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Pretty Place Chapel Called Heaven on Earth

An outdoor sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains, designed on the edge of a cliff, invites travelers searching for spirituality and a piece of serenity.

By Erica Cottrill   •  May 8, 2017 9:04 am EDT

Tags: acoustics, architectural design, chapel, materials, multiuse, site selection,

An outdoor sanctuary in the South Carolina mountains lures travelers searching for a piece of serenity and the spirituality of a traditional Sunday service. Situated on the edge of a cliff with majestic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Fred W. Symmes Chapel (Pretty Place Chapel) is known as the place “where heaven meets earth.”

The Fred W. Symmes family funded the chapel in 1941. Although named after the family, people have coined the chapel as Pretty Place. The outdoor chapel attracts 400 tourists, campers and motorcyclists a day, not including wedding-goers. Pretty Place is part of YMCA Camp Greenville and is known as a spiritual center for visitors. It was rumored that years ago people chose to sleep on its asphalt (now metal) roof instead of local inns and hotels.

Site surprises

Pretty Place, which rises up to 3,100 feet, hosts over 180 weddings a yearmore than any other venue in the statebecause of its stunning mountain backdrop viewed from the altar. “It was placed on the edge of a cliff to maximize its ‘picture frame’ views, untouched beauty, and its cross silhouetted against the sky,” says Earl Hungerford, AIA at McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, Greenville, S.C. “It is open at dawn to showcase its gorgeous sunrises.”

“The cross is iconic because it has been there before the chapel was built,” reports Cory Harrison, executive director of YMCA Camp Greenville. “It’s filled with history and tradition, and is a crucial element to people of the Christian faith.”

“When the land was surveyed in 1921, the only name on the map was a spot called ‘Pretty Place,' which existed before the chapel and the camp were built,” says former camp director Greg McKee, now director of the Hollingsworth Outdoor Center YMCA in Simpsonville, S.C. “The chapel was designed with material materials such as rocks to unobtrusively blend in with the environment.”

The exterior style feature stones from the property and board and batten wood construction. The chapel’s interior offers elegant simplicity with wood benches, open-stoned columns and granite, and concrete floors and staircases, making its acoustics superior and ideal for exchanging vows, notes Hungerford. “Pretty Place, which is standing room-only during many wedding ceremonies, was designed to be comparable to an amphitheater setting,” he says. “Yet it was built with wood trusses, which gives it a rustic feel.”

Visitors can learn about its history by reading the 100 story-telling memorial plaques that add character to the space. Bible verses surround the exterior, which is another attraction for worshippers.

"The chapel is timeless,” McKee says. “Throughout the existence of Pretty Place, people who come are connected with each other, and their lives change. What’s magical is that there is never the same view twice. Nature is always changing, which gives it a spiritual quality.”

Practical application

Once a one-frame building serving as a kitchen, dining hall, recreation hall and infirmary, YMCA Camp Greenville is currently a year-round facility featuring traditional summer camp with activities for ages 7 - 17, hosts conference and environmental education centers, a blog walk, a waterfront area, rock climbing and three zip lines.

Other than its myriad attractions, there is an Easter sunrise service that attracts more than 600 visitors every year who listen to the choir’s cantata and commune in fellowship.

The chapel’s innate sense of spirituality also creates awe among children. One visitor, a nine-year-old girl, looked up at her teacher and asked, “So is this where God lives?


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