Also called the John L. Hart House, this antebellum cottage in Hartsville is attributed to John Lide Hart, son of town namesake Thomas E. Hart. It dates to around 1850, the same year Hart purchased 491 acres in the town, including the property on which this house originally sat, and developed Hartsville Plantation. A business venturer, Hart established a carriage shop on his property, which evolved into a carriage factory. He also built a store, grist mill, and saw mill on his land.
Hart’s carriage business ultimately was unsuccessful. As a result, he sold it to satisfy his debts and then moved to nearby Darlington before joining the Twenty-First Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers during the Civil War. He was killed in action on May 16, 1864 in Petersburg, Virginia. Following Hart’s death, his property, including the house, was purchased by Caleb Coker of Society Hill for his son, Major James Lide Coker. Major Coker opened a store in one of Hart’s buildings, and from that point the Coker businesses spread throughout Darlington County.
Though Major Coker probably never lived in this house, he did rent it to newlyweds during his ownership from 1858 through 1918. Through the years, the cottage was also home to many of Hartsville’s leaders, including people associated with the First Baptist Church – which John Lide Hart was instrumental in founding – and Coker College, which was established at the behest of Major Coker.
In 1934 Dr. James E. Mills, a world-renowned chemist who had come to Hartsville to work for the local industry Sonoco, bought the home. Though Mills died in 1950, his widow, Mary, lived here until 1973. From that point it was owned by the First Baptist Church until 1981, when it was purchased by the Hartsville Heritage Foundation. The foundation moved the home 55 feet from its original location and restored it to its original appearance to create an authentic example of a mid-nineteenth century Hartsville home.
Dennis Easters, a descendant of one of the home’s early residents, notes that the Hartsville Heritage Foundation, which is a ladies guild, hosts “special events at the cottage like a Christmas Open House. Also, if arranged in advance, they will do private tours.” Below, a photo contributed by Easters shows the Hart home as it appeared in 1904.
The Hart-Mills Cottage is listed in the National Register as the John L. Hart House:
(Hart-Mills Cottage) The John L. Hart House is strongly associated by citizens of the town with the events and persons that have given Hartsville its unique characteristics. Hartsville is characterized by its post-Civil War development through the energies of the Coker family and families associated with them in the development of a variety of imaginative business enterprises. Enterprises such as Sonoco Products Company, the Coker Pedigreed Farms, the J.L. Coker Company, and other similar businesses gave opportunity to local residents and attracted some of the brightest minds in the state to locate here. A number of those individuals were owners or residents of the John L. Hart House. The building is believed to have been constructed ca. 1850 as the home of John Lide Hart. There is no question that the house as originally built was antebellum and stood on land owned by Hart. The house is a small, one-and-one-half story, frame dwelling located on a residential street adjacent to the central business district. Alterations and additions to the original building in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries changed its appearance without destroying its basic configuration.
Inside the Hart-Mills Cottage
The following article, contributed by Ellis-Hartley family descendant Dennis Easters, was written by his great-aunt, Mrs. Bernice Blockman Hartley (1901-2001). It is entitled The Gathering Room, which is the name of the room shown below. The Ellis/Hartley family was a long-term tenant of Major James Lide Coker. (Please note that this history is presented here verbatim.)
Many families prominent to the history of Hartsville began married life in the Honeymoon Cottage[.] We have some delightful stories of life in the Cottage from 1904-1918.
Mrs. Bernice Hartley [the author of this history] describes her first impressions of the Hart Cottage. “Always in my mind has been the picture of being carried through the gate of the picket fence which surrounded the large yard. This was a bright moonlight [sic] night, and one could see that the yards had been recently swept. It was sandy and white with not a blade of grass, just the huge trees and space. A flower garden was to the right of the house where I especially remember my aunt’s beautiful roses blooming. The yard, however, was always kept swept. This was a large yard and keeping it brushed with yard brooms was no easy task. In the backyard there was the cook’s cabin, a wash house with a pump for running water and a large iron pot where the clothes were boiled. J. L. Coker & Company Store was next to where the Wilds house now stands. Coker’s Pedigreed Seed was also here and I remember listening to the sound of mules and farm help leaving at sunrise and returning at sundown. Mr. George Wilds came in often to eat eggs which were left for him on the sideboard and to use the telephone.”
“Under the stairway there was a very dark closet where I spent quite a few hours as I grew older. My aunt never paddled me but put me in this closet when I was bad. My cat always stayed in the closet with me. In fact I probably spent half of my life in that closet.”
Mrs. Hartley lived in the Cottage with Mr. & Mrs. C. H. Ellis, her aunt and uncle, after the death of her father. Her father died when she was two years old. Her mother was remarried in the Cottage when she was ten years old.
As you pass into the Keeping Room or Kitchen you will see the stairs leading to the second story. The rooms and all structural objects appea[r] to be original to the Cottage. The windows are of hand-blown glass, the ceilings of wide heart pine boards, the floors (first floor ceilings are of 10 and 12 1/2 inch wide pine boards). The walls are of pecky cypress. The rooms are 20 x 20 square. The doors are original to the Cottage.
In an addendum to her history, Mrs. Hartley goes on to specify details on several of the house’s antiques. She lists:
TALL BED (from the Lawton family)
SMALL BED (from the Beau Brown family)
BOW[L] AND PITCHER SET (from Joanne Hoffmeyer)
TOYS (are on loan for display only)
Reflections on the Hart-Mills Cottage
Dennis Easters, who contributed many of the wonderful photos on this page, adds, “This is the John L. Hart cottage in Hartsville, South Carolina. My great-grandmother, Lily Lee Ellis Hartley, grew up in this house and was married in the living room in 1914. Her family occupied the home from 1902-1918, the longest residents of the Hart cottage. Our family photos are on display and the majority of the furnishings once belonged to residents. A painting done by Janie Maybelle Ellis Brand, sister to Grandma Lily, hangs in the upstairs hall. Maybelle was also married in the living room, in 1916. It is the oldest surviving Antebellum structure in Hartsville.”
Charles Hampton Ellis (Father), Ella Lenora Blackman Ellis (Mother),
Janie Maybelle Ellis (Younger Daughter, in Middle) and
Lily Lee Ellis Hartley (Older Daughter, at Right)
The following is an excerpt from a family history prepared by Bernice Blackmon Hartley, niece to Charles Hampton Ellis, cousin of Lily, who was raised by the family. Please note that it is transcribed exactly as written. Lily (Lilly) and Blockman (Blackman) both appear to have dual spellings. Bernice Hartley’s gravestone gives her maiden name as “Blockman,” while Ella Ellis’s gravestone gives her maiden name as “Blackman.”
Portrait includes D. [sic] H. Ellis (1867), first wife, Ella Lenora Blackman, two of three children, Lilly Lee and Janie Maybelle. Charles Hampton Ellis, Jr. was born after the photo was taken. [A fourth child, Baby Ellis, was born in 1897 and lived just three short days.]
Ella Blackman (wife) died in 1898 when Maybelle (younger daughter) was 5 years old. She is buried in the cemetery of First Baptist Church. Maybelle’s children recall hearing her describe her memory of her mother’s death….hearing the church bells toll as they were going to the cemetery.
After Ella’s death, C. H. Ellis married Ella’s sister, “Della” Margaret Blackman. They lived in the John L. Hart Cottage from 1902-1918 with children Lilly, Maybelle, Charles and (adopted) Bernice. (To become Bernice Hartley, the little girl in the closet)
Note the lace showing from under Maybelle’s blue dress. Ella made the lace. The photographer tried three times to cover the lace and Ella kept quietly uncovering it. She was proud of the lace and wanted it to show. The photographer, after the third time, gave up and the lace was allowed to show.
Do Not Use Without Written Consent • Left to right: Charles
Hampton Ellis, Jr. (Born August 11, 1895), Lilly Lee
Ellis (Hartley) (Born May 31, 1891), Jannie Maybelle
Ellis (Brand) (Born August 22, 1892)
In another photo, shown above, we see the children of C. H . Ellis. Bernice Blackmon Hartley describes the picture as follows:
Left to right. Charles Hampton Ellis, Jr. (Born August 11, 1895)
Lilly Lee Ellis (Hartley) (Born May 31, 1891)
Jannie Maybelle Ellis (Brand) (Born August 22, 1892)
The mother of these three children, Ella Blackmon [sic] Ellis, died in 1898. C.H. Ellis then married Ella’s sister, Della Blackman Ellis, and she was aunt/stepmother to Lilly, Maybelle and Charles, Jr. She was known as their beloved “Aunt Della.”
Jannie Maybelle Ellis (middle) was married to William Ernest Hartley on December 24, 1914 in the Hart Cottage.
Charleston Hampton Ellis, Jr. (left) became a Veterinarian after completing Hartsville schools, Clemson College and Veterinary School. He practiced his profession in Brunswich, Georgia and other states in the the south.
Note his fancy frilled shirt and barefeet.
Left to right: Isla Blackman (Clanton) (Lawrence Blackman), Jannie Maybelle
Ellis (Brand) (Jessie DeLeslie Brand), Lilly Lee Ellis (Hartley)
Finally, in this last photo, above, we see a picture of C. H. Ellis’s daughters while living in the Hart Cottage. Bernice Blackmon Hartley notes that “Jannie and Lilly were married in the Hart Cottage.”