The historic John de la Howe School is the oldest educational institution in South Carolina for children under college age. 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 now 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. He built his home, which he labeled Lethe Plantation, after the mythological Greek river of forgetfulness. Perhaps he wished 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.
Dr. de la Howe died in 1797 at age 80, leaving his estate “to establish an agricultural or farm school. The yearly income was to be used to feed, clothe and educate 12 poor boys and 12 poor girls in Abbeville County.” His tomb area and surrounding old-growth forest were named a National Natural Landmark by the National Parks Service in 1976. 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. Built in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the scenic granite structure served as the school’s dairy for many years and has been used for special events. The barn is located on the Nature Route of the S.C. National Heritage Corridor. The school itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.