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Penn Center, St. Helena Island, South Carolina

Discover the rich history, heritage and culture of the Gullah Geechee people in Penn Center Historic District during a bus tour to Beaufort. Tucked in the heart of the South Carolina Sea Islands, Penn Center, often called Penn School is situated on St. Helena Island and was founded in 1862, three years before the Civil War ended.  Comprised of nineteen buildings, Penn Center is one of the oldest historically significant African-American cultural and educational institutions in America and the site of one of the nation’s first schools for freed slaves.

old photograph of Penn Center

Penn Center, important part of Black History

Penn School Sign, St. Helena Island

Penn School, African American History

The Penn Center on St. Helena Island

The Penn Center on St. Helena Island

The Penn Center on St. Helena Island

Penn Center - Entrance

Penn Center Grounds St. Helena Island

Penn Center Grounds St. Helena Island

old photograph of Penn Center Penn Center, important part of Black History
Penn School Sign, St. Helena Island Penn School, African American History
The Penn Center on St. Helena Island The Penn Center on St. Helena Island
The Penn Center on St. Helena Island Penn Center - Entrance
Penn Center Grounds St. Helena Island Penn Center Grounds St. Helena Island

Exploring and Shopping at the York W. Bailey Museum

Start your time at Penn Center in the York W. Bailey Museum, named after graduate and first African-American medical doctor to serve St. Helena and neighboring islands. Opened in 1994, the museum is the first African-American museum in Beaufort County to interpret the history of Penn Center and the Gullah Geechee community in the Sea Islands.  Take a look at the stories of the Gullah people whose lives were changed by Penn Center in the Education for Freedom exhibit and in the museum’s other galleries. Don’t forget to visit the York W. Bailey Gift Shop and Book Store to shop traditional and contemporary Gullah arts and crafts.

 

So Much to See at Penn Center

From the York W. Bailey Museum, the first museum in Beaufort County to interpret the history of Penn School Historic District to Gant Cottage where Martin Luther King Jr. once lodged, explore some of the most significant sights in Penn Center during your time in the district.

Baptist Church

Situated in Penn Center, the brick Baptist Church’s history past is woven into the rich tapestry of African-American culture and history of the South Carolina Sea Islands. Built in 1855 from mortar and bricks, it is the oldest church on St. Helena Island and served as a school for over 130 of the first freed slaves in the United States of America. More than a century and a half later, the Baptist Church is still standing and serves as a place of worship.

Old Burial Grounds

After you’ve explored the Baptist Church, don’t forget to tour the Old Burial Grounds of the first African Baptist Church containing 19th- century headstones, ledger stones and obelisks. The oldest tombs, enclosed in rectangles and made from tabby are easy to spot.

Darrah Hall

Built in 1903, Darrah Hall is the oldest and most historically significant building on St. Helena Island. While it was once used by Penn School, today Darrah Hall is known for hosting meetings, weddings, reunions and other receptions.

Gantt Cottage

Step into the 1960s at Gantt Cottage, the very place where Martin Luther King Jr. met with staff to discuss their role in the successful 1963 Great March on Washington. Gantt Cottage is also known as the location where King composed his first draft of his famous I Have a Dream speech.