Hilton Head schoolhouse recognized as historic site

bheffernan@islandpacket.comDecember 8, 2012 

  • Beaufort County has 69 entries in the National Register of Historic Places. Other registered places on Hilton Head Island include:

  • Fort Howell

  • The Fish Haul Archaeological Site (Mitchelville)

  • The Rear Lighthouse of the Hilton Head Range Light Station (Leamington Lighthouse)

A 75-year-old schoolhouse on the north end of Hilton Head Island has made it into history records.

The Cherry Hill School has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The one-room schoolhouse was built in 1937 after the Gullah community raised money to buy the land for the Beaufort County School District. In return, the district built the school with the help of community members.

The old school is at the corner of Beach City and Dillon roads, across from St. James Baptist Church, which owns and uses the building for Bible study and a weekly soup kitchen. The schoolhouse also serves as a meeting place for community groups and was a polling place in the November elections.

Phoebe Driessen was one of the school's first students. There were about 25 students and six gradeS, she said, and a "Miss Johnson" was the only teacher.

"The only thing on the walls were chalkboards," Driessen said. She remembers parents coming to the school to watch their children do long division on the boards.

The students were divided into grade levels, Driessen said. The small wooden table where she sat with two other first-graders is still at the school.

"I think it's a tremendous asset that the school is now recognized. It's been an iconic structure for a long time," said Francetta White. She said it's been about two years since she and others began preparing the application for the historic register.

The school's "placing on the national register gives it the recognition it deserves," White said. "It recalls the history of a people whose history has pretty much been neglected."

The school sits on land that was once part of Mitchelville, which was listed in the National Register in 1988. The village was founded in 1862 as America's first settlement for freed and escaped slaves. It was self-governing and the first community in the South to establish a compulsory education system.

White said it's important for young native islanders to understand the history and significance of Gullah heritage.

"There is so much about their heritage they can be proud of," she said. "I think it gives everyone something to be proud of."

Examples of early 20th-century African-American schools are increasingly rare, said Dr. Tracy Power of the S.C. Department of Archives and History.

"They are either falling down or being torn down, disappearing from the landscape," he said.

Three other one-room schools operated on the island until two years before the James Byrnes Crossing permanently connected the island to the mainland in 1956. None of them remains.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

Related content:

Restored schoolhouse a testament to times gone by, May 29, 2002.

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