TODAY IN DARLINGTON COUNTY HISTORY: Coker College opens

Hartsville, Coker College Liberal Arts Bldg.
Present day Coker College

The trustees of Welsh Neck High School converted their institution into a non-sectarian Baptist college. It opened September 30, 1908, as “Coker College for Women,” founded by James L. Coker. Baptist control ended in 1944, and in 1969, the college became co-educational. The Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics opened on the campus in 1988. Throughout its history, Coker has emphasized liberal arts.

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Aerial view of Coker College circa 1909.

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Spotlight On: William Cain, educator

Bill Cain, St. John's HS
Letter to Cain from 1972 graduating class at St. John’s HS.

Born in Pinopolis, South Carolina, William “Bill” Cain graduated from the University of South Carolina, where he later received a master’s degree in education. He came to Darlington in 1934 when he began his teaching career at St. John’s High School, where, later, he served as principal from 1947 until his retirement in 1972.  After retiring from St. John’s, he also taught English at James F. Byrnes Academy for more than a decade.

In addition to being a topnotch educator, Cain was an avid tennis player. He coached the tennis at St. John’s for a number of years, and he was the chairman of the S.C. Closed Tennis Tournament, which was held, for a time, in Darlington. He actually won the State Men’s Doubles Championship, and in 1984, he was inducted into the S.C. Tennis Hall of Fame.

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Spotlight On: Stephen Presley

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Father Stephen Presley was born a slave in 1820. He was owned by Boykin Witherspoon, a prominent planter from Society Hill. Presley was a carpenter by trade. He married another slave by the name of Phyllis McIver Presley. Welsh Neck Baptist Church records indicate that the couple fellowshipped there as slaves but were dismissed in October 1854.

Witherspoon, like many other Darlington District residents, migrated west in search of fertile ground ideal for planting. They settled in a then virtually unoccupied area of Desoto Parish, Louisiana, which was previously inhabited by the Caddo Indians, bringing with them over 200 slaves.

As a carpenter, Presley along with other slaves helped with the building of Witherspoon’s “Buena Vista Plantation,” which was designed by Architect, M. Robbins in 1859 and was used a Confederate Hospital during the Civil War.

After slavery, Presley founded, built, and served as pastor for 3 churches in Desoto Parish, including Bethel Baptist Church in Frierson, Morningstar Baptist Church in Gloster, and Mechanicsville Baptist in Caspiana.  The latter was named for the church and town in his native Darlington District, South Carolina.

All of the churches he founded in Louisiana are still serving the community over 100 years after his death in 1904. His many descendants gather every other year for a reunion to celebrate his legacy and their Louisiana/South Carolina roots. His great-great-great grand-daughter, Karen Burney, a genealogist from California has made visits to Society Hill to research and honor her ancestors.

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Spotlight On: Colonel Lamuel Benton

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Col. Benton (1754-1818) served as Colonel of the Cheraw Militia during the Revolutionary War, was a member of the South Carolina Legislature, Sheriff of Cheraws District, and a member of Congress (1793-1799). He is said to be buried in an unmarked grave on the premises at Stoney Hill.

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TODAY IN DARLINGTON COUNTY HISTORY: Johnny Mantz won first Southern 500

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Historical marker for Darlington International Raceway

TODAY IN DARLINGTON COUNTY HISTORY: On September 4, 1950, Johnny Mantz of Long Beach, California, won the first Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C. He drove a 1950 Plymouth Coupe, and his First Place Prize was $11,500. The track had been built under the leadership of Harold Brasington.

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Arcade Hotel opens for business

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On September 1, 1913, Hartsville’s Arcade Hotel officially opened for business. Here is a brief sketch of the hotel from Darlington County: A Pictorial History by Horace Rudisill:

The Hartsville Arcade Hotel Company was chartered on August 7, 1912, by J.J. Lawton and Associates. He awarded the building contract to his kinsman, J. Maner Lawton, and to Lawton’s colleague, A.E. Abbott of Abbeville, South Carolina, for $51,000.  They commenced working on the project on January 1, 1913, and eight months later the hotel opened its doors. The first manager was W. H. McFall who later moved to Darlington and bought his own hotel. The Arcade opened with forty-two rooms on the second and third floors. The first floor contained the lobby, dining room, kitchen, barber shop, and a sample room for traveling salesmen. The era of small-town hotels began to fade with the coming of motels after World War II.

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Spotlight On: Long Bluff

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One of the first settlements within the boundary of present day Darlington County was that at Long Bluff in 1748. It also was the site of the historical Long Bluff Courthouse established by the Circuit Court Act of the Legislature of 1769, making it one of six operating Courthouses established at that time outside Charleston.

On November 15, 1774, Circuit Judge William Henry Drayton delivered in this Courthouse his famous charge to the Grand Jury: (From History of Old Cheraws)

. . .”I know no master but the law, and I am a servant, not to the King, but to the Constitution; and, in my estimation, I shall best discharge my duty as a good subject to the King, and a trusty officer under the Constitution when I boldly declare the law to the people, and instruct them in their civil rights.”

This charge helped fan the patriotic flames in the back-country against the English crown.

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Spotlight On: Society Hill Library

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Old Society Hill Library is now located on the grounds of St. David’s Academy. The oldest lending library in South Carolina (exclusive of those in Charleston and Georgetown), it was built by the Society Hill Library Society, which was organized in 1822. The library has not functioned as such for many years, and is opened only on special occasions.

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Spotlight On: Williamson’s Bridge

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Site of a Revolutionary War skirmish between Tories and a band of Whig forces, led by Col. Lamuel Benton.

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Spotlight On: Kalmia Gardens

Located in Hartsville, the gardens, now owned by Coker College, were developed into an arboretum prior to World War II by Mrs. David R. Coker. The old home was built by Capt. Thomas E. Hart (1796-1842) shortly after he purchased the surrounding lands in 1817. The city of Hartsville derives its name from him–he was its first postmaster; a merchant, planter, officer in the South Carolina Militia, member of the Board of Free School Commissioners, and Magistrate for the area.

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Spotlight On: Grave of Augustin Wilson

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Located in Lake Swamp Baptist Church Cemetery, Timmonsville vicinity. Wilson’s grave is marked by a partially embedded cannon barrel. During the American Revolution, he served with NC troops and as an Ensign at the 1779 Battle of Brier Creek, GA. He moved to South Carolina before 1820, where he died in 1848.

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Spotlight On: Yankee Hill

This hilly area was once used as burial ground for Union soldiers who died while garrisoned here at the end of the Civil War.

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