vestibule was added. New pews were placed in the church, and the steeple was changed. The debt incurred for this work was not erased until 1936.
Dr. W. H. Hollister, a local physician and later a missionary to Korea, organized the Christian Endeavor Society in 1925. This was a youth group which met on Sunday evenings and was active, perhaps, into the 1940's.
An evening service on Sunday was discontinued in January, 1939.
The long pastorate of Dr. McArn came to an end in 1944, when he retired. The Reverend J. Frank Alexander was called from the Oak Park Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
The following year the Session approved the organization of a Bible class for women. Several years later a young adult class was begun. In 1947 a cub-pack of the Boy Scouts was sponsored for the first time. In 1947 Mr. Alexander was given leave to study at the University of Edinburgh, and the Reverend-T. Ellison Simpson supplied the pulpit for nine months. A Matheson-Bohannon memorial gift was accepted by the congregation as a Trust Fund in 1948.
A new organ was installed in 1949, a gift of the J. L. Anderson family. Mrs. D. W. Moore, Jr. became organist in 1951. A plan for the rotation of twelve deacons was passed by the congregation in 1951. A new manse was completed in 1949, and Mr. Alexander moved his bride, Grayson, into this home following their marriage on August 10, 1950. The Fellowship Building, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Malloy, Sr., was completed in 1950.
The Reverend John R. MacKinnon was called November 15, 1953, to take the place of Mr. Alexander who accepted a call from the First Presbyterian Church, Milledgeville, Georgia.
In order to conform to a local radio broadcast, the hour of the morning worship service was changed from 11:15 to 11 A.M. in 1954. During this same year part missionary support was established, a Girl Scout troop sponsored, and the Session increased to ten members. Committee assignments for elders was begun in 1955.
During the ministry of Mr. MacKinnon, a Christmas Eve candlelight service was held in the Session House. In recent years attendance has required that the service be held in the sanctuary. The Maundy Thursday Communion Service was also held in the Fellowship Building for the first time, and this service has continued through the years.
A Planning and Building Committee was elected September 6, 1956, to plan for an educational addition to the rear and the remodeling of the church sanctuary. This project was begun in 1957 and completed at cost of $110,000.
On November 30, 1957, Mr. MacKinnon left to accept a call to the First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N. C.
A call was extended to the Reverend James Dempsey Matthews of the Peachtree Road Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on April 14, 1958.
On July 2, 1958, a Christian Education Committee was appointed, and on October 19, 1958, a pre-budget every-member canvass plan was adopted by the Session.
In 1960, the first financial contribution of the church was made toward the establishment of Camp Pee Dee, a camp and conference center of Pee Dee Presbytery, in Marlboro County, nine miles from Cheraw.
Mr. Matthews resigned, effective September 1, 1962, and the Reverend Charles H. Nabers, D. D., served as interim minister until the Reverend Richard L. Sommers of the Oak Forest Presbyterian Church, Asheville, N. C., was extended a call by the congregation on January 20, 1963. He introduced innovative programs which included a "Dial -A-Prayer" telephone service, gift of a Bible to high school, college, and graduate school graduates, and broadened the plan of Sessional Committees. In 1963 the manse was enlarged by the addition of a bedroom, bath, family room and utility room to the first floor of the house. A full-time church secretary was hired in October, 1963.
On December 1, 1963, the Congregation adopted a limited term of office for Ruling Elders and a method of nominating church officers. Seven new elders were elected, increasing the members of the Session to twelve.
The Lee Powers property adjoining the manse was purchased in January, 1964.
Miss Janice McNeil was called June 1, 1967, as the first Director of Christian Education of the church.
The use of an Advent Wreath was introduced at the worship service in December, 1967.
Mr. Sommers terminated his ministry June 30, 1969, to accept a call to the First Presbyterian Church, Lexington, N. C.
Miss McNeil resigned, effective August 31, 1969, but remained with the church for another month.
The Reverend James E. Cousar, Jr., D. D. served as interim minister from September, 1969, through 1970.
The Reverend Robert C. Korn came from the Manning Presbyterian Church, Manning, S. C., to serve as minister from January, 1971, to August, 1973. He left to accept a call to the Sardinia Presbyterian Church, a member of the newly-formed denomination of the Presbyterian Church of America, at Sardinia, S. C.
In the Fall of 1973 approximately one hundred four members of this congregation requested transfer of membership to form the Faith Presbyterian Church, a local congregation of the Presbyterian Church of America.
The Reverend John K. Roberts, D. D., retired minister from Charleston, S. C., served as interim minister from December, 1973, through February, 1974. A fellowship hour after Sunday morning worship services was started.
The Reverend Robert A. Geddes of the Reformed Church of America, recently retired and an associate member of the First Presbyterian Church of Cheraw, served as part-time interim minister until the Reverend Albert Stuart Nickles, Jr. of the Barnwell Presbyterian Church, Barnwell, S. C., became the minister in April, 1974. During his brief tenure, he has captured the hearts of this congregation to whom he has brought a personal ministry.
Since the beginning, this church has benefited the cause of Christianity in the local community and beyond. In addition to routine benevolent programs, the church has three scholarship funds available. The Poston-Matheson-Bohannon Foundation provides interest-free loans for students to schools or camps. The John Gary Maynard, Sr. Memorial Scholarship Fund also provides interest-free educational loan funds. The Edwin Malloy Scholarship Fund provides gift funds for local students.
Missionaries supported in part by this church are the Reverend and Mrs. R. K. Robinson in South Korea, and the Reverend and Mrs. W. J. Wylie in Brazil.
Descendants of early church members worship and participate in the services today.
Throughout the 150 years of the history of the First Presbyterian Church of Cheraw, God's continued presence and sustaining power have been evident. The words written by Martin Rinkart in 1636 express the grateful feelings of this congregation in the year 1978.
"Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices. Who wondrous things hath done, in whom his world rejoices; Who, from out mothers' arms, hath blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; And keep us in his grace, and guide us when perplexed, And free us from all ills in this world and the next.
Clerks of Session
+W. M. McCreight served as Clerk Pro Tem, 1932-1939 while Mr. Stevenson was serving in the United States Congress.