Constructed of stuccoed brick, the church features a three-bay facade, a crenellated tower, false buttresses, tracery, and compound piers. The central bay of the west facade facing Archdale Street boasts an expansive lancet-arched window with hood mold.
(Charleston). Located at 6 Archdale Street in Charleston, the Unitarian Church has long been considered one of the city’s most exceptional buildings. In 1772 construction began on a new church building to serve as a house of worship for the city’s Unitarian congregation, which had grown out of the Congregational Church on Meeting Street. In 1852 the noted architect Francis D. Lee was commissioned to enhance the building with Gothic-revival features. Constructed of stuccoed brick, the church features a three-bay facade, a crenellated tower, false buttresses, tracery, and compound piers. The central bay of the west facade facing Archdale Street boasts an expansive lancet-arched window with hood mold. Lee’s design for the interior includes exquisite fan vaulting, which is said to have been inspired by the interior of the Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey.
Gothic architecture gained popularity in Charleston during the mid–nineteenth century, following the lead of the romantic and picturesque movements in England. Buildings such as the Unitarian Church were altered to reflect the emotional mood of the times. When threats of slave insurrection increased in Charleston after 1820, the fortresslike appearance of Gothicized architecture was reassuring to the wealthy elite as it evoked a sense of control. Gothic design also afforded the wealthy elite an opportunity to display their familiarity with historic architectural styles.
Notable design elements accompanying the Unitarian Church site include a historic garden and graveyard featuring a Gothic monument to Dr. Samuel Gilman and his wife, Caroline. Gilman was the pastor of the Unitarian Church from 1819 to 1858 and is most noted for writing the song “Fair Harvard,” the anthem of that university.
The Unitarian Church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973.
Jacoby, Mary Moore, ed. The Churches of Charleston and the lowcountry. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.
Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
Sellers, Hazel Crowson. Old South Carolina Churches. Columbia, S.C.: Crowson Printing, 1941.