Born near Society Hill, James Lide Coker (1837-1918) attended local schools, the South Carolina Military Institute of Charleston, and Harvard University, where he received specialized agricultural training in soil analysis and plant development, which were put to use when his father gave him an estate near Hartsville. After military duty during the Civil War, Coker had a brief experience in the legislature from 1864 until 1866. He soon learned that he enjoyed business and agriculture more than politics. Coker was to farm his land for more than 50 years without one unprofitable season. In 1866, he opened a small country store in Hartsville which developed into one of the largest department stores in the state. In 1884 he organized the Darlington National Bank, and five years later built a small railroad from Darlington to Hartsville, which was later purchased by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Coker's manufacturing interests included the Carolina Fiber Company, Southern Novelty Company (SONOCO), which manufactured paper cones used by yarn mills to ship yarn, and the Hartsville Cotton-Seed Oil Mill. Coker was also interested in the development of education in the state. In 1908, he donated money and land for the establishment of a college for women in Hartsville, now known as Coker College. The small child on his lap in this photo is his grandchild.
Courtesy of the Darlington County Historical Commission.