When Thomas Green Clemson signed his will in 1883 with instructions to offer his estate, Fort Hill, to the State of South Carolina for the purpose of establishing “a scientific institution,” he set forth in motion circumstances which would lead to the founding of Holy Trinity Episcopal Parish on the property adjoining the campus of what was originally known as Clemson Agricultural College.
About four miles to the southeast was the town of Pendleton. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, established there in 1820, was the first Episcopal parish in the northwestern portion of the state. Following the civil war, rectors from St. Paul’s began planting “unorganized missions” in the towns of Anderson, Walhalla, Seneca, and the village of Calhoun (later renamed Clemson). Holy Trinity Chapel was consecrated in December 1899, but was not officially designated as an Episcopal Mission until January 2, 1901. Therefore that day is considered the “birthday” of our parish.
In his first report to the Diocese in 1901, Missionary-in-charge Rev. Benjamin Anderson noted 78 members spread among 19 families. He also noted the monthly services attracted “70 Episcopalians among the college students, many of whom are communicants and regular attendants at the Sunday School and services of Holy Trinity.”
Tragically, however, Rev. Anderson had a crisis-of-faith shortly thereafter, and in 1903 was deposed from the priesthood by Bishop Ellison Capers. Holy Trinity was without a priest from August 1901 until September 1902, when a newly ordained deacon, Rev. Kirkman Finlay, was assigned to succeed Anderson. He served Holy Trinity until 1907, when he was called to be Rector of Trinity Church in Columbia, SC. He subsequently was elected the first Bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina in 1922. To honor Bishop Finlay, Holy Trinity named their parish hall for the man who shepherded the mission through its challenging early days. The current 1994 building is stilled called Bishop Finlay Parish Hall.
The Depression and WW II
In 1935, the economic depression was still a major influence on all aspects of life. Faculty salaries were low, and recent graduates of Clemson College were joining the Civilian Conservation Corps and other government agencies. Since most communicant at Holy Trinity were employed by the college, cutbacks at the parish became severe enough that it reverted to Mission status (1940).
With the influx of veteran students and their families after the end of WW II and the growth of faculty and students, Holy Trinity began a new cycle of growth, but in the mid 1950s the college dropped its mandatory R.O.T.C. requirement, Although this produced an immediate increase in enrollment, many of these newer student now had mobility via their own automobiles, and attracting students to the church became increasingly difficult.
The 1970s and Beyond
With the building of the connected man-made lake system of Lake Jocassee, Lake Keowee and Lake Hartwell many new jobs and much valuable new real estate were created, attracting thousands of new residents to the region.
As early as 1970, the first year of Rev. Tom Davis’ lengthy rectorship, he had noted the poor physical condition of the physical facilities and placed a priority on their renewal. Setting aside jokes about how slowly change happens in an Episcopal church, it took a full twenty years until steps were taken to build a new church building, a new Parish House, and to provide greatly improved parking.
Finally, on Sept. 10, 1995, the new Holy Trinity buildings were dedicated and consecrated by Bishop Dorsey Henderson. Rev. Davis retired from Holy Trinity on Dec. 31, 1995, after a remarkable 25 year tenure. His highly significant and positive impact on the life of the parish is still felt today.
In the spring of 2016, Holy Trinity called Rev. Suzanne Cate to be the parish’s first female Rector.
For a printed (and more detailed) copy of Holy Trinity’s first 100 years, please contact the church office.