St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church and Cemetery Tours
Tours of the Episcopal Church of St. John in the Wilderness in Flat Rock are returning. The first tour will be held on July 16 at 11 a.m.
The church and churchyard (cemetery) tours are sponsored by the St. John Episcopal Church Docents. They will begin inside the Carriage Door entrance of the church with the first led by lead docent, E.R. Haire, Jr. Other docents will rotate monthly as guides.
The free tours are limited to 30 people. Reservations are to be made online on the church’s website, www.stjohnflatrock.org/tours.
The tours will be held monthly on the third Saturday at 11 a.m. There will be no rain dates. They will last about an hour. Please wear comfortable shoes.
The historically significant cemetery contains graves of un-named 19th century people who were enslaved as well as distinguished political figures, and local citizens.
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. 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. It 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 the structure was completed in 1852. It is the one that stands today.
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.