Empty Methodist Church on the National Historic Register

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Ruff’s Chapel | Fairfield County, SC | c. 1873

Early settlers came to this area from Virginia in the years following the Revolution. Most of them were Scots-Irish Presbyterians until the early 19th century when people of different faiths began to settle in the area as well, generally coming from the Lowcountry where they hoped to escape the humid coastlands.

Although the area was originally called New Town, it was renamed Ridgeway in the 1850s following the arrival of the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad. The trains brought prosperity and as the community grew, new businesses arose to serve Ridgeway, including a post office that was officially established here in January 1851. 

The town struggled in the years directly following the Civil War, but Ridgeway eventually emerged as a commercial center for area farmers and by 1880, boasted 10 different stores.

Church Founder: David Ruff

In 1870, David H. Ruff, who owned a local furniture shop, decided he wanted to gift a worship space to the Methodist members of the community, and by 1873, he completed this chapel on land that was donated by the Southern Methodist Conference. It was the first Methodist Church in the town, although various denominations would hold services here over the years.

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Ruff, a successful merchant who never married or had children, paid for the construction and materials for the building himself and donated his silver coins, too. According to the story, when the church bell was being cast, he threw sixty silver dollars into the metal, giving it a bright silvery tone.

Ruff’s Chapel Architectural Notes

The single-story building appears simple at first but has some interesting details, like the two sets of double doors at the front that were likely used as separate entrances for male and female congregants. Above the entryways are four-light transoms and decorative scroll brackets that caught my attention.

The chapel has a box-shaped, open belfry that is topped with a ball finial ornament, although the bell was removed in 1980 after an attempted theft. The building has never had indoor plumbing or electricity and maintains close to its original condition.

Ruff is buried behind the building in a graveyard with 28 other interments. You can find a full list of burials here.

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The final service was held here in the late 1970s and in 1980, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it is owned by a private association that holds regular fundraisers to maintain the structure and graveyard.

The grave marker pictured on the far right inside the iron gate marks the grave of the church’s founder, David H. Ruff.

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