Major fire causes $1 million in damages at 237-year-old historic Fort Mill church

Investigation of church fire

FORT MILL, SC (WBTV) - A large fire caused heavy damage to a 237-year-old historic church in Fort Mill Sunday night.

According to the Fort Mill Police Department, the fire sparked in a first-floor bathroom at the Unity Presbyterian Church around 10 p.m.

An investigation into the incident determined that the fire had originated in a first-floor bathroom in the church’s Unity Hall building. A faulty ventilation fan on the ceiling of the bathroom was found to have caused the fire.

The investigation also estimated that at least $1,000,000 in damages were sustained as a result of the fire.

“This church is 230 years old and it has a long history and a piece of that history which reflects the character and that ministry and identity of the church - we’ve lost,” said Interim Pastor Mark Diehl. “We’re mourning that loss but grateful for this community and its resilience.”

Fire officials say the alarm company notified the fire department around around 9:45 pm Sunday.

Chief Chipper Wilkinson says when the first crews arrived they saw flames and smoke.

HISTORIC CHURCH FIRE: Flames ripped through a church in Fort Mill, heavily damaging the historic building » Investigators are working to pinpoint a cause. (Video credit: Patrick White)

Posted by WBTV News on Monday, December 10, 2018

The Fire Chief says firefighters ran into some challenges.

“Naturally with a building this size there is some challenges to it that the crews overcame and got a good stop on the fire,” said Chief Wilkinson. “Just the size of the building, older style buildings, cut up – things like that.”

Pastor Diehl says the area with the most damage was where seniors met daily, where classrooms were housed and where the Boy Scouts held their meetings. He says community outreach was also done there.

The historic sanctuary, where weddings and funerals and other activities were held, also suffered damaged.

“The sanctuary was built in 1881. The building behind it is called Unity hall and that was completed in 1938 I believe. Those were the two most heavily damaged buildings.”

This is not the first time Unity Presbyterian has had to face adversity.

“There was a fire at a previous location which is why the congregation came here and built this brick sanctuary and built the brick out of the soil on this campus,” said Jacob Saylor. “The congregation of Unity Presbyterian is the oldest congregation in Fort Mill. This sanctuary here is the fourth sanctuary of this congregation - the first three were located elsewhere in Fort Mill - the congregation then decided to move to the hill.”

Saylor, the Church Administrative Officer, says “this used to be called the Church on the Hill and it’s the first brick sanctuary the church had. And then in 2010 the church built the sanctuary just off to the side here for worship service.”

Pastor Diehl says church services will be held this coming Sunday. The main sanctuary was not damaged.

“Our perspective is the church is people and we are grateful that our church as a community is still intact. People were safe.”

Unity Presbyterian Church was founded in 1788, with its first service held on March 18, 1788.

According to the church’s website, it has been a central part of Fort Mill, SC, ever since it was created.

Officials say two of the church’s previous three buildings had been destroyed by fire.

Construction on the building that caught fire Sunday began early in the spring of 1881. The building was completed by fall of 1881 and the first service was held.

No one was at the Church on Sunday because services were canceled because of the weather.

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