Leave it to school bells to teach new lessons about old Hilton Head Island.
The Old Island School Committee wants help in documenting the story of the island’s first consolidated elementary school.
Students and teachers of the school are being sought in an effort to get an historical marker placed at the site.
The red brick school building opened in 1954, two years before the first bridge linked Hilton Head to the mainland. It was part of the state’s “separate but equal” plan to keep public schools segregated by upgrading schools for African-Americans.
It replaced at least five small neighborhood schools, whose roots dated to the first schools that sprang up on the island for freedmen even before the Civil War ended.
The consolidated Hilton Head Elementary School was located on William Hilton Parkway in the Stoney community near Spanish Wells Road. It served as a school until 1975.
After that, the building was used as a Beaufort County Courthouse Annex, housing public recreation as well as a courtroom, treasurer’s office, health department and the Department of Motor Vehicles. The building was considered a health hazard when it was finally torn down. The site is now the Old School Elementary School Park with tennis courts and a basketball court on land owned jointly by the Town of Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County.
Murray Christopher of Hilton Head was at the school when it opened. He was a student in the second-grade class of Ramona Wilborn, wife of the young principal, Isaac Wilborn.
“It became an integrated school, so it has a dual history,” Christopher said. “Our goal is to research that history to see when the school became integrated. We are trying to get an historical marker for that school. That’s the goal behind looking for people who went to school there or taught there.”
The Old Island School Committee, chaired by island native Julia Bailey of Savannah, is leading the effort.
A meeting open to anyone interested in the project is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at First African Baptist Church, 70 Beach City Road.
The committee also led the drive to get an historical marker placed near the site of the former Robinson Junior High School on Beach City Road last year. The three-room wooden structure served as the island’s first public junior high from 1949 until 1961.
A different group got an historical marker erected in 2013 at the Cherry Hill School on Dillon Road, the only remaining structure of the island’s old neighborhood schools. It also has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Students, teachers or family members with ties to the original Hilton Head Elementary School should call Christoper at 843-422-9760; or David Murray at 843-597-0696.