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Cokesbury, the Methodist Town

Written By: Phillip Stone - Dec• 02•14

This article appeared in the December issue of the SC United Methodist Advocate.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Cokesbury – it’s an especially Methodist name – but I’m not talking about the publishing house.  I’m talking about the village in Greenwood County.  That’s correct; we have our very own Cokesbury right here in South Carolina.

CokesburyCollI suppose you can be forgiven for having not heard of it.  After all, it’s not even an official town, but the government recognizes it as a census area, and as of 2000, the census counted some 279 people living there.  Though it might be small, Cokesbury has a long history, and most of it is related to South Carolina Methodism.

In the 1820s, in perhaps an early real estate maneuver, the citizens of the nearby Methodist community called Tabernacle decided they wanted to move their town to higher, more pleasant ground.  The Tabernacle Society had developed perhaps before 1788, making it a fairly early Methodist community.  The town already had a school for boys, but they wanted both their town and their school to grow.  They laid out a new village along a high ridge, with lots of some 20 to 25 acres, large enough for small farms, making it one of the state’s earliest planned communities.  At first they called their new town Mount Ariel, but in 1834, they changed the name to honor Bishops Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury.  In that same year, the Annual Conference decided it needed a preparatory-type school for boys, and it quickly decided to offer to purchase the Tabernacle Academy.  It was named the Dougherty Manual Labor School, in honor of an early clergyman, though it was commonly called the Cokesbury Conference School almost from the beginning.  Revs. William Wightman and William Capers, both future bishops, were on its first board of trustees.  The village became a center of Methodism and education, and soon, the Cokesbury Methodist Church was built

In addition to the school for boys, a Masonic Female College opened around 1854, and the village also had a school for children under 12.  The Female College built a three story, Greek Revival building, with a chapel on the second floor and recitation rooms on the first floor.  The Female College operated in the building for some twenty years, at which point the Annual Conference purchased it and made it the home of the Cokesbury Conference School.  The school was coeducational under Methodist operation from 1882 to 1918, at which point it became a public school.  It reverted to Methodist hands in the 1950s, and most of Cokesbury became a National Historic District in 1970, but more recently, it has been operated by the Cokesubry Historical and Recreational Commission.

The Commission on Archives and History once again seeks applications and nominations for the Herbert Hucks Awards, which will be presented at Annual Conference in 2015.  Local churches that have undertaken the work of preserving and interpreting Methodist history in their congregation.  The commission also gives an award to an individual that has, over a lifetime, made significant contributions to Methodist history beyond the local church, and to a publication that also makes a contribution to the understanding of Methodist history beyond the local church.  For more information about applying or nominating a church, individual, or publication, visit the Archives and History website.  Applications and nominations are due Feb. 6, 2015.

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