John de la Howe School Dairy Barn

The phrase “best kept secret” is misused so often that I won’t drag it out again to describe the John de la Howe School.

The truth, however, is that the John de la Howe School isn’t likely to come up in conversation among people discussing the Palmetto State’s fascinating history. Yet, its founder and namesake Dr. John de la Howe, who arrived in Charleston before the American Revolution, made an enduring mark on the state and left a legacy of compassion that has survived for 221 years.

I’m new to the John de la Howe campus, though not new to having heard about the school. The Coordinator of Public Relations and Marketing, I grew up in Greenwood and knew about the school and its founder. I visited the campus years ago, but it wasn’t until I came here for an interview in November that I realized how incredibly special this place is and fell in love with the school and its mission.

In my first couple of weeks here, I’ve read alumnus Tony Warren’s “Lethe” and “Still Caring, Still Dreaming” by the school’s Bicentennial History Committee. I’ve tried to do as much research as possible.

I’ve compiled a list of brags about the school and know that there are many more. I hope that those of you reading this will email your suggestions to me. These hallowed grounds are rich with history, and the success of John de la Howe alumni have made South Carolina the remarkable place that we love!

Our brags begin here:

A Tradition of Compassion: The will of Dr. John de la Howe, a French physician who emigrated to Charleston and later lived in South Carolina’s Upstate, provided for the establishment of a “farm school” for 24 “orphan children” from Abbeville County. Over the years, the John de la Howe School has expanded to serve children throughout the state.

Manual Training for Youth: The John de la Howe School is the oldest manual training foundation in America for youth. The creation of a Magnet School of Agriculture would build on this historic foundation and become the first statewide Magnet School of Agriculture in the United States.

Educating Children: South Carolina has a proud heritage of educating its young people. Established in 1797 to provide a home and an education for orphans, the John de la Howe School is the longest-running educational institution in South Carolina for children ages 6 – 18. The College of Charleston has the distinction of being the state’s first educational institution for college-age youth.

Service to the State: 2018 marks 100 years that the John de la Howe School has proudly served the people of South Carolina as a state agency.

Historic: The John de la Howe School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

No Ordinary Barn: The distinctive granite Dairy Barn is the only barn in the Palmetto State to feature Dutch-architecture style. It was built in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration.

Naturally Historic: The 135 acres of land surrounding the school, called the “Museum Tract,” was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976 by the National Park Service. This area contains the largest shortleaf pine stand in the world and is the only “virgin forest” of its kind remaining in South Carolina.

Surrounded by the Sumter National Forest, the John de la Howe property boasts many of the same natural resources, including timber, wildlife and waterways.

A Protected Environment: Although large areas of shortleaf pine trees in the Southeast have been eradicated by a soil-borne fungus known as “little leaf disease” (i.e. Phytophthora cinnaniomi rands), the same types of pine trees at John de la Howe have escaped its ravages. A 1960 article in the Journal of Forestry noted that the fungus does exist at JDLH.  However, “the soil is drastically different. The topsoil has not been lost through erosion. The soil is porous, mellow, and deep – the proper habitat is provided for organisms that act against P. cinnamomi to hold it in check.” The article went on to commend trustees of the de la Howe School, who “had the foresight to preserve a tract of old-growth shortleaf pine in the Carolina Piedmont.”

Historic Path: The John de la Howe School and Dairy Barn are along the S.C. National Heritage Corridor, which spans 17 counties from the Appalachian Mountains to Charleston.

A Bountiful Inheritance: The John de la Howe School resides on a wealth of land and resources. Today, the school comprises 1,310 acres, including forestry land, wildlife openings, ponds, the historic John de la Howe Tomb Area, farming areas and a beautiful campus which includes administration areas and residential facilities for youth.

An American Patriot: Because he served on the battlefields to tend soldiers during the Seven Years’ War in Europe and saw the ravages of battle, Dr. de la Howe was reluctant to support the colonists in the American Revolution. However, when called upon, he provided medical care for South Carolina’s Revolutionary soldiers. His property was seized by the British, and he was imprisoned.

“Still Caring, Still Dreaming”: Since Dr. John de la Howe’s will established a school and home for “12 orphan boys and 12 orphan girls” in 1797, the school’s administrators, staff and alumni have worked to uphold his legacy. The school has endured wars, the Great Depression and changing fortunes; yet, its commitment to the education and well-being of thousands of South Carolina’s children over 221 years has never faltered.

Submitted by Karen Petit (