City Directories and History: (Penn Normal and Industrial School; Penn School) Founded in 1862 as a school for freed slaves, Penn School established a commitment to black education, black welfare, and black heritage which has remained strong for over one hundred years. The school functioned as an educational institution, health clinic, farm bureau, and catalyst for community action, as well as a repository for preserving the island’s unique Gullah heritage and written history.
The founders of Penn School were members of a group of northern missionaries and abolitionists who came to the South Carolina sea island following the Union takeover during the Civil War. Education was a top priority, and classes were held in cotton houses, cabins, and deserted plantation houses scattered over St. Helena. The only school of this type to survive was one established by Laura Towne of Philadelphia and her friend Ellen Murray. With the exception of the Brick Church, the approximately 17 buildings on the Penn campus were constructed during the twentieth century and have no architectural significance. The rectangular Brick Church, ca. 1855, is two stories with a gable roof, and is ornamented with symmetrically arranged windows, doors and brick pilasters. Brick Church was an early location of the first school for free blacks. The rest of the campus is made up of dormitories, administrative buildings, workshops, dining hall, tennis courts, staff housing and health clinics. Although the school was closed in 1948, the community service and cultural preservation functions originated by the school have flourished through Penn Community Services, Inc., organized in 1951. Listed in the National Register September 9, 1974; Designated a National Historic Landmark December 2, 1974. [Courtesy of the SC Dept. of Archives and History]
“Founded in 1862 as a school for freed slaves, Penn School established a commitment to black education, black welfare and black heritage. The school functioned as an educational institution, health clinic, farm bureau and catalyst for community action, as well as a repository for preserving the island’s unique Gullah heritage and written history. Penn Community Services, Inc., the present day organization, continues to work for the community politically, socially and culturally.
With the exception of Brick Church, all buildings on the Penn campus constructed during the twentieth century. The 17 buildings, connected unpaved roads, include a museum, dormitories, administration buildings, workshops and a dining hall.”
Information from: Historic Resources of the Lowcountry, The Lowcountry Council of Government, Cynthia C. Jenkins, Preservation Planner – Published, 1979
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