(See update below - 04/10/12)


OR, The Tale of an old church building

Sometimes a body should pay attention to what happens next.  This is the story of how an old church building became the property of the City of Walhalla, and why it is sitting where it sits today.

About six years ago a local non-profit group calling itself “Walhalla Civic Auditorium” was out looking for homes and church buildings to include on its annual Tour of Homes, a small fundraiser to assist the WCA in its dreams of becoming a show place for Walhalla.  During the riding-looking process, a small, wood-framed church building was spied sitting on the back of a well-known Walhallan’s property, the late Jack Kelley who owned just about all the land fronting Walnut Street.  “What a find,” the searcher exclaimed, “we can have this small deserted church building on the Tour of Homes.”

Anxiously dialing Jack’s son, Harry Kelley’s number, the caller inquired of such a possibility.  Not so, came the reply.  “The building has been promised to a group of Anglicans in Highlands, NC, and they are coming to get it soon.  If you want it on the Tour, it will have to be soon.”Uh-oh.  A little piece of Walhalla’s history was leaving, never to return.  What a shame.  How can that be kept from happening?

The WCA Tour of Homes searcher relied on the press to stop the move, dashing off an impassioned plea for the building to be held securely in its home town.  The benevolent news editor saw the possibility of such a happening and deftly placed the inquiry on the front page of the local news crier.  The results were instant and spontaneous.  About 15 readers called to say the church building should not leave Walhalla, and that they were willing to make the effort to keep it where it was born, where it had served, and where it should stay.  Open House was held, with the Junior Women’s Club decorating the church in the festive fashion of Christmas.  Many folks saw it for the first time.  One gentleman made the very first donation to its being saved:  $100.

The engineers came, measured the building, determined that it would have to be cut in two to make the circuitous trip up the mountains to Highlands, and presented the facts and figures to the would-be new owners, the Anglicans from the hills.   It didn’t take much convincing for them to back out completely, leaving the little building sitting where Jack Kelley had moved it in 1982.

The owners, Harry, Lena and Ruth Kelley (Jack’s widow) then gave the building to the City of Walhalla, who accepted it and designated that it should be moved to the Walhalla City Park, Kaufmann Square, where the old depot sits, advertised as a “cultural” center.

“Save Our Church” was the first very loosely formed group of youngsters who wanted to see St. John’s stay in Walhalla.  Led by Maxie Duke, with members  Anna Taylor Zelaya, Betsy Grewe, Duane Wilson, Tracy Towe, and Nancy Todd James,  the group raised about $37,000 over a period of several  years.  They had shows, wrote grants, sold raffle tickets, and begged here, there and everywhere.

Let’s take a step back.  St. John’s was built by a group of 25 parishioners who wanted their own place of worship.  They began collecting monies and goods (nails, lumber, metal, etc.) and a lot to put it on around 1875.  Walhalla was a young 25 year old then, having been founded in 1850.  Records were kept well.  The least affluent recorded is 25 cents; the most able, including the Episcopal Diocese, $100.  Descendants of those first Episcopalians and Lutherans still live here in Walhalla.

Jack Kelley was an extraordinary man.  He loved to collect things and did collect clocks, ceramic houses, primitive games, Hummel characters, you name it.  With little doubt his biggest love was the St. John’s Episcopal Church building which fronted on Short Street in 1982.  The building sat lonely and alone beginning about the time of WWII, 1941.  Later, some enterprising Episcopalians (and the Diocese) revived it, making repairs to a sinking roof and adding a make-shift restroom.  That effort soon had its day, however, and the St. John’s was de-consecrated in 1957.  The owners became the Ballenger Law Firm.

When Jack heard it was for sale he bought it and moved it to his own property in 1982 at a total cost of slightly over $8200.  He even had to replace a cable for Oconee County at $325.  With no grants, no contributions, no help from anyone except his own pocketbook, the building found anew home.  He quickly put it back together, opened it to the public, and kept a guest book of visitors who came to see and remember the days wh
en St. John’s was alive and well.

There St. John’s sat until WCA and the Tour of Homes came along, maybe in the fall of 2006.

Once the Open House for the Tour was held, the building became a Cause.  The children of Maxie Duke gave her a birthday party in it on June 16, 2007, when she arrived at the ripe old age of 80.  Using “80” as the theme, guests were invited to give to the moving and restoration of the building—the price of 80 concrete blocks or $80 worth of paint.  The party was a smash.  Over $5000 was raised by Save Our Church and the Duke Children.  Grants from SCN Heritage Corridor and ATAX provided more funds.  Permission was finally given to move the building.  The site was located and the address was given by the City.  The day arrived, the deed was done.

A great deal of apprehension and anxiety arose when SOCs discovered that the new roof and entryway would cost about $28,000.  The youngsters backed down.  The Walhalla Partners for Progress, a 501 © 3 organization, was the logical choice, as is mission was “to enhance the quality of life, an expanding business environment, and a positive economic climate.”  Trehel Design and Build stepped to the plate, put on the new roof using the old beams, new tongue and groove boards and a great quality black tar paper that would last two or three years till more funds came in.  Neal and Fay Workman, members of WP2 , owners of Trehel and local residents, will be forever blessed.

Entry to Old St John's

Under the wing of WP2 St. John’s Episcopal Church became “Old St. John ‘s Meeting   House.”  The entryway has been framed, tin has been placed on the tar paper, and hope continues to flourish with the original members of SOCs participating, Maxie Duke, Rev. Frank Strickland, Francoise Fussell, Lamar and Rosemary Bailes and other helpers such as the Lions Club, Sertoma, The Walhalla Woman’s Club, the Junior Woman’s Club, the City of Walhalla, many churches and individuals.  With WP2 s non-profit status, funds come a little easier, but not quite enough in the tough two years this country has experienced economic depression. Any amount is welcome.  No beginning membership fee.  Just contribute.  The interior and exterior work, grounds, parking and handicap features all await your giving.  Buy a raffle ticket on a beautiful patriotic handmade quilt for $1, or send your dollar(s) directly to Walhalla Partners for Progress, PO Box 815, Walhalla, SC.  Write “Old St. John’s” in the memo line.  See the dream come true. 

 And thank you very much.
 Maxie W. Duke
 August 15, 2011


Update - 04/10/12

The below photos and update supplied by Maxie Duke.


                                                                                                       WINDOW RESTORATION HAS BEGUN

                                                                                                          OLD ST. JOHN’S MEETING HOUSE

                                                                                                                  Maxie W. Duke 4-6-2012


                1st Class Painting began the restoration of the windows of Old St. John’s Meeting House Wednesday, taking the old windows to the shop for cleaning, replacing hardware, and installing new glass.  Jeff and Tim Cutliff are in charge of the project.

                A grant by the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor provided $8217 for the project, but that amount was raised, and more, through donations for the windows (and two sets of double doors) by Walhalla individuals, banks and businesses.  The Heritage Corridor has assisted in the moving and restoration of the building and must be commended for helping to save this bit of Walhalla’s history.   When work on the windows has been completed the exterior of the building will be repaired, board and batten placed on the entryway, scraped and painted.

                SPRING FLING III rolls around May 11, the third May event fundraiser for Old St. John’s.  Barbeque, Bake Sale, and Silent Auction with a Tag Sale will begin at 5 pm.  Derrick Phillips, a one-man band performer and entertainer, John Bowers’ The Binge and Eddie Martin’s Conservation Theory have agreed to help raise funds for OSJ.

  Additional information regarding Old St. John's Meeting House on FaceBook at :