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Willow Swamp Baptist Church

Norway's rotunda-style Willow Swamp Baptist Church is the oldest Baptist Church in Orangeburg County.

One gospel hymn refers to the "old, old story." But for one Orangeburg County church, their old, old story continues to grow to this day.

Willow Swamp Baptist Church in Norway is home to a unique piece of church history.

When Willow Swamp's spiritual odyssey began, the American colonies had declared their independence less than 30 years earlier.

President Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase was little more than two years old. The Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel was still the talk at meeting houses around the country.

It was Aug. 10, 1805, when 36 members of the Dean Swamp Baptist Church were given the church's blessing to start a new congregation about four miles southwest of the present-day town of Norway.

The original members of the church met in a private home along the church's namesake Willow Creek, according to the South Carolina Picture Project, a website created to document the state's history and culture.

A church -- a simple one-room wooden building -- was built.

White members and their slaves, who were also listed as members, worshiped in separate sections, according to the S.C. Picture Project.

The rotunda-style church, the oldest Baptist Church in Orangeburg County, speaks of the realities of the Civil War through the meticulous minutes of past church conferences.

The minutes help provide the 21st century visitor a window into the activities of the church almost as sure as if one had peeked into the windows of the wooden structure built on Willow Swamp 200 years ago.

They bear mute witness to the reality of war. The Oct. 19, 1862, minutes record that no conference was held "on account of nearly all the male population being in service.

In 1864, "there was no conference on account of nearly all members of the church being in service," the minutes continue.

A second church was built across the street from the present and was utilized until Union troops burned it during the Civil War, according to the S.C. Picture Project.

There are currently 44 Confederate soldiers buried in the church's cemetery.

Financial devastation during Reconstruction prevented the congregation from building a sturdy church, but they were able to create a shelter where the current church sits, according to the SCPP.

In 1869, the black members were given permission to leave and form their own church.

In 1919, the congregation drew plans for the church.

The church is located at 1956 Willow Swamp Road in Norway.

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Willow Swamp Baptist Church
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Willow Swamp Baptist Church
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Willow Swamp Baptist Church
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Willow Swamp Baptist Church
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Willow Swamp Baptist Church

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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