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Postcard From the Past Mobilizes a Columbia Historic Church to Restoration

February 16, 2017 - Posted in Palmetto Scene by K. Park and T. Safdi

“We’re excited to be a part of history today,” said Jane George Holmes.

Holmes is a member of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, which saw an exciting addition of two new cupolas to its storied chapel on Monday, February 6. Construction crews readied cranes to hoist the cupolas into the Columbia skyline, as members of the community and the congregation gathered to watch from the sidewalks below. The group broke into a joyous rendering of the hymn, “Lift High the Cross,” as the cupolas, topped with white crosses, were gently placed atop the chapel's columns.

As the first Lutheran congregation in Columbia, founded by fourteen members in 1830, Ebenezer Lutheran Church and its chapel have stood as a backdrop to the city’s history, time and time again. 

A fire destroyed the first structure during the Civil War. Northern Lutherans provided funds to rebuild, and G.T. Berg designed the new brick church, erected in 1870. Berg was a German immigrant, brought to Columbia by John Niernsee to assist in the design for the South Carolina State House. He remained a member of Ebenezer Lutheran Church for the rest of his life, and composed music that is still used in services today.

The congregation eventually outgrew the Old Church in 193,1 when the new Gothic Church was built, but it would remain an important part of Ebenezer Lutheran Church. In the late 1940s it served as a Fellowship Hall, in the 1960s the Old Church was a coffee house for young adult members, and in the 1970s and 1980s it was used as a senior citizens center. In 1993, the Old Church was rededicated as a chapel, and it now serves as a more intimate setting for worship activities and other activities.

It was not until a postcard of the original Ebenezer Lutheran Church was discovered in the Ebenezer archives, that it was understood by the church’s current generation, that G.T. Berg’s original design featured a cupola atop each tower, framing the Palladian windows of the chapel. It is assumed that deterioration over time led to the removal of the cupolas, although there are no records in the archives about when they were removed. The Richland County Conservation Commission awarded Ebenezer Lutheran Church a generous grant to assist with restoring the cupolas that were an important part of this historically and culturally significant structure. 

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