Cokesbury - Ninety Six History Tour

I had been looking forward to this day for two months now, and today was that day. The day of the Cokesbury College Tour, that is. The Cokesbury College Tour is part of Greenwood's annual Festival of Flowers, and this past Saturday the college was open to the public. For this outing, I'm joined by Tom Taylor, and his good friend Alan Russell.

Cokesbury College

Cokesbury is situated a few miles north of Greenwood, South Carolina. Cokesbury was established in 1824 as a planned Methodist village after the people of the Tabernacle community decided to move to a higher elevation. The village was named Mount Ariel at first, but became Cokesbury in 1834 to honor Methodist bishops Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury.

In 1854, the Bascombe Lodge No. 80 of Freemasons opened the Masonic Female College of South Carolina, an experiment in women's education. Financial difficulties forced the school to close in 1874. In 1876, the South Carolina Methodist Conference bought the building to house the Cokesbury Conference School. This school was male-only until 1882, then co-educational until the school closed in 1918. In 1918, the building became a public school until closing in 1954 with ownership reverting to the Methodist Conference. After 1954, the building became neglected and fell into disrepair. Without a major restoration effort in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the school building would have been torn down. In the In 1971, the building was donated to the Cokesbury Historical and Recreation Commission who are still in charge of the building's preservation.

When we arrived a few minutes after 10am, the temperature was comfortable for mid to late June. A nice contrast to the stifling heat during my last visit. We've all taken photos from the roadside before, but this is Tom and Allen's first chance to visit the grounds and building. Understandably, they were more than ready to get started, so away we went.
On the ground level near the front door, the historical commission setup an exhibit of antiques like they had done last year. Most were items found in the local area.
We entered through the second story containing the chapel and spread out, trying our best to stay out of each other's shots.

These antique pews were donated by a historic Methodist church in Lancaster, South Carolina.
The pews face a stage with a two pianos and a podium.
A painting near the entrance gives you an idea of how the building looked before restoration.
Portraits of Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury hang against the stage wall.
A set of stairs leads to the third floor containing a parlor and a Masonic museum.
The parlor has a sofa, chairs and benches, and two more pianos.
from 2012's visit
The Masonic museum includes Masonic-themed antiques, a Bible, and some unhung paintings.
We headed back down to the second floor, down the spiral stair case, then over to the first floor door. That light fixture above the door looks like it has a fancy mustache.
The first floor contains a long hallway with one room on the left side and two on the right.

The room on the left is the recitation room, containing yet another piano.
We all noticed the fisheye mirror, and were unable to resist taking an odd group portrait.
A refreshment table was setup in the recitation room with tea, lemonade, cookies, and brownies.
Now that's what I'm talking about.

Tommy O'Dell, a member of the Cokesbury Historical and Recreational Commission, was on hand to tell the story of Cokesbury's history and other interesting stories of the surrounding area.
While we paused to enjoy the refreshments, Tom patiently explained where we were from, what we do, and why we were here.
One of the rooms on the right side is decorated as a parlor.
The other room on the right side is decorated as a bedroom.
Last year, these two rooms weren't gated. Don't know why that changed this year.
With the exploration of the college completed, we ambled over to the place called the "brick store".
The outside brick wall has been partially repaired.
The door was unlocked, so we went on in. We didn't find much in here, except some signs.
The floor was covered in a thick layer of dust. Several of the boards were a little too "springy" for comfort.
Next door is Mt. Ariel Church.
Tom and I wandered in through the missing panel in the front door, while Alan took the easy way in through the unlocked back entrance. The interior construction is relatively modern, but unfinished.

Other clues point to this church being relatively modern. A booklet about Cokesbury's history, handed out at the tour, doesn't mention the church. The National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Cokesbury also doesn't mention the church. Tommy O'Dell, in a 2004 article about the Cokesbury and the college, referred to church as a "replica of a small chapel". And if anyone would know, it'd be him.

From examining deeds on this property, the local Methodist church bought the property in 1962 before transferring ownership to the state conference. In 1971, the state conference transferred ownership to the Cokesbury historical commission. Could the church have been built sometime during the late 1960s or early 1970s when interest in restoring Cokesbury College was at a peak? Could be.

We headed down Allen University Road to the Payne Institute monument.
The Payne Institute was established in 1870 by the Columbia District of the A.M.E. Church. In 1880, the school moved to Columbia and was renamed to Allen University.

Further down the road is what may be the ruins of a school I had spotted on the Greenwood County GIS map. This part of the road was in rough shape and overgrown. The school ruins can wait until fall or winter when the vegetation is gone.

Tabernacle Cemetery

A few miles down S.C. 254 from Cokesbury, near the Park Seed Company, is a historical marker for Tabernacle Cemetary.
This cemetery is all that remains of the Tabernacle community. In 1824, members of the Tabernacle community decided to relocate to higher ground at what is now Cokesbury. People, and eventually the buildings too, moved to the shiny new town leaving the cemetery behind.

Beside the marker is a dirt road leading to the cemetery.
At the gate, we noticed the "no trespassing" sign.
At first, we read the "no tresspassing" part without reading the rest.
We quickly realized our error (whew!), and went on in. A minor, but amusing misunderstanding. At least our misunderstanding wasn't this costly:
from the Twlight Zone
Whew! Again!

The two most prominent people buried here are Nathan George Evans, ...
... and Martin Whitherspoon Gary, both Bridadier Generals in the Confederate Army.
However, other prominent citizens of the area are also buried here, as listed in the N.R.H.P nomination form, including more than a few doctors and preachers.

We found a few handwritten gravestones off to the side to puzzle over:
After a pause for lunch in Greenwood, we were off again.

Ninety Six Depot

Abandoned railroads fascinate me, yet I'm not interested in trains or the railroads themselves. I'm fascinated by the changing times and other reasons railroads have been abandoned, and how visible some remain by satellite after many decades.

Abandoned railroads are also great candidates for conversion to hiking trails. The town of Ninety Six did just that by converting an abandoned railroad right-of-way traversing the town into the Historic Downtown Trail.

The former train depot, between Main Street and trail, is one of the oldest structures still standing in Ninety Six. The depot has found a new use a senior center and a cafe.

Ninety Six National Historic Site

About two miles south of Ninety Six is the Ninety Six National Historic Site. The original village of Ninety Six was an important trading center in the colonial era, and to protect the trading center from Indian attacks a stockade fort was built. When the British took control of the area in 1780, they constructed the star fort and other fortifications to defend themselves from attacks by the Patriots. In May 1781, the attack came in the form of a siege 28 days long, the longest of the American Revolution. Approaching British reinforcements forced the siege to be called off, but the fort was abandoned anyway, and the village burned.

Old Ninety Six was rebuilt after the war, and a college was established there in 1785. In 1787, the name of town would be renamed after that college, Cambridge. After a realignment of judicial districts in 1800, Cambridge would lost its courthouse and its importance. The population dwindled away, and would become a ghost town. With the coming of the railroad through the area, a new village named Ninety Six began growing around the depot in 1852. In 1905, the town was incorporated.

We arrived in the parking lot early afternoon. The heat and humidity was uncomfortable for me in the sun, so I chose to wear my straw hat for this part of the adventure.

Tom has been to the park several times, but the experience was new to Allan and me. Tom also has family connections to the area: one of his grandmothers had a house in the Ninety Six area. Later, Allan and I would find out how deep these family connections went.

The first photo opportunity that presented itself from the parking lot was the Logan House.
Afterwards, we wandered into the visitor center where we ended up watching an excellent 25 minute documentary about the siege.

We all dutifully wandered down the winding trail toward the battlefield, pausing to read the informative signs on the way.
When I got home, I found the best view of the star fort was from above, thanks to a Google Earth placemark.
The size of the star fort and the distances involved were much smaller than I expected.

While we were out on the battlefield, we kept hearing loud planes overhead. Eventually, we spotted them when they came out of the clouds. I didn't think to take a photo, but Tom did:
Flight Formation
by Tom Taylor
I found out later an aviation expo was scheduled that day and during the time we were out on the battlefield, making the expo the probable reason for the planes.

We continued on to the boundaries of old Ninety Six.
We passed up the opportunity to walk another loop trail and kept on to the jail.
At the jail site, Tom showed us just how deep his family ties were to Ninety Six. He revealed one of his Loyalist ancestors was hanged here for treason in 1779, prior to the siege.

From here, we walked up to a recreation of the stockade fort.
We certainly had a good and interesting day visiting Greenwood County.


Here's map of the locations we visited:

View Cokesbury-Ninety Six History Tour - 2013 in a larger map

My photos from the trip are available on Flickr, and on Google+ photos in the albums Cokesbury History Tour - 2013, Tabernacle Cemetery - 2013, Ninety Six Depot - 2013, and Ninety Six National Historic Site - 2013.

You can read Tom's blog entry about the trip, and view his photos. Speaking of Tom...
Well done, Tom! Best photo of me I've seen in a long time. Ok, it's the only photo of me taken in a long time, but it's still good.

Update 7/10/2013: Alan has uploaded his photos to Flickr from the Cokesbury tour, Tabernacle Cemetery, and Ninety Six.


  1. That was a great trip, and I'm so glad you kept us posted on the dates for the tour. Didn't want to miss it this year. Thanks!


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