Locals’ relationship to tourists is always complicated. Growing up in Florida, every local I knew would cringe when Spring Break season rolled around. While the rest of the country gets a week, Spring Break is a full season in the Sunshine State, and that always means teenagers and college students from all over the U.S. (and even Canada) looking to blow off steam.
Some kids are just looking for a little fun, but some get destructive. I’d like to say people outgrow that, but I’d be lying. In fact, destructive tourists have taken away a unique part of one place to visit in the Lowcountry.
The Old Sheldon Church Ruins in Beaufort County, SC mark two big moments in American history. The first church built there in the mid 1700s was burned to the ground in 1779 by British Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. It was rebuilt only to be burned down again by Gen. Sherman’s troops during the Civil War. (There are some letters that say the church was actually gutted to rebuild homes burned during Sherman’s March to the Sea.) The bits left of the church are brick columns, a portion of what was probably the pulpit, and some nearby graves.
For years, visitors could wander through the ruins and feel America’s past. Photographers took pictures of families and couples were married between the old columns. No one can do that now.
The ruins are still there, but due to defacing and theft by some visitors, the old church is now surrounded by a fence. No one is allowed inside.
The Old Sheldon Church Ruins are on the National Register of Historic Places but the land is owned by St. Helena’s Church in Beaufort. The private property is free to visit, and you can still look at the ruins from outside of the fence. The pictures in this post are from a visit with my mom a few years ago.
I did find an article in a local newspaper that said St. Helena’s Church does have plans to allow people inside the church again as part of tour groups. The pandemic has most likely put those plans on hold.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-tourist. I love for people to visit places I love. I love sharing that experience with them. I’d just like visitors to remember that these places don’t exist just for them. We all have to be responsible to make sure places like the Old Sheldon Church Ruins continue to exist for the visitors after us.