While it may seem like 2019 just got started, it has been an active and busy year on many fronts. Here is a look back at just some of the events that made news in Hartsville and Darlington County in 2019.
The city of Hartsville celebrated the dedication of a historical marker for the Marion Avenue Cemetery. Neglected for decades, the historic symbol of Hartsville’s black community underwent a major restoration project led by former City Councilwoman Adlena Graham. Officials with the 111-year-old Coker College announced the school would change its status to that of university in July of 2019.
Murphy Monk was named president of the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce. A Darlington County School District school bus driver, Bernadine “Ms. Bee Bee” Reed, was hailed as a hero for evacuating children from her bus after a car collided with it and caught fire.
Former longtime Darlington Fire Chief and former Darlington County Council Chairman Jim Stone died. Ground was broken for two of three new Darlington County School District elementary schools, one in Hartsville and one in Lamar. Officials broke ground for a school Darlington in August of 2018. Darlington County voters approved the three schools in a $60 million bond referendum in 2016.
The Hartsville City Council introduced a measure that officials said could lead to major redevelopment and expansion of the city’s downtown area. Officials said the so-called Canalside Project could generate more than $10 million in new capital investment.
Stephen Edwards was named executive director of the Free Medical Clinic of Darlington County, replacing Kathy Baxley who resigned to relocate. The Darlington County Board of Education accepted a low bid of $36.7 million for construction of two new elementary schools, one in Hartsville and one in Lamar. Clark Ballard was named head of school at Emmanuel Christian School, a position he had previously held from 2009 to 2012.
A new school application for a proposed public, tuition-free charter school aimed at addressing racial disparities in academic success among students in the Hartsville received state approval. Plans call for the proposed Butler Academy to open with the start of the 2020-21 school year with 200 students in kindergarten through fourth grade and to grow to capacity by the start of the 2025-26 school year with 520 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The Hartsville Architectural Review Board approved exterior design plans for a microbrewery and restaurant planned for the former Gardner Feed and Seed building on Railroad Avenue.
The Hartsville Planning Commission approved a site plan to subdivide the Big Lots property at 139 Westfield St. and create an outparcel as the site for a new Starbucks coffee shop. The Darlington County Council approved an ordinance suspending South Carolina’s blue laws in the unincorporated areas of the county. The Hartsville High School softball team won the state 4A championship with a 3-2 win over the Palmetto Mustangs and finished with a perfect 29-0 season.
To celebrate Sonoco’s 120th anniversary, Sonoco President and CEO Rob Tiede and Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Julie Albrecht rang the closing bell on May 10 at the New York Stock Exchange in honor of the occasion. Jerusalem Baptist Church in Hartsville, one of the oldest African American churches in Darlington County, held a special service on its original site to begin a series of special events leading up to the celebration of its 150th anniversary.
Southern Current, a solar energy company that announced in 2018 that it would invest $340 million to build 17 solar farms in Darlington County said it will build an additional six solar facilities in the county for an additional investment of as much as $149 million. The Darlington County Board of Education approved a $94.5 million general operations budget that officials said will put the district at the forefront among Pee Dee districts in teacher pay.
Coker College officially became Coker University on July 1, which was also declared Coker University Day in Hartsville. The Darlington County Council approved three ordinances in support of industrial development projects that officials said could bring as much as $224 million in new capital investment to the county. Projects included a $75 million expansion at Nucor — which celebrated its 50th anniversary in Darlington just a week earlier — and a $149 million investment by Charleston-based Southern Current to build six new solar farm facilities in the county in addition to 17 facilities the company had previously announced plans to build.
Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris made a campaign visit to Hartsville speaking at Jerusalem Baptist Church. A roundabout at the intersection of West Home and West Carolina avenues in Hartsville finally opened. One side of the roundabout had opened to traffic earlier in the spring while work was completed on the other side. The city of Hartsville received a $750,000 grant for sewer upgrades in the South Park area. Hartsville’s Neptune Island Waterpark had drawn some 32,000 guests in its first month of operation to begin its second season with officials anticipating more than 80,000 visitors by the end of the season. Southern Current officially announced it would build six new solar farms in Darlington in addition to 17 already planned, bringing its total capital investment in the county to $481 million.
Hartsville mourned the death of Garrison Lee Murph, the 11-year-old boy who was the inspiration and namesake of Garrison’s Place, a playground at Byerly Park for children with special needs. Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg visited Hartsville and spoke at Jerusalem Baptist Church. Southside Early Childhood Center’s Cortney Harless was named Darlington County School District Teacher of the Year for 2019-20. The Hartsville Planning Commission approved plans for two new development projects, one of which involved the extension of Hartsville Crossing across South Fourth Street and the demolition of the former Bojangles site, and the other plans for an apartment complex off of Hartsville Crossing behind the old Walmart site.
The Coker University Board of Trustees asked for and received the resignation of Dr. Robert L. Wyatt as president and ex officio board member of the university. The board gave no explanation or reason for its decision. Fire swept through several tobacco barns at Griggs Farm (Sugar Hill Acres LLC) in the Byrdtown community outside of Hartsville, destroying as many as eight barns filled with tobacco that was almost ready for market, and damaging or destroying thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment. United Way of Hartsville celebrated its 60th anniversary with a Sept. 25 luncheon featuring Rich Harwood of the Harwood Institute for Innovation as guest speaker.
The Darlington County Council authorized County Administrator Charles Stewart to secure contracts for the design and construction of a new courthouse for the county. Noah Stanley of Hartsville and friends celebrated the completion of his 2,200-mile hike through the Eastern United States along the Appalachian Trail that raised $20,000 for the Pee Dee Coalition. Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Cory Booker brought his campaign to Hartsville and spoke at Jerusalem Baptist Church. Former Vice President Joe Biden, also running for president, also made a campaign stop in Hartsville at Jerusalem Baptist.
The Darlington County Council approved a contract with an architectural firm for construction of a new Darlington County courthouse. The project is expected to take about three years to complete at a projected cost of $13 million to $14 million. Society Hill resident and philanthropist P.L. “Roy” McCall Jr. gave an outright gift of $1.2 million to Coker University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts, one of the largest gifts in Coker’s history.
Darlington County officials celebrated the completion of a $4.6 million runway upgrade at the Darlington County Airport. A $4.1 million federal grant helped pay for the project. The Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority was recognized for bringing public transportation to Hartsville in the form of the HART bus service.
A Hartsville area man, Freddy Ray Harris III, 36, was charged with murder in the Dec. 9 shooting death of Kurt Russell Scholl, 36, of Hartsville. Former Hartsville Messenger sports reporter and photographer Eddie Newman died on Dec. 12 at 56. The Darlington County Board of Education extended the employment contract of Superintendent Tim Newman for another year. Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a visit to Hartsville where he spoke at a meet-and-greet at Jerusalem Baptist Church.