John de la Howe School is the second oldest institution in the Carolinas, established in 1797 in accordance with the will of Dr. John de la Howe, a French physician who originally settled in Charleston at age 50 and eventually migrated to what is today McCormick County. Tradition places his birthplace in Abbeville, France, as he chose that name for the western tip of the Ninety Six District when counties in this portion of South Carolina were formed in 1785.
Dr. de la Howe acquired more than 2,000 acres between Long Cane Creek and Little River. There he built his home, which he labeled Lethe Plantation after the mythological Greek river of forgetfulness, perhaps wishing to forget his own past or cares. In 1857, historian William Moragne wrote:
“In a wild spot upon an eminence on the Eastern bank of the river, near some beautiful shoals, and about a mile above the French Town, this distinguished foreigner made for himself a delightful retreat, ornamented by artificial avenues of trees and shrubs of exotic and native growth – guarded by stone walls … The paved walks and planted avenues are yet visible, though they have experienced the neglect of more than half a century.”
Artifacts found in an archaeological dig at Dr. de la Howe’s home place are on display at the school today.
The physician died in 1797 at age 80, leaving his estate “to establish an agricultural or farm school, with the yearly income to be used to feed, clothe and educate 12 poor boys and 12 poor girls in Abbeville County.” His tomb and surrounding virgin forest are listed as a Registered Natural Landmark. Since 1918, John de la Howe School has been an agency of the State of South Carolina.
Also noteworthy from a historical perspective is the dairy barn at John de la Howe School. Built in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the scenic granite structure is used for special events and performances and is listed on the Heritage Corridor. The school is also listed in the “National Register of Historic Places.”