Port Royal Elementary listed on National Register of Historic Places

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Port Royal Elementary School’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places was officially recognized today when a plaque was unveiled at the school by town and school district officials.

Beaufort County Board of Education Chairman Bill Evans, Superintendent Jeff Moss and Port Royal Elementary Principal Chavon Brown joined Town of Port Royal officials who had coordinated the national recognition effort.

A unanimous vote last year by the 15-member South Carolina Board of Review for the National Register of Historic Places sent Port Royal’s nomination to the U.S. National Park Service, which made the final decision.  The state review board comprises architects, historians, archaeologists and public officials from across the state.

Historic Port Royal Foundation President Jim Crower (left) and Port Royal Elementary School Principal Chavon Brown uncover a plaque designating the school’s historic status at ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 13.
Historic Port Royal Foundation President Jim Crower (left) and Port Royal Elementary School Principal Chavon Brown uncover a plaque designating the school’s historic status at ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 13.

The national nomination effort was coordinated by the Town of Port Royal, the Historic Port Royal Foundation and the Beaufort County School Board.  The delegation that attended last year’s state review board meeting prior to the nomination included Town Manager Van Willis, town council members Joe Lee and Tom Klein, Board of Education Chair Bill Evans and school Assistant Principal Clay Fowler.

While the exact opening date of Port Royal Elementary is not known, the handwritten deed that transferred the property from the town to the school district is dated September 1910.  The building’s cornerstone indicates that it was constructed in 1911, and the school celebrated its 100th birthday in 2011.  The original building held six classes in three classrooms, as well as a library with three bookshelves.

Historian and preservationist Eric Plaag said that the building has both architectural and historical significance.

“The original Port Royal school was designed by Wilson and Sompayrac, an architectural firm that was famous in South Carolina back around the turn of the century, and that 1911 building is still essentially intact,” Plaag said.  “There were additions made in 1954 and 2002.”

Plaag said the school’s historical significance involves the confluence of two major transitional events in the 1950s: the American military build-up during the Cold War and South Carolina’s efforts to maintain segregated schools by building “separate-but-equal” schools for African-American students.

“The school district used federal impact aid money to expand the Port Royal school and accommodate growing numbers of military families moving into the area,” he said.  “Then it used state money to build ‘equalization schools’ outside of Port Royal to serve African-American students.”

“Separate-but-equal” schools were later ruled unconstitutional in the landmark U.S Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.  A South Carolina case, Briggs v. Elliott, was the first of five state-level cases combined into the Brown decision.

“This is an exciting day,” said Town Councilman Klein. “Port Royal has a rich and colorful history, and our community’s century-old school is a living symbol of that history.  This national designation validates that it’s something worth protecting.”

School Board Chairman Evans said the district was pleased to partner with town officials in the designation effort.

“Port Royal Elementary enjoys tremendous support from the town,” Evans said, “and that support is a key reason for its success.”