Lake Wylie and the surrounding Catawba River Valley feature some of the oldest churches in the region dating back hundreds of years. While nearby Charlotte, North Carolina is recognized as an extremely church-friendly city, many of the area’s first churches were built up and down the Catawba River near present day Lake Wylie.
The earliest white settlers to the Lake Wylie area were Scotch-Irish Presbyterian immigrants. Arriving to the New World in the early 1700s, many of these immigrants eventually made their way south from Pennsylvania to the Catawba River Valley in the mid 1700s. As a result, many of the oldest churches circling Lake Wylie are Presbyterian. Here’s a quick look at five of Lake Wylie’s historic churches.
Steele Creek Presbyterian – Charlotte, NC
Located on a tree-shaded knoll in southwest Charlotte, Steele Creek Presbyterian Church is the second oldest church in Mecklenburg County. According to sources, the church was first organized in 1760. However, historical accounts from two church pastors, written in the late 1800s and early 1900s, contend that religious services may have first occurred at this location as early as the 1740s.
Steele Creek Presbyterian’s current, Gothic Revival sanctuary dates to 1889 and was constructed of local, handmade brick. Both the sanctuary and cemetery are registered historic landmarks. The cemetery contains headstones dating from the church’s earliest beginnings prior to the Revolutionary War and represent some of the oldest graves in Mecklenburg County.
Steele Creek Presbyterian
7404 Steele Creek Road
Charlotte, NC 28217
Bethel Presbyterian – Clover, SC
Recognized as the oldest church in York County SC, Bethel Presbyterian Church was founded in 1764. The church and cemetery are located west of Lake Wylie between the unincorporated Lake Wylie area and Clover SC. Bethel Presbyterian Church pre-dates the town of Clover by over 100+years and once served as a local gathering place for many of the area’s earliest settlers long before the founding of Clover. The location for the church was selected by three founding members in part due to the presence of a fresh-water spring which still flows on the church grounds.
Bethel Presbyterian Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The existing sanctuary was constructed in 1873. Its architecture is reminiscent of an early colonial meeting house. Many Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers are buried in the historic cemetery adjacent to the church. Several notable, historic Lake Wylie area residents were members of Bethel Presbyterian including Colonel Samuel Watson, Colonel Thomas Neel and Colonel William “Billy” Hill.
Unity Presbyterian – Fort Mill, SC
Unity Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill SC was first founded in 1788. The original log sanctuary was located on a hill overlooking Steele Creek, approximately 1 mile west of the church’s current location. The church was moved and rebuilt several times in its history, on two occasions due to fire. The oldest, existing sanctuary, constructed of brick, was built in 1881 and sits at the current location near downtown Fort Mill.
The name Unity was overwhelmingly selected by the original, founding members in a desire to set aside divisive politics from the old world. In Scotland and England in the 1700s, the competing Houses of York and Lancaster were in constant competition with one another. Early settlers to the Fort Mill area were descendants of both houses. In an effort to overcome confrontation and unite together in the new world, the members decided upon the name Unity for their new church.
303 Tom Hall Street
Fort Mill, SC 29715
Ebenezer Presbyterian – Rock Hill, SC
Located south of Lake Wylie in present day Rock Hill SC, Ebenezer Presbyterian Church was founded circa 1785. A small village known as Ebenezerville soon grew and thrived around the church. Decades later the inhabitants of Ebenezerville would spurn the advances of railroad companies to build a train depot in the area. The railroad companies turned their attention to a landmark two miles south of Ebenezerville. The chosen location would soon be known as Rock Hill.
Ebenezer Presbyterian has had 4 different buildings/sanctuaries in its history but the general location of the church has remained the same over the years. The oldest structure on the church grounds is the Ebenezer Academy building, circa 1860. This building is the oldest known, standing school in York County. Ebenezer Presbyterian also features one of the best maintained, historical cemeteries in the area.
2132 Ebenezer Road
Rock Hill, SC 29732
Belmont Abbey – Belmont, NC
Although not Presbyterian, any list of historic churches in Lake Wylie and the Catawba River Valley would be incomplete without mention of Belmont Abbey.
Located between the Catawba River and South Fork River in present-day Belmont NC, Belmont Abbey was first founded in 1876. The abbey occupies 700 acres on what was originally known as the Caldwell Farm near the village of Garibaldi Station. Several years after the creation of the abbey the village changed its name to Belmont.
The basilica at Belmont Abbey was constructed between 1892 and 1894 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a Gothic Revival style brick church with two towers and a steep gabled roof. Belmont Abbey is perhaps most recognized for Belmont Abbey College – the regionally renown private, liberal-arts college which shares the same campus. Today there are approximately 20 men who serve in the monastery at Belmont Abbey.
100 Belmont-Mt. Holly Road
Belmont, NC 28102
Know a historic church we missed or should include? Let us know!