Warning: Illegal string offset 'ssb_og_tags' in /home/scpictur/public_html/wp-content/plugins/simple-social-buttons/simple-social-buttons.php on line 1466
Our Photographers Contact Us
Our Patrons Please Give Today Add Images Add History Our Work South Carolina Picture Project

Cokesbury — Cokesbury, South Carolina

SC Picture Project  |  Greenwood County  |  Cokesbury

Adopt A South Carolina Landmark

The once-thriving community of Cokesbury in Greenwood County is named for America’s first two Methodist bishops – Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury. However, it was originally called Mount Ariel and is said to have been one of South Carolina’s first planned communities. Not only that, but it may be the only planned community in our state designed around a school.

Cokesbury College

Ken Toney of Boiling Springs, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The history of Cokesbury actually begins three miles down the road in the now-vanished village of Tabernacle. Tabernacle was founded in the latter half of the eighteenth century by the Methodist preacher Thomas Humphries, but its residents – seeking higher elevation and healthier soil – eventually decided to move. They established their new town at the highest site between Augusta and Greenville and aptly named it Mount Ariel. The date was July 4, 1824.

Cokesbury Hill Motel

Robert Kelley of Greenwood, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

In 1834 strong alliances with the Methodist Church prompted residents to adopt their new portmanteau. Cokesbury itself has also faded with time, though the area is still recognized as a Census Designated Place. It is home to Cokesbury College, built in 1854. This 65-acre campus now serves as an event venue maintained by the Cokesbury Historical and Recreational Commission.

Dino's Cafe Cokesbury

Robert Kelley of Greenwood, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

In its prime, Cokesbury was the celebrated home of many prominent South Carolinians. In fact, Confederate President Jefferson Davis is said to have spent the night here while traveling from Richmond, Virginia, to Georgia in May of 1865.

Tabernacle Academy

Education had been important in Tabernacle and the community there organized a school. Tabernacle Academy was originally housed in a small, windowless log cabin under the oaks next to the church. During this time, it was taught by a Northerner named Doolittle, but by 1820, a new building, which would double as a church, was under construction and the trustees had taken out an advertisement for a teacher. They found their successful candidate in a young man named Stephen Olin, whom they hired for $700 a year. Olin was not a Methodist when he arrived, but he converted to Christianity during his service at the school and eventually went on to become a minister and the president of Wesleyan University, a noted Methodist college in Connecticut.

Tabernacle Academy Sign

Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The new building, constructed in a frame style, did not have plaster or ceilings, but it did have a fireplace at each end. After Mr. Olin left to join the Methodist Conference, he was succeeded by another Northerner, named Tilden. Some sources say Tilden was in turn succeeded by one of Olin’s former students, Adam Crawford, though others say he was the last teacher to serve at the school . In any case, Tabernacle Academy had by then earned “a great reputation for thoroughness of scholarship and spirituality of religion,” according to the South Carolina Methodist Conference, which decided to appoint one of its members to serve as a rector. Upon receiving this honor, the school and its surrounding community moved “three miles to the north to a beautiful location on an oak-covered, sandy ridge known as Mount Ariel.”

Old Tabernacle Graveyard

Bill Fitzpatrick of Taylors © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Mount Ariel Academy

The new school, named Mount Ariel Academy, opened in March of 1825 and within a year had grown substantially. Not only did its trustees quickly have to erect a larger building, but a girl’s division was added as well. The boys’ academy was particularly successful and entered seven students into Methodist itnerancy between the years of 1825 and 1831 alone.

This accomplishment was not lost on South Carolina Conference, which had grown concerned that there were too few Methodist institutions of education in America. By 1832, South Carolina Methodist minister and education proponent George Dougherty had begun efforts to develop a Methodist preparatory school that would feed Randolph-Macon College in Virginia.

The residents of Mount Ariel campaigned for this new institute to be established in their community, and they offered the South Carolina Conference $6,000 in cash as well as both their male and female academies. The conference accepted the deal, and on May 16, 1834, the board of trustees held their first meeting in Mount Ariel. This same day, residents voted to change the name of their village from Mount Ariel to Cokesbury, an appellation suggested by board-member William Wrightman.

Dougherty Manual Labor School

The Dougherty Manual School of the South Carolina Conference – or Cokesbury Conference College as it was commonly called – took its formal name from the Reverend George Dougherty and opened in 1835. Classes continued to be held in the buildings inherited from Mt. Ariel, but Dougherty purchased an additional 1,000 acres on which to expand. In March of 1836, the new campus officially opened with “a two-story brick structure fifty feet square with a wing thirty-four feet by forty feet, a rector’s house, a teacher’s house, a steward’s house, six cottages for students, a mess hall, and a barn.” An infirmary was built in 1837, and the male academy from Mt Ariel was transformed into a temporary chapel.

This arrangement lasted nearly two decades, but in 1854 the school ceased boarding. The dormitories had been condemned as unsafe and needed repairs. In lieu of this expense, local citizens were asked to shelter students in their homes. The abandoned buildings were dismantled for materials, with some going to the construction of a new chapel and others going towards a brand new college, this one dedicated to the education of young woman.

At this time, Dougherty constructed a permanent chapel of brick which was flanked by two classrooms. According to the Reverend Dr. C. E. Peele, the chapel and classrooms were placed “in the midst of beautiful oaks on a knoll in the center of campus.”

At Dougherty Manual Labor School, male students were expected to labor at the school for three hours per day in exchange for tuition credit; it is unclear whether the exchange program was also offered to females.

Masonic Female Collegiate Institute

In 1853, the Bascombe Lodge No. 90 of the Ancient Freemasons developed a plan to construct a college entirely for women – a progressive idea during its time! As a result, Cokesbury College – which today stands as the symbol of the Cokesbury community – was built in 1854. Then called the Masonic Female Collegiate Institute, it partnered closely with the Cokesbury Conference School.

Old Cokesbury Gate

Mark Elbrecht of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

According to the Cokesbury Historical and Recreational Commission, on June 27, 1854, “ceremonies for the laying of the cornerstone were held. It was a big event, and people came from miles around. Special trains were run from Abbeville and Newberry to Cokesbury Junction. It was reported that over 2,000 people attended the ceremony at Cokesbury, which included many dignitaries.

Cokesbury College Masonic Room

Mark Elbrecht of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The commission also provides these details about life at the college: “Tuition for the college was $40 for a freshman, $45 for a sophomore or junior, and $50 for a senior. Greek, Latin, or one of the modern languages was another $20. Music was $40, and the use of instruments for practice was another $20. Drawing or painting was $20. The college had no dormitory, and the young ladies attending the college had to board with local residents in Cokesbury for $10 a month.”

Cokesbury College Recitation Room

Mark Elbrecht of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The interior of the school was divided into four rooms for music and four rooms for recitation — the act of repeating something in a public or group setting. On the second level there was a chapel and on the third level, Masonic Lodge headquarters. Two of the four recitation rooms can be seen in the photos above and below.

Cokesbury College Recitation Room

Mark Elbrecht of Greenville, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Long-term financial struggles led to the school’s eventual demise, particularly during the Civil War, and by 1876, the Masonic Female Collegiate Institute had transformed into the Cokesbury Conference Institute after the South Carolina Conference exchanged properties with the Masonic Women’s College.

Cokesbury Female College

Kathy Dickerson of Greenwood, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The institute operated until 1911 and was sold to the City of Greenwood in 1918. From 1918 until 1954 the building was used as a public school; the Methodist Conference resumed ownership later that year.

Cokesbury College Third Floor

Mark Elbrecht of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

In 1971 the Conference deeded the property to the Cokesbury Historical and Recreational Commission Restoration, which restored the building in 1974. The Commission continues to maintain the property and its surrounding historic buildings, including a replica of the Mount Ariel Chapel (see photograph and info below), the post office and general store, and two houses. (Note: These homes were sold in June of 2014 to a man from Atlanta who intends to restore them; they will remain in place.) Today the building is called simply Cokesbury College and is a popular event site as well as an historical landmark that anchors the Cokesbury community.

Masonic Female College Cokesbury

Steven Faucette of Williamston, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Old Cokesbury Settlement

Cokesbury was a planned community and included several business, including the general store pictured here. As was common during the time, this store also housed a small post office. Built in 1850, the building is now used for storage. There was also a church, called Mount Ariel Presbyterian Church (see below). The historic postcard below shows many of the landmarks that occupied Old Cokesbury.

Cokesbury Settlement Brick Store

Kathy Dickerson of Greenwood, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Old Cokesbury House

William Thursby of Ware Shoals, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Cokesbury Postcard

Courtesy of Cokesbury Historical and Recreational Commission © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Cokesbury Brick Store

Mark Elbrecht of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Mount Ariel Chapel

The shell of a replica of Mount Ariel Presbyterian Church stands in Cokesbury today. The original, built from remnants of the Dougherty Manual Labor School in 1854, was destroyed many years ago, but the Wilbur Smith Company began efforts to build a new one bearing the likeness of the original in 1973.

Mt. Ariel Cokesbury

Blake Lewis of Cleveland, Ohio, 2010 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Sadly, it was never completed and has fallen into disrepair. The Cokesbury Historical and Recreational Commission is hoping to secure funding to restore the chapel in the future.

Chapel at Mt. Ariel

Mark Elbrecht of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The buildings of Cokesbury occasionally open to the public for tours. They are listed in the National Register:

The Old Cokesbury College building was built in 1854 in the Greek Revival style. It has a bell tower, four square columns rising from ground level to pediment, and a double-door entrance at the second floor level. The Masonic Female College of South Carolina, an effective though brief experiment in education for young women (1853-1874), represented ideas that were rather advanced for the times. This institution is said to have furthered the charm, character and influence of the town. From 1876-1918, Cokesbury Conference School was celebrated for the high caliber of its education—first operated as a school for boys, co-educational from 1882, and a public school from 1918 to 1954, when the property reverted to the Methodist Conference. The village of Cokesbury was laid out in 1824 and is one of South Carolina’s earliest planned communities. As a testament to the community’s emphasis on education, the town was developed for and around the school. The village was initially called Mount Ariel, but in 1834 residents changed the name to Cokesbury in honor of Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, the first two Methodist bishops in the United States.

Reflections on Cokesbury

Rob Jones of the Cokesbury Historical and Recreation Commission shared much of the above information with the SC Picture Project. He goes on to say, “The existing [church] building was built to be a replica of the original Mt. Ariel Presbyterian Church that was destroyed many years ago. It was built but never finished in 1973 by the Wilbur Smith Company. May 16th marked the 180th anniversary of the areas name being changed from Mt. Ariel to Cokesbury. The Church is in very bad condition due to years of vandalism. I am on the Cokesbury Historical and Recreation Commission and we do hope to restore and finish it when we are through with the repairs on the college building. All it takes is money which like most non-profits we are woefully short of.”

The Conference deeded the property to us in 1971 when the legislature enacted the Commission. The building was fully renovated and opened in 1974. But it has been 40 years and it needs a little TLC. We have a 65-acre campus and own the church, post office and general store, and two houses original to the Cokesbury/ Mt. Ariel. In fact we are selling the houses through the Palmetto Trust to someone who will restore them.”

Add your own reflections here.

More Pictures of Cokesbury College

Cokesbury College Building

James (Jim) Jenkins of Chesterfield, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Mt. Ariel Church

James (Jim) Jenkins of Chesterfield, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Cokesbury College

William Thursby of Ware Shoals, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Cokesbury Info

Address: College Drive and Asbury Road, Cokesbury, SC 29653
GPS Coordinates: 34.286392,-82.216634
Website: http://www.cokesburycollege.org/

Cokesbury Map

Please Share Your Thoughts!

Did you enjoy this page? Do you have any information we should add? Send us your comments below — we can't wait to hear from you!

8 Comments about Cokesbury

Diane Lomax Drake says:
February 3rd, 2020 at 12:11 pm

I’m sorry, but I made a mistake minutes ago when I sent a comment. My great grandmother, Eliza Ann Rampey, was married to Jesse Andrew Lomax. Jesse’s father was Peter Lomax who was married to Mary Hart Pettus.

Elizabeth Bonds Mayer says:
July 27th, 2018 at 3:29 pm

My maternal grandfather, Vernon Augustus Ellis, was said to have lived in the Cokesbury College building as a child. How can I confirm either way? He was born in 1899 in Cokesbury.

SCIWAY says:
November 24th, 2015 at 9:01 am

Thank you – it is fixed! We appreciate your feedback!

James McKinney says:
November 23rd, 2015 at 5:53 pm

The second photo on this page is of an old building that was photographed by Mark Elbrecht, of Greenville, SC ~ Building is not located in Cokesbury! This building is located in Coronaca, SC. When the SC State Legislature declared Coronaca as an official town in the 1890’s, the building was used as the City Hall of the town. Coronaca has always been in Greenwood County, and in the late 1950’s ~ early 1960’s Coronaca was transferred to become a portion of the city of Greenwood. I know this for I spent my first 18 years of my life in Coronaca, SC!!

Thanks, Jimmy McKinney

Bill Davies says:
October 22nd, 2014 at 9:33 am

I have Nell Graydon’s copy of the Specifications for Renovations and Alterations to the Gary House in Cokesbury that should go to the Commission. Please contact me. Thanks, Bill Davies

Cheryl says:
August 22nd, 2014 at 11:00 pm

Would like information on my relatives: Benjamin Johnson, who was president in 1860, and his daughter, Mary Rosalie Johnson, who was a student there at the same time.

Rob says:
June 17th, 2014 at 10:21 am

Pat, we are currently reconstructing the archives and hopefully will have that information available in a couple of months.

Pat Spell Johnson says:
July 11th, 2012 at 8:57 am

When I was in Greenwood recently, a friend took me out to Cokesbury where I was able to see “from a distance” because the gate was closed. Where could I see records of students who attended there? I have been told that two of my long-deceased family members would be included.


Join Us on Facebook
Follow Us on Instagram
See Us on Pinterest


Abbeville ACE Basin Adams Run Aiken Alcolu Allendale Anderson Awendaw Bamberg Banks Barns & Farms Barnwell Batesburg-Leesville Beaches Beaufort Beech Island Belton Bennettsville Bishopville Blackville Bluffton Branchville Bridges Bygone Landmarks Camden Carnegie Libraries Cayce Cemeteries Charleston Charleston Navy Base Cheraw Chester Chesterfield Churches Clemson Clinton Clio Colleges Columbia Conway Cordesville Courthouses Darlington Daufuskie Island Denmark Dillon Donalds Easley Edgefield Edisto Ehrhardt Elloree Eutawville Fairfax Florence Folly Beach Forests and Nature Preserves Fort Mill Fountain Inn Gaffney Garden City Beach Georgetown Glenn Springs Graniteville Great Falls Greeleyville Greenville Greenwood Greer Hamburg Hampton Hardeeville Hartsville Hemingway Hilton Head Historical Photos Historic Houses Hodges Holly Hill Honea Path Hopkins Hotels & Inns Huger Hunting Island Isle of Palms Jails James Island Jamestown Johns Island Johnsonville Johnston Kelleytown Kiawah Island Kingstree Lake City Lake Marion Lakes Lancaster Landrum Latta Laurens Lexington Libraries Lighthouses Little River Lowndesville Manning Marion Mars Bluff McClellanville McCormick Military Mills Moncks Corner Mountains Mount Carmel Mount Pleasant Mullins Murrells Inlet Myrtle Beach National Register Newberry Ninety Six North Augusta North Charleston North Myrtle Beach Orangeburg Pacolet Parks Pawleys Island Pendleton Pickens Piers Pinewood Pinopolis Plantations Pomaria Port Royal Post Offices Prosperity Ravenel Restaurants Ridgeland Ridge Spring Ridgeway Rivers Roadside Oddities Robert Mills Rock Hill Rockville Rosenwald Schools Salters Saluda Santee Savannah River Site SC Artists SC Heroes of the Alamo Schools Seneca Shrimp Boats Society Hill Spartanburg Sports Springs St. George St. Helena Island St. Matthews Stateburg Stores Sullivan's Island Summerton Summerville Sumter Sunset Synagogues Town Clocks Trains & Depots Trees Trenton Troy Turbeville Ulmer Union Wadmalaw Island Walhalla Walterboro Ware Shoals Waterfalls Water Towers Wedgefield West Columbia Westminster Winnsboro Woodruff Yemassee York