Church of the Week: First Presbyterian Church, Hartsville
By Bill Segars
One of my goals in writing about church buildings is to show readers that there is typically much more to a church building than the brick and mortar or wood that we see as we ride by; it has an interesting history. Sometimes that history pertains to its founders and or members, sometimes it pertains to its building techniques, and sometimes it pertains to its survival skills. Together these historical facts mold the structure and its congregation into what we very often today take for granted. Without knowledge of these historical facts, we assume that the church “has always been here.” More times than not, that is not the case.
The church building that we see today located at 213 W. Home Ave. in Hartsville has not “always been here.” As a matter of fact, it has not always been known as First Presbyterian Church. Its 1867 establishment date did not even occur at this location. Hartsville had settlement roots in 1845 when John Lide Hart bought 495 acres of land in the area. The town of Hartsville was not established until 1891, shortly after Major James Lide Coker built a rail line into the area in 1889. Without many people there, there was not much need for a church.
A few Presbyterians with names like Law, Cannon, Harrington, Kelly, and McKinnon felt the need for a Presbyterian Church in the area, so they started one in the most densely populated area of the region. At this time, this area was about four miles west of the present downtown Hartsville area between the Kelleytown community and the Thomas Hart Plantation, later known as Kalmia Gardens. This area was known as “Center Point” because of the “Y” type intersection of two dirt roads. The exact location of the first building for this congregation is not known, but it is assumed to be close to the present day intersection of W. Carolina Avenue and Kelleytown Road.
These early Presbyterian must have been very diplomatic. They wanted to start their own church, but they had no desire to offend any of the existing neighbors. In October of 1858, the reason to establish a church in the area in the early records of the Center Point Mission say, “not to rival the Baptist in the area, but as a home mission undertaking in the Kelleytown area, a thickly populated but ignorant and irreligious community.” So this began the Center Point Mission.
Like most start up churches of this time, additional membership (other than the founding members and their families) was hard to come by. Services were held very sporadically, every other week at best. So, the small group struggled to survive. Three years later the War Between the States began, taking many of the local men away. By the end of the war in 1865- and Union Major General John E. Smith’s march through the area- the mission was all but abandoned. The 14 remaining members were not to be denied a place to worship, so in October of 1867 they partitioned the Presbytery for status as Center Point Church.
Colonel Thomas C. Law’s son, Rev. Thomas H. Law, would not let his father’s dream of establishing a Presbyterian church in the area fail. Even though very few original members remained of the Center Point Mission, twelve local people gave $130 towards the construction of a new building. A new wood frame building was built and dedicated on January 22, 1871 as Center Point Presbyterian Church. Prosperous times were ahead, and the church began to grow. Music proved to be a vital part of Center Point’s growth, due to the fact that they were the only church in the area to have a musical instrument.
Written church records are vague on the next monumental “move” for Center Point Church. Sometime between 1889 and 1893, the Center Point building was physically moved to the present corner of W. Home Avenue and N. Sixth Street in Hartsville. At the time of this move, the name was changed to Hartsville Presbyterian Church. The new Hartsville community was beginning to grow, surpassing the population of the rural Kelleytown area. Rev. T. F. Haney came to Hartsville in December of 1909 to usher the church into the congregation and the building that is known today as First Presbyterian. Rev. Haney showed the young congregation the importance of order in services and the benefits of supporting the church that they loved through their monetary contributions.
The true value of Rev. Haney’s leadership was put into action on October 11, 1910 when The Church Session voted to build a new house of worship. The process moved extremely quickly with a vote of approval by the full membership on the 16th and on the 23rd of October a Canvassing Committee reported that $12,000 to $13,000 had been subscribed. Continuing the quick pace, plans drawn by Henry E. Bonitz were shown to the congregation and sent out to builders for bids. On July 11, 1911 the bids were opened and deemed to be too high, or at least more than the congregation could afford. In order to keep the momentum moving, the Building Committee “employed Mr. J. E. Stack to superintend the work by the day”.
After the 1871 wood frame building was moved to the back corner of the lot for continued use, construction of the Gothic Revival building began. The solid 8″ thick brick walls went up quickly, but available money slowed the construction process. Realizing the importance of music, even without enough money in hand to pay for the building, the congregation voted to install an organ along with construction of their new building. The building was completed and ready for its first service on March 16, 1913.
What happened to the original 1871 wood frame building? After its use during construction of the new church building it was sold to A. M. McNair and moved to the southwest corner of Carolina Avenue and Sixth Street where it was used as a warehouse. After that, it was disassembled and its lumber used to build a tenant house in the Sand Hills.
On a personal note for my friends at First Presbyterian, many of those “ignorant and irreligious” folks in the Kelleytown Community are my ancestors. I hope that you will agree that time has brought about improvements.
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 40-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 750 religious edifices throughout the state. If you have comments, please feel free to contact him at: email@example.com.