McCormick County School District

Moving at The Speed of Learning

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History Compiled by Blue Ribbon Task 
Force During the 2000-2001 school year.
 
 
 

History of Education in McCormick County

 
In an effort to better understand the state of education in McCormick County, it is necessary to also review the history of education in SC and how its policies affected local education. In addition to the legal aspects, segregation, phases of construction, consolidation, integration, road construction, and financing have affected education in McCormick County.
       From a historical perspective, the education of South Carolina's youth has been a concern since colonial days. A great deal of legislation has been passed since that time.
  • 1710-An Act for the founding and erecting of a Free School for the use of inhabitants of SC.
  • 1719-South Carolina became a Royal Province-Legislation was enacted to perpetuate and expand "free schools" for pupils whose parents were unable to pay for their education.
  • 1724-Construction of a free school in each county and precinct, and provided that 10 poor children in each be taught free of charge.
       Until 1916, McCormick County did not exist. The land comprised within the current boundaries was taken from Edgefield County (historically the "Old Edgefield District"), Abbeville County (historically the Old Abbeville District) and Greenwood County (originally parts of Old Edgefield and Old Abbeville Districts). The earliest settlers in what is now McCormick County did not venture into our section of the "Back Country of SC" until the 1750's and 1760's. The colonial legislation had no impact on this area.
       The earliest known education facilities in the county include John de la Howe School (JDLH) and Willington Academy. JDLH was established by the will of Dr. de la Howe in 1787 when he left his plantation, known as Lethe, for the home and instruction of twelve orphan boys and twelve orphan girls. This institution, which functioned under several names and was agriculturally focused, still functions today. With a different focus it provides education and life skills training to approximately 125 students. Some of these high-school aged students attend school within the McCormick County School District.
       From 1804 to 1852, Willington, north of McCormick on SC81, was home of one of the most famous academies in the state and perhaps the south. Instruction during its early years (1804-1819) was conducted by Moses Waddel. Wealthy planters in the low country and elsewhere sent their young sons to this backcountry location for a classical education. Per Edmonds, it was more than a high school and less than a senior college. Many went on to be outstanding citizens and famous statesman-including eleven governors, a US Vice President, an Attorney General, etc. In 1819, Waddel left Willington for a position as President of Franklin College. He stayed until 1829 and left it with a new name: the University of Georgia (at Athens).
       Two other educational facilities, Liberty Hill Male and Liberty Hill Female Academies were built in the Bethany area (east of McCormick south of US 378). The Liberty Hill Academy gained great prominence during the antebellum era and its activities ceased prior to 1900. The Female academy burned in 1916 and was replaced by a co-ed facility on the Bethany Baptist Church grounds (US378 E of McCormick). This second facility remained in use until 1954. Billy Dorn (of gold mine fame) constructed the Dornville School (US378E) in 1856.
       Per the brief history of SC education, rebuilding was slow after the Civil War (1861 to 1865), the state's economy suffered dramatically from a major crop failure in 1866-1867, and Reconstruction lasted from 1865 through 1882. The Constitution of 1868 established the office of State Superintendent of Education and provided funds for schools. Two years later, the forerunner of the State Board of Education was created.
       The textile industry, which developed rapidly in the south after the 1880's, used child labor, and like some of the northern industrial cities, this cheap labor was greatly abused. In 1907, a study conducted by the South Carolina State Dept. of Agriculture, Commerce and Immigration found that 23.7 percent of the textile work force was under the age of 16. This study also found that, generally, the schools established within the mill villages, provided a good education compared to the surrounding communities. The state passed the South Carolina Child Labor Act in 1907. It prohibited the employment of children under twelve. The study also provided insight into the fact, that the number of children involved was substantially higher than imagined. Where other states had laws recording births and deaths as early as the 1700, South Carolina did not start recording these vital records until 1911. (Pettus)
       The residents of McCormick County, from the beginning, depended on the land and agriculture. Tobacco and cotton were shipped down the Savannah River which provided the major transportation link to Augusta, GA. Unlike it's neighbors Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Ware Shoals, and Calhoun Falls, it did not develop around an early textile mill village or judicial center. It also did not experience any civil war action. Other than activity created by the Dorn Mines gold-mining operation the economics of the county remained agriculturally based until the construction of the post WWII Milliken textile mill in 1947.
       The initial population growth occurred after the construction of the railroad in the 1880's and the development of town centers around the rail stations. The railroad provided a means of transportation that far surpassed the efforts required for walking or riding a horse or buggy on the clay roads. The planking of roads prior to the railroad presented its own set of problems and was abandoned.
       This growth also occurred at the same time as the south was recovering from Reconstruction and began passing legislation that formally segregated the black and white races. South Carolina codified its segregation laws in 1895. In 1896 the US Supreme Court upheld the Jim Crow "separate-but-equal" principle in it's decision on "Plessy v. Ferguson." Under the 1896 Supreme Court decision South Carolina (and other southern states) operated dual public school systems for black and white students who basically held that public facilities may be separate if they are equal.
       In Chapman's History of Edgefield County (1897), he lists the following schools that would now be in McCormick County. Parksville (100 scholars), Rehoboth School, Liberty Hill, White Town, and Dornville. (Chapman 1897) He doesn't list any schools that may have been used by black students. Traditionally because of the condition of the roads, and the difficulty to traverse them in wet weather, most of the schools constructed in McCormick County for black education were located at or near the community church and were small structures of one or two rooms with perhaps a second floor.
       Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaper, invested in Dorn Mines in 1869, later purchased the mines and additional acreage and convinced the railroad to intersect on his land. In 1882, 40 acres were auctioned for the town of McCormick. In 1883, the South Carolina Business Directory lists the town of McCormick with a population of 200. In 1884, Nellie McCormick wife of Cyrus McCormick, donated land for the McCormick Academy which stood at Pine and Virginia Street. The McCormick Graded School, a three-story brick building (ca.1911-1912) for white students, was built on this site. The graded school was torn down between 1954 and 1960 and replaced with the post office and GTE buildings.
       In 1907, a two story wooden structure for white students was constructed in Willington (SC81) and during the WPA work projects (1935-37) it was reduced to a one- story structure because of a previous deadly fire in a school building elsewhere. In 1926 and 1928 two more brick schools for white students were constructed in McCormick and Parksville/Modoc. The McCormick school was built as a high school and is currently known as the McCormick Elementary School. The second was known as the Washington School and was used through integration as a white school, black elementary school, and a consolidated school.
       Although the southern states were operating under the separate-but-equal concept, the lack of quality facilities for the black students was recognized outside of the south. The President and co-founder of Sears Roebuck Company, a man named Julius Rosenwald provided financial investment for schools. This program for black schools started in Alabama (1913) and the community had to match the money 50/50. Because of the success of the Alabama project and several others, in 1917 the program was named the Southern School Building Program (1917-1932) and Rosenwald modified the match to 1/3. The 2/3 match by the community could be money, materials, or labor. He didn't want the program to be charity. He is quoted as saying "so that blacks would not think of the programs as charity but would participate intimately in funding their education". During the course of the program 5357 schools were constructed at a cost of $63 million dollars. Surveys indicate 663,615 students were educated in Rosenwald Schools. (Meckenburg)
       Two Rosenwald Schools were built in McCormick County. One on the north end on LeRoy's Ferry Road known as the Gibert Rosenwald School which has burned; and the Hopewell Rosenwald School, built ca. 1929, which is still standing at Hopewell Church in the lower end of the county. (Ware and Juengst 2001)
       Professor William S. Mims, born in 1893, graduated from Allen University in Columbia SC. He opened a lower school in the abandoned Knights of Pythia Lodge behind the Bethany Baptist Church on South Main Street in McCormick, SC in 1924. In 1939 he opened the McCormick County Colored Industrial school on Mims Drive. After consolidation, the Industrial school was the Mims Elementary #1. This building constructed north of the current McCormick High School was also referred to as the "old white building". It later was used for Vocational Ed classes and storage, and burned sometime after 1977. Although there were many that felt he would not succeed, Mims is credited for creating the black education system in McCormick County and all of the schools built for blacks carried his name. He died in 1969. (Edmonds 1999) 
 

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