Cliffs Living: Rock of Ages

McKinney Chapel, nestled within The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards, marks bicentennial.

Eastatoe Valley has stood witness to infinite changes over the years. This lush, verdant landscape has hosted Cherokee Indians and frontier settlers, 20th-century bootleggers, and 21st-century developers.

Yet across two centuries, one vibrant element has withstood the march of time and traditions: McKinney Chapel.

This iconic church, founded in 1820, is nestled within The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards – and embraced wholeheartedly by the community’s residents.

“It’s amazing to be able to worship in a place like this, with such a rich past,” says Scott Hughes, who lives at The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards and volunteers at the chapel. “You can come in here and your denomination doesn’t matter. You can relate to the Bible readings, you can relate to the people, you can relate to the families, and you can relate to this building.”

McKinney Chapel is secluded amongst the trees off Cleo Chapman Road. Having recently celebrated its bicentennial, the quaint, one-room church stands sentinel where the first structure arose, just a few years before Pickens County was officially formed. Oral history describes how a simple log building was pieced together on land given to John McKinney as a Revolutionary War grant. For decades it was the center of the active mountain community, serving as church, school, and meeting place. In 1891, local families came together to build the current house of worship.

The late Georgia Chapman, who grew up a mile down the road, adored hearing stories about the chapel. A descendent of one of the founding families – the McKinneys, Chapmans, Stewarts, Mosleys, Ellenburgs, and Bowies – she felt akin to the property. In the 1980s, the matriarch was a motivational force in refurbishing McKinney Chapel, which had suffered years of neglect and a close call with a forest fire. Before she passed in the autumn of 2020, Chapman was known to cry emotionally about how this simple church was the last remaining symbol of a lost era, a bygone community.

The Rev. Beverly Kelly serves as chapel minister today. She preaches behind the pulpit on holidays and other special occasions, and offers it to visiting pastors of various denominations on the fourth Sunday of every month. Although ecumenical in nature, McKinney Chapel is affiliated with Grace United Methodist Church in Pickens. the cliffs at keowee vineyards mckinney chapel

“This church has been through a lot, and [2020] in particular, but it keeps standing,” says Kelly, also a resident at The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards. “People who want to worship God will find a way and will endure many things. That’s what we do. We are a part of life in our community. We baptize their children, marry their sons and daughters, and we bury them. We want people to feel that assurance of God’s presence at all times of their lives.”

That’s exactly what Jan Heppe was looking for when relocating from New Jersey to The Cliffs.

“The simplicity itself is what did it for me,” Heppe says. “Its size, its history, its beauty, its simplicity allows me to worship with purity, and not get caught up in other stuff.”

Dick Bollman, a Keowee Vineyards resident who also volunteers at the church, enjoys the intimate, ecumenical services.

“We get an intersection of people, which creates a different stew than if it’s all Presbyterians, or all Methodists,” he says. “It’s a mixture of people and I think that’s good.”

Hughes, who is Catholic, agrees: “The Cliffs [members and residents] by definition have almost all come from somewhere else and are looking for unification in their faith, and this is it.”

Heppe adds upon reflection, “There’s a sense of faith that is projected from the pulpit and members of the community, and it starts with Keowee Vineyards. The people who are attracted here would naturally make it home. And it’s open to all.”

May its doors never close.

This story was featured in Cliffs Living magazine. To read more stories like this one and learn more about The Cliffs, subscribe here.

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