Beaufort News

Port Royal plans big celebration for school's 100th birthday

One of Beaufort County's smallest schools soon will celebrate a big milestone.

Port Royal Elementary School on Paris Avenue turns 100 years old this year.

"It's a significant event, a school building that has been around for 100 years," said Tom Klein, vice president of the Historic Port Royal Foundation. "This is a very interesting little town. There's a lot of history in it that hasn't been promoted or uncovered yet." The building's cornerstone indicates it was built in 1911.

That prompted Klein to ask questions: Where does its age rank among other schools in the state?

Klein's research found that Port Royal Elementary is the fourth-oldest school building in the state still under the purview of the S.C. Department of Education. The oldest is J.V. Martin Junior High School in Dillon, built in 1896.

Port Royal is either the second- or third-oldest building in the state that has been continuously used as a school since it opened, Klein said. He's still researching the definitive rank.

He also is not sure of the exact date Port Royal Elementary opened, but the original, handwritten deed that transferred the property from the town to the school district is dated September 1910.

The parcel occupied four lots. The original building held six classes in three classrooms, as well as a library with three bookshelves, Klein said. He said the building's walls were three feet thick to withstand hurricane-force winds.

There's a clause in the original deed that is relevant now, with the county Board of Education considering school closures as a way to curb anticipated budget shortfalls: If the building ceases to be used as a school, ownership reverts to the town.

"In other words, the school district would lose the facility," Klein said. "Somebody had some smarts way back then."

Klein and other residents representing the Historic Port Royal Foundation, the school, the town and the community are planning ways to mark the school's centennial. Principal Jo Shirley said the group is aiming for a fall celebration so it has time to plan and invite alumni and other residents who might want to participate.

The group is searching for photos, stories, artifacts and any other memorabilia affiliated with the school's history that could contribute to the celebration, she said.

"The more information we can get, the better," Shirley said. "It's really important for our children to understand the value of history. There's nothing like bringing history alive to really show kids what it's all about."

Brian Herrmann of the Port Royal School Improvement Council is organizing the group planning the celebration. His 7-year-old son attends the school.

"That school is probably one of the most important living traditions as far as Port Royal goes, as far as pulling the community together over such a long period of time," he said.