For the 55th time, the members of St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church will invite guests to tour its church and churchyard along with eight historic homes in downtown Aiken as part of its St. Thaddeus Home and Garden Tour.
The event was organized by ladies of the church in the 1960s to raise money for local outreach programs.
This year’s tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 5.
The homes on the tour are on or near Colleton Avenue, where many winter colonists built “cottages” to escape the harsh Northern winters.
“We tend to stick to historic homes because that’s what most people want to see,” tour chairwoman Jan Waugh said.
Built in 1842, the original church was rectangular and had a slave balcony on three sides. The siding was clapboard. Parts of the original siding can be seen inside the porch.
Most of the church’s congregants came to Aiken from Charleston to avoid malaria. When the winter colonists began arriving, they, too, began attending St. Thaddeus and made significant improvements to the building.
They removed two sections of the slave gallery, leaving one balcony that once held the choir, but now serves as seating for overflow and houses the sound equipment. A choir area was installed at the front of the church along with a new altar, and the church was given a steeple and stained glass.
During the tour, the church building will be open from 2-4 p.m. Docents will give a more detailed history of the church.
Mead Hall, the parish school, was opened in 1955. It was named for George Mead Jr., an honor student who graduated from Aiken Prep in 1932 and was later killed in World War II. The school began in The Pillars, Mead’s father’s home, which he had given to the church, then in 1965 moved into a building on the church’s grounds.
Outside, between the church and school buildings, the churchyard is filled with the graves of city founders, Civil War soldiers and former church members.
Their stories – like that of poet James Mathewes Legare, who died in 1859 but did not have a tombstone until a high school class studying his work purchased one for him more than a decade ago – will be told by a local historian and Civil War re-enactor Eddie Mann.
After guests have toured the grounds and homes, they may shop at the Heritage Market on the church grounds.
“People donate their old damask tablecloths, or fancy pillowcases that might have an embroidered edge but they might have a hole in it, so we take off the lace and make them into pillows,” Waugh said in describing the types of things that will be sold at the market.
Guests are also invited to a Strawberries and Cream Tea from 3-5 p.m. in the parish hall.
When the ladies of the church decided to start doing home tours in the 1960s, the event lasted two days and was held every year.
Waugh said nearly 180 volunteers help with the tour, and in recent years it has become harder to find enough volunteers to present it every year. Now the tour is only held every other year.
The city of Aiken plays host to a garden tour on alternate years, but it is separate from St. Thaddeus’, Waugh said.
St. Thaddeus’ tour is a popular event and usually brings in more than $10,000 for Aiken charities, she said. This year’s funds will benefit My Father’s House, ACTS and Golden Harvest Food Bank.