Historic Harrington School
Historic Harrington School
Come and tour the Historic Harrington School
291 South Harrington Road, St. Simons Island
Tuesday – Friday
10AM – 2PM
The Historic Harrington School, formerly known as the Harrington Graded School, was built in the 1920s and served as the main educational structure for three African American communities on St. Simons Island. It hosted grades 1-7 until desegregation in the 1960s when students left to attend St. Simons Elementary. In 1968 it was converted to a day care center and used for this purpose until 1970.
Over the years, the school house was much more than just a place to learn. The community gathered here for Halloween apple-bobbing parties in the fall, plays and covered-dish dinners, and visits by Santa and Christmas exchanges. In the spring, there were Easter activities, the plaiting of the Maypole, the prom and graduation. Community organizations such as the Harrington Parent-Teacher Association and the Harrington Civic Club also utilized the building for meetings and fundraising events.
Some Historical Points
- The Harrington Community was settled by emancipated slaves who had worked on the plantations on St. Simons Island.
- Many of the residents were former slaves who had worked for the Coupers and the Goulds. The settlement land was formerly property of the Demere family.
- Census data from 1900, 1910 and 1920 reveal a vital African American community of sawmill workers and carpenters. Many of the children were listed as “at school.” Many of the residents could read and write.
- July 1919 Glynn County Bd of Education moved to go ahead with three Rosenwald Schools (schools funded by Sears Chairman Julius Rosenwald for rural Af Am communities.) Designs developed in cooperation with Tuskegee.
- A 1920 survey of Brunswick and Glynn County Schools by U.S. Bureau of Education recommended that a Rosenwald school or similar plan be built for colored students on SSI. Harrington School House closely resembles One Teacher Community School Plan.
- In the 1930s interviewers from the Georgia Writers Unit of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) came to St. Simons Island,. Their report published as Drums and Shadow describe Harrington’s homes and residents. Among those interviewed was Harrington resident Ben Sullivan, son of Belali, butler to James Couper at Altama.
- Lorenzo Dow Turner interviewed Harrington resident Belle Murray for his study of Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (1949). Murray was a member of the Wing family as was Isadora Hunter who donated land to St. Simons Land Trust in 2004 to preserve the schoolhouse. Turner recorded several songs for Lydia Parrish, author of Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands.
- A photo of Harrington School published in Parrish’s Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands (1942; reprint UGA Press). Photographer Foresta Hodgson Wood.
- In 1961 Alan Lomax filmed the original Georgia Sea Island Singers at the Camp located between North and South Harrington Road. These recording are part of the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Folkways collection.
- The 1974 movie Conrack starring Jon Voight was filmed on SSI at Harrington School. Based on Pat Conroy’s book The Water is Wide about his experience as a young white teacher teaching Gullah-Geechee children on Daufuskie Island, S.C.
- In the 1990s, pressure by developers caused many African American homes and property in Harrington to be sold for subdivisions. Residents who did not want to sell their heritage put up yellow “Don’t Ask/Won’t Sell” signs in their yards. Isadora Hunter chose to donate her portion of land to the St. Simons Land Trust so that (in May 2004) the SSLT and Glynn County could purchase and preserve from developers the one-room school house and 12 surrounding acres of “sun-dappled forests and ponds.”
Harrington Listed as 2011 Places In Peril
The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s Places in Peril program seeks to identify significant historic, archaeological and cultural properties that are threatened by demolition, deterioration or insensitive public policy or development, and have a demonstrable level of community interest, commitment and support. The ten Places in Peril are selected for listing based on several criteria. Sites must be listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places or the Georgia Register of Historic Places. Sites must be subject to a serious threat to their existence or historical, architectural and/or archeological integrity. there must be a demonstrable level or community commitment and support for the preservation of listed sites.
Lomax Recorded IN the Schoolhouse
In 1959 British folk singer Shirley Collins accompanied Alan Lomax (folklorist whose recordings with his father John helped develop the Library of Congress’ Archive of American Folk Song ) on his trip through the south to record traditional folk music. She wrote about their trip in her book America Over the Water. In chapter 21 “Georgia Sea Island of St. Simons” pages 165-170 she described meeting and recording John Davis, Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers. Imagine my delight reading this paragraph:
“The music was superb, the conditions difficult. We were working in the old school house, and Alan said it was worse than recording inside a barrel. For two nights we worked there, taking bottles of bourbon and crates of Coca Cola to keep everyone going. The nights were hot and sultry. One night, after we’d opened up the windows to let in some much-needed air, I counted moths that flew in and settled, and gave up at over four hundred.”
This is very exciting because it means that those 1959 recordings at the Library of Congress were made in the Harrington School — a historical note that contributes greatly to our efforts to restore the building!! You can hear those recordings at ACE website www.culturalequity.org.
Schoolhouse featured on Voice of America
To read and/or listen to a story about the Harrington School broadcast by VOA click below.
Clarification to VOA presentation: Acting independently, three board members of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society — Patty Deveau, Rawson Gordon and Ron Upshaw — requested a second opinion from historic preservationists on whether or not the schoolhouse was “beyond repair.”
St. Simons schoolhouse remains a landmark
January 2017 Update
Featured on WTLV TV’s First Coast Living segment on Jan 19th.
December 2016 Update