For the first decade after the original settlements were made in Darlington County (then called Craven County) in the late 1730’s, there is no existing evidence to indicate that the populace engaged in any type of industry other than that required for their own personal needs or agricultural pursuits. As the clearing of the land
s progressed, and the population slowly increased, several primitive forms of industry appeared throughout the area.
The most common and widespread was the water-powered saw mill-grist mill operation. As early as 1772, Arthur Hart had a saw mill several miles north of the present Mechanicsville, near the center of the heaviest population density along Pee Dee River between Cashua Ferry and Society Hill. Arthur Hart was one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, and grandfather of Thomas E. Hart, founder of the town of Hartsville. About the same time, John Manderson had three mills in operation on Big and Little Cedar Creeks near Society Hill.
Immediately following the Revolution, possibly the largest and most elaborate saw mill throughout the entire area was constructed near the confluence of Sparrow Swamp and Lynches River. Whereas earlier mills were individually owned, this mill was organized and conducted as a company.
Since the first settlements in Darlington County were along the Pee Dee River, (navigable to Cheraw), and since the river was the colonists’ only link with the outside world, it is logical to assume that the first manufacturing industry in the area was the building of boats-of necessity, and for sale. One of the earliest boat builders of whom we have any record was Joseph Dabbs, who was plying his trade in the vicinity of Cashua Ferry in the 1780’s; William Evans was operating a boat yard on the riverbank and was known far and wide.
Even after primitive roads began to be cleared through the area, the river was still the chief means of communication and transportation, and offered bright prospects to those inclined to follow the transportation industry. Years before the Revolution, Martin Kolb and George Cherry were hauling goods on the river for others; after the war, Adam Marshall of Society Hill appears as the largest among those engaged in river-boat traffic, regularly transporting Darlington produce to the Georgetown markets. Within a few years, boats for hire (and personal use as well) were put upon the river by Col. Bright Williamson; Moses Sanders; and Cornelius Mandevllle, all prior to 1830. During the 1830’8, traffic on the river apparently became so lucrative that several corporations were chartered, each one operating several boats. Some of the Darlington County men who participated in these commercial ventures were Col. J. Nicholas Williams, Eli Gregg, Davis Gregg, John McClendghen and Caleb Coker.
The first, largest, best financed, and most successful manufacturing industry in Darlington County was the ”Cheraw Uniform Factory” of Society Hill, founded by Gov. David R. Williams in 1812. A water-powered cotton mill with up to four hundred spindles, it produced cotton bagging, cotton yarn, ognaburgs, etc. Williams was constantly seeking means to export his products to other regions, but also m
aintain a store in connection with the mill where the finished products were sold. After Gov. Williams’ death the family did not see fit to continue the operation.
Although they might perhaps be more appropriately designated as “craftsmen”, they were numerous persons throughout Darlington County in its early days who were principally engaged in individual industry, producing their specialties for those in their immediate neighborhoods. The following will be listed, although there were doubtless others in these same crafts, but their names have not yet come to light. Tailors and hatters circa 1785 – circa 1850: Cornelius Joiner, Luke White, John Turner, Levy Doughty, Samuel Dabbs, John Griggs, John K. Meigs, William Stanley, and George Whitlow. The saddlers circa 1775-circa 1850: Daniel Doyle, Jesse Mercer, William Winn, James Petty, Calvin Stephens, and the Rev. James Newberry. The last named, a Methodist Protestant minister, came to Darlington County from Sumter; he also conducted a school near his home, which was situated between Lamar and Cartersville. The wheelwrights circa 1757-circa 1840: Charles Dewitt, Benjamin Skinner, Thomas Keller, Solomon Morgan, Elijah Truett, James Goodson, Zachariah Booth, Aris Woodham, James Russell, end John Tolson. The gin-wrights circa I835-circa 1870: Duncan McLaughlin, Robert Dickinson and Maurice W. Hunter. tj
By the mid-1800’s, with increased population and prosperity and a better network of roads throughout the district, much of the population became mobile, creating a demand for locally manufactured vehicles. The first professional carriage-maker in Darlington County of which we have any record was Daniel A. McEachern; he was actively engaged in the vicinity of the new village of Hartsville as early as 1846. He moved to Darlington, about 1850 and opened a shop in partnership with William R. Hunter;
Hunter withdrew , and William Shy became McEchern’s partner in a firm, known as “The Darlington Carriage Manufactory.” Possibly awed by the bright prospects offered by the newly completed railroad through lower Darlington County (now Florence County), McEachern moved again, this time locating in Timmonsville.
When McEachern left the Hartsville area, the void was immediately filled by John L. Hart’s opening of a carriage factory; existing records do not reveal whether or not Hart purchased McEachern’s Hartsville facilities, but he quickly became the area’s largest manufacturer of vehicles, certainly the largest in ante-bellum Darlington County, In 1852 he purchased the exclusive rights to a device “Hubbard’s Patent Coach Springs” for the counties of Darlington, Marion, Sumter, Marlboro, Chesterfield and Williamsburg; in 1853 he opened a branch factory in Timmonsville in partnership with D. W. Carter, and about the same time formed a partnership with William Shy, then already in business in Darlington. Hart’s industry was so extensive that he imported skilled German workman: one of these foreign artisans was Ferdinand Miller, who came to Darlington County from HesseCassell, as a “carriage-trimmer.” He was the grandfather of the late Frank A. Miller, State Senator from Darlington County.
The largest industry, with the greatest outside capital, to come to Darlington County in the ante-bellum period, was the railroads. Considerable local capital was invested in the railroads, and many plantation owners whose lands were crossed by the rails received railroad stock in exchange for cross-ties from their forests. In Darlington County, the largest, stockholders in this infant railroad industry were Col. E. W. Charles, Dr. Thomas Smith, S. A. Woods, John F. Ervin, Caleb Coker, James H. McIntosh, G. J. W. McCall, Rev. John M. Timmons, John Gibson, Moses S. McCall, Robert and John A. Rogers.
After the War Between the States, as Darlington County slowly began to recover, a number of small industries sprang up, too numerous to mention; many were started by newcomers to Darlington County. C. J. Coney was instrumental in trying to form a company to open Black Creek for navigation from Darlington to the Pee Dee River; a Tinsmith opened a shop in Darlington; E. W. Lloyd, a carriage-maker opened a shop in Florence (then in Darlington County); and John Siskron, a native of Connecticut, opened & shop in Darlington for the manufacture of wagons and coffins, about 1872.
Maj. James Lide Coker of Hartsville led the way in the post-war industrialization of Darli-ngton County; his first successful venture into the field of manufacturing came in 1833 when he organized the Darlington Manufacturing Company, one of the first modern cotton mills in eastern South Carolina; he
next organized the Hartsville Railroad Company and constructed a line to connect the then-isolated Hartsville with the existing primary arteries of the G&D and the WC&A railroad companies. Within the next few years at Hartsville, Maj. Coker organized the Southern Novelty Company and the Carolina Fiber Company, both for the production of paper products from, abundant Darlington County pine as the basic raw material.