The 22,000+ students and faculty of Clemson University take to their studies each day at “Clergy Hall.” This estate, in the shadows of the Blue Ridge, was previously home to the Reverend James McElhenny. As many students today commute to their studies, McElhenny also commuted, albeit in the opposite direction. McElhenny pastored the people of God who gathered for worship weekly at The Stone Meeting House, which sits upon the hill now overlooking Clemson Blvd./US-76. His church is more familiarly known now as Old Stone Church. Upon his death in 1812, Clergy Hall was sold to John C. Calhoun of Abbeville County, SC.
Calhoun was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for South Carolina’s 6th District. Later South Carolinians elected him to serve as one of their U.S. Senators. He also was elected twice by the nation to serve as Vice President under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. The Calhoun family decided to rename the property “Fort Hill” as an ode to a local hero, General Andrew Pickens. The name Fort Hill was a reference to Fort Rutledge, the fort Pickens constructed on the Seneca River to protect our state during the Revolutionary War. Upon his death, Calhoun willed Fort Hill to his daughter Anna.
Anna and her husband, Thomas Green Clemson, lived at Fort Hill and were heavily invested in their community. Clemson’s personal mission was to help educate South Carolina farmers on modern farm techniques, to help them and the state succeed. Being preceded in death by their children and his wife Anna, Clemson decided to will his land to the state of South Carolina. He envisioned that an agricultural college would be established to continue his educational mission.
It’s on the doorstep of this emerging college that 33 faithful Presbyterians meet in the small town of Calhoun, SC, in 1895. These men and women endeavored to form a church that would serve the town folks and the cadets of the new college. Since that college was named for Clemson, it seemed fitting to name the church after the estate on which it stood. Thus Fort Hill Presbyterian Church was born on a warm Carolina summer day.
Jesus says of his followers (Matthew 5:14), “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” In this city that has grown and changed, even its name, we have been set upon a hill. As its oldest church, our forebears struck a match that birthed a light. It is our duty and honor to nurture that light so that our generation may see it and know the grace and love of our Father in Heaven. As we see and know the light, we are charged to prepare what God has given us so that the next generation may too see its reflection.
In this city on the fill, there is a fort, where her people find peace and rest. You are a caretaker. The time has come to patch its holes and reinforce its historic walls, so that the fort may endure for another generation.