A graduate from Emory University receives a call. Why don’t you come to Ulm, Germany a friend asks, and the young man, born in Edgefield County, South Carolina, packs his bags. In due course, he secures a job working on a major restoration project at Ulm Minster, one of the largest and grandest churches in all of Europe. Construction began in 1377 and ended 500 years later. In the decades to follow, he would work on other restorations at Asheville’s Biltmore House and other iconic American landmarks.
On a skinny one-lane red clay road, the Garmin woman orders me forward. I obey. The road narrows. I say what I have to say when I meet a steel fence. It is late and I am hours from my home. Should I return to Edgefield and try the same road from a different direction, or give up my efforts to find Horn’s Creek Baptist Church? To borrow from Robert Frost, I selected the less traveled path, and it made all the difference. I wanted to photograph this historic church that was built in the 1780s. Back in those days, upwards of 300 attendees might have attended Sunday service the story goes, but more recently, handfuls of idiots have vandalized the church, even engaged in satanic rituals.
Four years later, I returned to Horn’s Creek, not so much to meet the new caretaker who had been hired to guard the otherwise unprotected rural church, but because this abandoned place, set deep in the Carolina pines, smelled of history and I wished to take additional photographs. I enter the church grounds and pass a leaning Historic Marker that tells me a Revolutionary War battle was fought nearby.
“Hi, I’m Bill,” I said, extending my hand to the “caretaker.”
“A pleasure to meet you. My name is Barney Lamar.” He unlocks the new church doors so I can take my photographs. After I complete my efforts, Barney and I enjoy a late afternoon drink. Oh, good Lord, you are more than just a caretaker, I tell him when he shares his career in historic preservation. When he learned that the Edgefield County Historical Society had long term plans to restore Horn’s Creek Baptist Church to its original condition—and make it self-sustaining to boot—he decided it was time to return home.
The church, and its history, could not be in better hands.