north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     St. John in the Wilderness, an Episcopalian church, began as a small private chapel on the Flat Rock estate of Charles Baring in 1832. During the antebellum period, Flat Rock became known as the “Little Charleston of the Mountains,” due to the large number of Charlestonians who summered there, escaping the oppressive heat of low-country South Carolina. In 1827, the Barings, a distinguished family of Charleston bankers, purchased and developed Mountain Lodge, their Flat Rock summer home.

     In 1832, Charles Baring built a small Episcopalian chapel on the grounds of Mountain Lodge for private worship. The following year fire destroyed the wooden structure. Shortly thereafter Baring began construction of a brick church. In 1836, the small community of South Carolinians formed a congregation and donated the completed church to the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.

     As the Flat Rock community continued to expand, so did the church and, in 1852, an expansion project under the supervision of Charleston architect Edward C. Jones nearly doubled the size of the brick structure. The church, positioned on a steep wooded slope, mimics a Tuscan structure, with a corner tower and round-arched windows flanked with buttresses. The interior consists of arched doorways and windows, and a round-arched, double hammer beam truss system supported by turned columns.

     Many of South Carolina’s best known and most powerful families, including the Draytons, Grimkes, Pickneys and Middletons, had pews at St. John. Church vestry meetings often were held in Charleston during winter months. During the Civil War, the congregation included Confederate Treasury Secretaries C. G. Memminger and George A. Trenholm. For decades, St. John remained open only during the summer months, as the church supported no year-round congregation. However, in 1958, a full-time rector was hired, and the number of year-round communicants since has risen from 58 to nearly 400.

Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999)
Leeming Grimshawe, Saint John in the Wilderness, 1836-1936 (1968)
Kenneth F. Marsh and Blanche Marsh, Historic Flat Rock: Where the Old South Lingers (1961)
Sadie S. Patton, The Story of Henderson County (1976)
Galen Reuther, Flat Rock: Little Charleston of the Mountains (2004)
St. John in the Wilderness website:
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources