Church of the Week: First Baptist Church, Hartsville
By Bill Segars
As soon as the town of Hartsville began to form, so did a Baptist church. Early in 1850 John Lide Hart bought 491 acres of land, previously owned by his father Thomas Hart, from his brother-in-law Thomas Lide. John Hart was very active in the Baptist denomination at Gum Branch Baptist Church and Providence Baptist Church. One of his first good deeds, upon punching this land, was to donate some of it for the purpose of building a Baptist church.
On November 16, 1850 Hartsville Baptist Church, the first church in the soon-to-be-community of Hartsville, was formed. The first building was built to serve to citizens in 1851; Rev. J. W. Burn served as the pastor, until his death in 1880. Dr. W. S. Dorset came to Hartsville in 1903 as the next pastor of Hartsville Baptist, and served until 1907. It was during this period that Rev. Dorset encouraged the congregation to change their name to First Baptist Church, and to look to future growth with a new building.
When Dr. E. V. Baldy of Georgia arrived at the church in 1907, he found a growing community and a building under construction with wall about three feet high. There was a small problem, however; the congregation had committed to an enormous debt of $27,000 to be able to build this solid masonry building. In 1907, this was an unheard of amount of money for a church building measuring 52 feet wide by 85 feet deep, especially in such a small community. So, Dr. Baldy’s first task was to set out to raise the funds and support to pay for this building, which he did with ease and very little problem. He stayed in Hartsville for 16 years serving his community and as pastor of First Baptist.
On a Sunday in February 1908, possibly the 23rd, it seemed like all of Hartsville gathered for the opening service of the new edifice that still sits on top of the hill overlooking the town. No one was more proud of the new elegant Greek Revival building than Mrs. Jane Lide Coker Wilson, because her son, Charles Coker Wilson, was the architect of her home town church building. Charles Coker Wilson had recently returned to Columbia, South Carolina to practice architecture; when his mother insisted that he return to his birthplace of Hartsville to design her church, he could not turn her down.
Charles Coker Wilson proved to be a very prolific architect of many well-known buildings that are presently listed on the National Register of Historic Places in South Carolina. Buildings that can be seen today include The South Carolina State Capital, many local residences, and most of the buildings on Coker College campus are only a sample of Wilson’s additions to South Carolina’s architectural landscape- from the coast to the upstate. Coker also trained many young start-up architects to follow his lead with stately, imposing, and quality buildings that stand the test of time as First Baptist has.
The many generations of Hartsvillians that have attended First Baptist have been good stewards of their buildings and property. As the congregation grew, a new larger sanctuary was built in 1964, but the old 1908 building was not forgotten. As with most church congregation, conversations and even debates have been held as to what to do with their aging buildings; fortunately, historical minded members have prevailed and the heritage rich buildings have been saved on this campus for other to enjoy. In 2003, Wilson’s old sanctuary was completely renovated and is presently used as a chapel on a regular basis for the glory of God.
Bill Segars has a strong love and appreciation for history, having grown up on a farm in Kelleytown on land that has been in the family since 1821 . He uses his 39-year building career to combine with his love of history to develop a passion for historical restoration. Segars was able to find, photograph and research more than 700 religious edifices throughout the state.