James Hagood Sams
May 25, 1872 – February 12, 1935
Architect of The Church of the Good Shepherd
1512 Blanding Street, Columbia, South Carolina
by David M. Lowry, D.M.A., HonRSCM
The Church of the Good Shepherd became a church in 1883. In A History of The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd 1883-1983 by Agnes Lee Clawson, reference is made to J. Hagood Sams as the architect, a member of the building committee, and a parishioner of Good Shepherd. Very little other information about him is extant in the church’s records. This article focuses on the artist who conceived the design of the building and brings into play some aspects of his life in the City of Columbia and the State of South Carolina.
The family name Sams was prominent in Beaufort, Colleton, and Charleston Counties in the 19th century. The Reverend Barnwell Bonum Sams (d. 1903) was ordained in 1857 in Beaufort. After serving as assistant rector at Grace Church, Charleston (1857-1863), he set out on an extraordinary career as priest to many small congregations in the Low Country, especially the tide-water area. He is listed as the original Rector of The Church of the Heavenly Rest in Estill, where, thanks to a gift of $1,000 from an anonymous donor from St. Helena’s Parish, Beaufort, he led services in “a neat and churchly building.” Bishop William Bell White Howe consecrated that building in November 1891. In 1895, The Rev’d B. B. Sams became rector of Trinity, Edisto Island, where in 1896 repairs and improvements to the extent of $782 made Trinity “one of the neatest churches in the diocese.” There are accounts of his pride as the owner of a fine boat and his role, in 1890, establishing (re-instituting?) the Rockville Races.
Two of the Rev’d B. B. Sams sons are of particular interest to the Church of the Good Shepherd: James Hagood Sams, born in Beaufort, 1872, and The Rev’d William Bee Sams, born in Barnwell, 1875.
W. B. Sams was ordained by Bishop Ellison Capers in 1901 at Grace Chapel, Rockville, Wadlamaw Island, part of St. John’s, Colleton, John’s Island. He was one of seven clergy present in the first liturgy here at Good Shepherd (see p. 3). The Rev’d W. B. Sams at that time was chaplain for Trinity Chapel in Olympia (later Holy Comforter, Columbia) and went on to serve briefly in Abbeville and Greenville. From 1921 until his retirement in 1946, The Rev’d W. B. Sams was priest-in-charge, simultaneously, of the churches in Mt. Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island, Wando, and Santee. He died in 1952 and is buried in Christ Church Cemetery, Mt. Pleasant.
James Hagood Sams graduated from the Porter Military Academy in Charleston and moved to Columbia in 1895, at age 23, to become a draftsman in the architectural firm of C. C. Wilson. He married Caroline (“Carrie”) Earle November 20, 1900 at the residence of her mother, Mrs. Thompson Earle, at 1703 Laurel Street. The officiating clergymen were his father, the Rev’d B. B. Sams, and the Rev’d W. P. Witsell, Rector of Good Shepherd. In the financial records of the church Mrs. J. H. Sams appears in 1902 and again in 1914 as the church organist.
In 1904 the Samses built their own residence at 1624 Pendleton Street, now the site of the National Advocacy Center. Around 1925 they left their Pendleton Street residence and moved to 1401 Laurel Street (known as the DeBruhl-Marshall house, probably after a design by Robert Mills, built in 1820). J. H. Sams died unexpectedly on February 12, 1935, in that house, while reading the morning paper. The funeral was held in the house next morning. At the time of his death he was a member of Trinity Church whose rector, The Rev’d Henry D. Phillips, conducted the funeral. J. H. Sams is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
As an architect, Sams brought with him the obvious church-related experiences he was born into in Beaufort County. In 1898 he established his own architectural office at 1423 Main Street and a few months later brought in a Wilson employee, Paul Hammond Youmans (1871-1904) to partner the firm Sams & Youmans. In 1900 Sams and Youmans won the commission to design the Columbia Police Station, which stood next to City Hall and the Opera House at Main and Gervais, later razed for the Wade Hampton Hotel.
Operating alone again in late 1900, Sams won the contract for the Boyne Building, 1736 Main Street, years later to be known to many a South Carolinian as the Elite Epicurean Restaurant, more recently several restaurants. The original tenants were the T. A. Boyne Shoe Store and James M. Green’s Fine Groceries.
In 1901 Sams, a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd, created the design for the new Church of the Good Shepherd on Blanding Street when the congregation had to vacate its property on Barnwell Street in a legal dispute over the estate of Colonel Thomas Taylor.
Also in 1901 Sams designed the DesPortes Business Buildings on Assembly Street, the present site of the Richland County Public Library. In 1902 came the design for Second Presbyterian at 1107 Laurel Street. Sams teamed with a new partner in 1903, Avery Carter (1863-1920). For the next two years the firm Sams & Carter was very busy with plans for these Columbia sites (among others out of town):
- 1903 Tree of Life Synagogue, 1320 Lady Street (razed)
- 1904 Arsenal Hill A. R. Presbyterian, 1103 Laurel Street (surviving and in use)
- 1904 Convention Hall and Carnegie Library at Benedict College (razed)
- 1904 Sams’ own residence, 1624 Pendleton Street (now the site of the National Advocacy Center)
- 1904 a residence for Dr. Gilmore (in Shandon, not yet in the City of Columbia)
- 1904 an Infirmary for Dr. Augustus B. Knowlton, 1517 Marion Street (purchased by the SC Baptist Convention 1914, becoming Baptist Hospital)
- 1904 C. O. Brown & Bro., 1730 Main Street, wholesale and retail building supplies (next door to the Boyne Building; both have been renewed recently.)
Sams resumed an independent studio in 1905. Numerous banks, schools and hotels were also among his works, including the 1915 McFeat-Bowen Business College at 1801 Hampton Street, and the 1922 DeSoto Hotel at 1108 Lady Street, both now razed.
Among subsequent works by J. H. Sams were several churches including:
- 1905 Presbyterian Church in Manning (significantly altered)
- 1907 Methodist Church in Timmonsville (surviving and in use)
- 1911 Zion Episcopal Church in Eastover (see below)
- 1915 Waverly Methodist Church, 2314 Gervais Street (now the site of a Masonic Temple)
- 1922 Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro (surviving and in use)
- 1925 Presbyterian Church in Lake City (surviving and in use)
At the consecration of Sams’s Zion Church in Eastover on November 26, 1911, Bishop William Alexander Guerry noted that Zion Church was “one of the most churchly and beautiful in the diocese.” Zion church was declared dormant in 1984 and burned on Good Friday 1992. The foundation, front portal and altar arch are preserved. Zion, along with the two extant Columbia church buildings, reflects a very competent interest in Gothic Revival style.
Modern Columbians remark that Wesley Methodist Church at Gervais and Barnwell Streets is very similar to the Good Shepherd and Arsenal Hill Churches, but Wesley Church was designed by Columbia architect Arthur W. Hamby, as were St. Timothy’s Church, First Church of Christ Scientist, Town Theatre and the Richland County Jail (at Hampton and Lincoln Streets, recently razed). Hamby’s work in Columbia parallels the same time period as Sams’s work.
The Church of the Good Shepherd has the distinction of being J. H. Sams’ first church design. The blueprints label Good Shepherd as Job No. 192. His interest in Gothic Revival style is evident in the cruciform floor plan, the pointed arches and exterior details such as the crenelated formations at the roof lines (recalling medieval battlements) and the finials soaring into mannered fleur-de-lis on the tower.
One sees photographs and drawings of Good Shepherd with a spire, which obviously is not there. It was removed in 1996 because decayed wood caused it to lean toward the roof of the nave, threatening the integrity of the entire building. Records do not confirm it was or was not erected in 1901 when the building was new. In the removal of the spire there were indications that it may have been built later. Replacing the spire is not a simple matter, financially or structurally-its replacement remains a very lively discussion as the church enters its second century. In 2004 project, a careful restoration of all the “teeth” in the crenelated formations took place, all the upper brickwork received fresh grout, and the exterior brick walls were waterproofed, preserving the integrity of the exterior for many years to come.
Given that Columbia was a much smaller city during Sams’s lifetime, it is nevertheless worthy of comment that the bulk of his Columbia work was within this “neighborhood,” in a boundary marked from Gervais/Assembly north to Laurel, east to Harden, south to Gervais, including the Waverly community just to the east of Harden. His contributions were medical offices, civic buildings, educational buildings, retail businesses, homes and churches.
Thus only four examples of Sams’s work remain in Columbia in 2004: Good Shepherd and Arsenal Hill churches, and the Boyne and Brown buildings.
© David M. Lowry 2004
All rights reserved.
Clawson, Agnes Lee. A History of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd:. Columbia: Church of the Good Shepherd, 1983.
Davis, Marianna White. The Enduring Dream, A History of Benedict College 1870-1995. Columbia: Benedict College, 1995.
Hennig, Helen Kohn. Columbia; Capital City of South Carolina, 1786-1936, with A Mid-century Supplement 1936-1966 by Charles E. Lee. Columbia: Columbia Sesquicentennial Commission, The State-Record Co., 1966.
Kline, W. S. Illustrated Columbia 1904. Columbia: R.L. Bryan Co., 1904, reprint 1962.
Lindberg, William Edward. The Pipe Organs of A. B. Felgemaker, Late Nineteenth-century American Organ Builder. Dissertation: University of Pittsburgh, 1976.
Maxcy, Russell. South Carolina’s Historic Columbia, yesterday and today in photographs. Columbia: R. L. Bryan Co., 1980.
Petty, Walter. Architectural Practice in South Carolina 1913-1963. Columbia: The South Carolina Chapter, The American Institute of Architects, 1963.
Rhyne, Nancy. Chronicles of the South Carolina Sea Islands. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 1998.
Rowland, Lawrence Sanders, Alexander Moore, and George C. Rogers, Jr. The History of Beaufort County, SC. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.
Thomas, Albert Sidney. A Historical Account of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, 1820-1957. Columbia: R. L. Bryan Co., 1957.
Wells, John, and Robert E. Dalton. South Carolina Architects 1885-1935. Richmond: New South Architectural Press, 1992.
A century ago: The Diocese November, 1901
The following report appeared in November, 1901, in The Diocese, the monthly newsletter of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, published in Charleston.
(The Diocese of Upper South Carolina, with offices in Columbia, was not formed until 1922.)
The beautiful new Church of the Good Shepherd was opened for divine worship on Sunday, Oct. 6, with most impressive services. Seven clergymen took part – the Rev. Messrs. W. P. Witsell, present rector; A. R. Mitchell, former rector; H. O. Judd, of Macon Ga., the original founder of the mission; E. N. Joyner, archdeacon of the diocese; W. B. Sams; C. W. Boyd, of Darlington; and Churchill Satterlee, rector of Trinity Church. The music which was beautiful and appropriate, was rendered by the choir of 70 voices. Bishop Capers, who is at the General Convention, sent a message saying that, though he was thousands of miles away, yet his heart was with them.Addresses were made by the Rev. Messrs. W. O. Witsell, H. O. Judd, Churchill Satterlee, and A. R. Mitchell. The services were closed with a celebration of the Holy Communion, at which the offering amounted to nearly $700. The seating capacity of the church is 500. The windows are of cathedral glass, and were presented by Mr. E. W. Robertson. At the rear, and on the right of the church, are the robing rooms; the vestry-room is on the left; and the Sunday-school room is in the basement. The alms basins were presented by the Sunday-school in memory of St. Lo Mellichamp and Alston Thomas, two of its members, who were both crucifers. The chalice, patent brass altar cross, brass lectern, and the Bible, are all memorials of loved ones in Paradise. The marble font, and the chancel rail were presented by Mr. G. M. Berry, and the pulpit by the parish guild. One of the congregation has placed a handsome dressing-table in the robing room, and another, a fine clock in the vestry-room. The cost of the church was about $15,000. In a short time, a new rectory, costing $2,000, will be built near the church. On the night of Oct. 7, a reception was given by the congregation to the present rector and his two predecessors, and there was a large and happy gathering of the parishioners, and the Church people of the city in general.