Restored schoolhouse a testament to times gone by

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Restored schoolhouse a testament to times gone by

BY LAURA MARBLE<br>THE ISLAND PACKET
Published Wednesday, May 29, 2002 in The Island Packet  |  946 Words  |  /IslandPacket/news/local

Cherry Hill School, at the east end of Beach City Road, is the only one-room native islander schoolhouse left on Hilton Head Island.' The other three, which operated up until two years before the James F. Byrnes Crossing
permanently connected the island to the mainland in 1956, are gone without a trace. ' Nothing about the school's gray, rectangular building belies its 66 years. The paint is fresh and no boards sag. ' Cherry Hill School was
restored and renovated in 1984 as a Sunday school annex for St. James Baptist Church across the street. It fits into modern-day Hilton Head well enough.' But imagine the school without the new wheelchair ramp that rises to its front
stoop. Imagine it without the new bathroom and kitchen additions that equip the building for modern church gatherings. Instead, imagine an outhouse.' Take away the roar of planes taking off from the nearby airport. Take away the paved
bike path. Take away the paved road.' Now you have the quiet pre-bridge native islander community of Baygall, and the simple gray building on a dirt road that was Cherry Hill School.' That gray building was Phoebe Driessen's
school.' Driessen attended the first through sixth grades there, beginning in 1939. Her father collected money to buy the land on which the school was built by walking door to door, asking for donations. Then he sent Driessen and her
five brothers and six sisters there.' Driessen decided, while sitting in class with the other two first-graders who attended the school, that she would grow up to be just like her gracious teacher from St. Helena Island.' "She
was so quiet and so refined," Driessen remembered. "If you didn't understand, she worked with you until you understood. She never got disgusted or tired. She never gave up."' Now, Driessen is a retired teacher, having taught for 30 years
on Hilton Head and in Hardeeville.' It's no wonder that, during the restored schoolhouse's dedication in 1985, Driessen read a poem by George Pope Morris:' "Woodman spare that tree! Touch not a single bough; In youth it sheltered
me, and I'll protect it now."' Cherry Hill School is dear to Driessen, and so is a certain little table inside. ' Past the cast-iron wood stove and the screened-off flue of the chimney that now holds bird nests each summer, past
the varnished walls, which still bear the outlines of old chalkboards, stands a table hidden under a plastic yellow tablecloth.' It's child-sized, wooden and unvarnished. It looks out of sync with all of the Formica folding tables and
vinyl-padded chairs, but it belongs in the schoolhouse. That's Driessen's first-grade table.' One Sunday in the mid-1980s, when St. James Baptist Church was restoring the schoolhouse, Driessen arrived at Sunday school to find her table
outside.' In its wobbly, aged condition, it appeared to be on its way to a dump. ' "You have to bring that table back inside," she told a church member. "I sat at that table."' Before long, the unsteady legs were
strengthened and the table returned to its proper place. ' SCHOOLS DISAPPEAR' No other one-room native islander school on the island survived the years.' In 1954, when a modern elementary school opened near what's now the
Gullah Bookstore on William Hilton Parkway, the three native islander schools besides Driessen's began their journeys to extinction.' The intrigue of the new consolidated school, Hilton Head Elementary, was intense, said Johnnie
Mitchell, who attended it as a 6-year-old. Children were dazzled by a place so state-of-the-art that you could have classes, cook lunch and use the restroom -- all in the same building. ' "It was like the first space trip," she said. "We
had changed from rural to urban."' All four native islander schools shut down simultaneously so students could attend the new school, said the Rev. Isaac Wilborn, who served as the first principal.' Driessen's school in Baygall
closed, along with those in Chaplin, Jonesville and Squire Pope. ' All of the schools except Driessen's sat on the property of wealthy landowners, native islander Perry White said. The buildings became the property of the landowners when
they stopped functioning as schools. ' Only Cherry Hill School was different, White said. Native islanders owned the land on which it stood. ' The school was built in 1936. A parent on the island wrote a letter to Beaufort County
officials requesting a school for the Baygall area. The county agreed to build one if parents in the community would buy the property for it. ' Because of this, the school remained standing while the other native islander schools
disappeared. In 1961, the schoolhouse legally became part of St. James Baptist Church. ' THEN AND NOW' Cherry Hill School is the last reminder of a time in Hilton Head's history when a handful of one-room schools could serve the
educational needs of all of the island's children.' When the consolidated school opened, two years before the bridge to the island, Hilton Head had only 190 children in grades one through six, Wilborn said.' This year, 5,759
island residents are enrolled in the island's public schools and in private schools St. Francis Catholic School, Hilton Head Preparatory School and Hilton Head Christian Academy.' In the past 50 years, public schools have expanded to
offer kindergarten through 12th grade and have become integrated. Two colleges now offer classes on the island, and by 1995, more than 20 day-care centers also were operating.