Although lingering thunderstorms threatened to cut into attendance, Cokesbury College’s retinue of volunteers stayed on schedule with their annual ice cream social as part of the SC Festival of Flowers opening weekend.
Really, there was no choice, since the historic Methodist site is undergoing major renovations to its second-floor porch starting today – a three-week project that’s the latest sign of progress for an iconic Greenwood County landmark.
That was just fine for Nicole Calhoun and her mother, Virginia Sears, who toured the site among thin crowds on Sunday.
“It’s kind of like going to the Biltmore. You see something new every time,” Sears said. The visit had special meaning for them, since Calhoun was married at Cokesbury College in 2011.
“I love it,” she said. “Just the side of it and the front, it’s gorgeous.”
Calhoun said she tries to stop by as often as she can, and was pleased with many of the changes – large and small.
She particularly appreciated the coat of pastel blue added to the walls in the large reception area, which was pink at the time of her wedding.
“They’ve really just done a great job,” Calhoun said.
The timing of Sunday’s open house is apt. On June 4, the Greenwood County Council awarded the Cokesbury College Commission with $16,000 to cover costs for replacing the porch. Lumber was set to arrive today, and the work should be wrapped up by early July.
It’s the second infusion of tax dollars into the site this year. In February, county leaders approved $35,000 for roof work and upper level painting.
“We spent the taxpayers’ money wisely the last time you helped us, and we just want to bring it up to code and make it safe,” Cokesbury College Commission chairman Rob Jones said. “If y’all help us out with this, I won’t come back for a while.”
Weddings are key source of income for the college’s governing board. There were 30 last year, and already 22 are booked for this season, Jones said.
Cokesbury was also home, from 1853 to 1874, to the Masonic Female College of South Carolina and is the birthplace of Allen University, which began in 1870 as Payne Institute.
The college is also a Methodist world heritage site — named its second one ever.
The property’s caretakers have become adept at creative fundraising and monetizing the natural beauty of the area. Every year, Cokesbury College generates about $1 million worth of economic impact for the county, mostly on the strength of weddings.
But future plans include renovating one of the county’s oldest buildings — a brick general store constructed in the 1800s — into a visitor’s center and installing an elevator for easy access to the quaint chapel where many of the weddings take place.
The site is also in line for $33,163 to build American with Disabilities Act-accessible restrooms.