SPC's Current Building
Dedication of the New Church in a Difficult Time
When Second Presbyterian Church broke ground for its new building in the spring of 1909, a new president, William Howard Taft, had just entered the White House, and as the church looked to dedicating its new building in January 1913, a new president had been elected the previous fall for inauguration in March. It just so happened that the new president, Woodrow Wilson, was the son of Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a professor at Columbia Seminary and a Presbyterian minister. Woodrow’s first wife, Ellen Axson, who would die during his first term in the White House, was the granddaughter of I. S. K. Axson, who was the pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, for over thirty years. Ellen’s father, Edward Axson, was the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Rome, Georgia, for several years. In the election, President Wilson had defeated three other contenders—William H. Taft, the incumbent; Theodore Roosevelt, running for his Bull Moose party; and the fairly popular Socialist candidate, Eugene Debs, who was able to obtain six percent of the fifteen million votes cast.
Wilson would have a busy presidency and his two terms were served in changing and difficult times. The completion of the Panama Canal was symbolically achieved in the fall of 1913 when President Wilson pressed a switch in the White House detonating an explosive charge in Panama that opened the last temporary dyke used for controlling the water while digging the canal, though service through the canal would not begin until August 1914. Henry Ford’s revolutionary use of the moving assembly line for automobile manufacturing in 1913 and then his 5.00 per day wage in 1914 were the talk of the industrial world. With respect to his doubling the average daily wage, the managers of industries and automobile companies hated Ford for what they believed was an extravagant amount, but workers needing jobs relocated to Dearborn beating a path to the Model-T empire’s door for employment. The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in June 1914 would throw much of the world into the Great War, but Wilson’s isolationism kept America out of the conflict until Congress declared war on April 6, 1917. Just a month earlier that year, Wilson had been inaugurated for his second term based on his campaign slogan “He Kept Us out of War.” The influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 would claim thirty million lives worldwide including over a half million in the United States. In October 1919, President Wilson suffered a stroke and lived out his presidential term in isolation communicating through his second wife, Edith Galt, whom he had married four years earlier.
As Second Presbyterian Church prepared to dedicate its already occupied new building at the corner of River and Rhett, it would do so in a decade of political and social complexities. However, the ministry of Second Church had to continue to provide the message of Christ’s grace in the midst of its changing and challenged world.
When the time for the building dedication arrived, the elders of Second Church recorded in the session minutes that they had “extended a cordial invitation to all the Presbyterian pastors of the city and their congregations to be present on the occasion of the dedication of our new house of worship on the third Sabbath in this month.” Rev. James I. Vance, D.D., of the First Presbyterian Church of Nashville, Tennessee, was selected to preach at the morning and evening services on January 19, 1913. Other participants in the dedicatory services included the third pastor of Second Church, G. G. Mayes; President S. C. Byrd of Chicora College; the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Athens, Georgia, E. L. Hill; and the minister of First Church, Greenville, Thomas W. Sloan.
While Rev. Vance was in town for the building dedication services at Second Church, he also delivered a special discourse to a men’s mass meeting at the Grand Opera House that afternoon. Vance had published in 1894 The Young Man Four-Square, which was a guide for young men to make the most of themselves, and then eight years later he published The Rise of the Soul: A Stimulus to Personal Progress and Development, which was particularly directed toward male readers. At the men’s meeting, Dr. Vance spoke on the prodigal son and the significance of sin. More than five hundred men gathered at the Grand Opera House to hear him proclaim that the real problem in the world was not the political issues of the day, such as the tariff, labor unions, or Socialism, but was instead the spiritual problem of sin, its affects, and its solution in the grace of Christ.
As the Second Presbyterian Church congregation occupied its new facility it was facing a particularly difficult time in national and world history, yet through the ministry of its pastor, officers, and members it would continue to use its property to minister the Word and God and proclaim the Gospel to Greenvillians. Though Second Church is currently ministering over one hundred years after its relocation to River and Rhett streets, it continues to serve in a difficult historical situation. The problems have changed, technology has advanced, and the Upstate has grown greatly, but Greenvillians still need expository, systematic, and faithful preaching to bring the lost to Christ.
Note— the last bit of business recorded in the church minutes with reference to the first church building at Rhett and Wardlaw involved its pulpit. Initially, Pastor E. P. Davis was given permission to sell the pulpit for 10.00, but the sale did not materialize and it was instead donated to the Presbyterian Church in Owings, South Carolina. The Owings Presbyterian Church had completed construction of its new sanctuary near the end of 1912. When the Owings Church was struck by lightening and burned in 1932, all except the brick walls, piano and pulpit stand were destroyed.