Press release from The Episcopal Church of St. John in the Wilderness:
A tour of the historic church and cemetery of St. John in the Wilderness in Flat Rock will be held on Sunday, October 20, at 3 p.m., sponsored by the St. John Episcopal Church Women. It will begin outside the Carriage Door entrance of the church and be led by long-time church docents Albert Gooch and Ken Jones.
In 1827 Charles Baring, a member of the Baring banking family of England, built a home in Flat Rock. He and his wife, Susan, wanted a summer place to escape the oppressive heat, humidity, and malaria of the South Carolina Lowcountry where they lived. The Barings built a chapel on the property of their newly constructed home. Soon after it was built, the small wooden structure burned down in a woods fire, and in 1833 work began on a second church built of handmade brick.
In August of 1836 the Barings deeded their chapel to the Diocese of North Carolina and 20 members of the Flat Rock “summer colony” formed themselves into an Episcopal parish. In the 1890s when the Missionary District of Asheville (later Diocese of Western North Carolina) was formed, St. John in the Wilderness transferred its affiliation and is the oldest parish in the diocese.
With almost all the church members traveling back to the Lowcountry after the summer season, the church mainly operated during summer months for its first 120 years. So rapid was the growth of the Flat Rock community during the 1830s and 1840s that the parish membership outgrew the capacity of the small chapel. In the early 1850s the decision was made to rebuild the church, essentially doubling its size. With only a few minor modifications, that structure, which was completed in 1852, is the one that stands today.
The cemetery is of historic significance, with graves of men and women whose names are written in the history books of South Carolina and the United States. First Families of the early years of our country, descendants of signers of the Declaration of Independence, influential politicians of the 19th century, military leaders and others of note are buried in the churchyard.
The tour will last about an hour, Please wear comfortable shoes.