Today this one-room schoolhouse stands on the grounds of the Aiken County Historical Museum. The school is believed to have been built circa 1890 in the nearby China Springs community. A Sandersville, Georgia resident named Mrs. Guerin Hermann donated the simple structure to the Aiken County Historical Commission in 1975.
The commission originally elected to relocate it to the campus of the Aiken County Vocational School, located on Highway 17 near Langley, as part of the nation’s Bicentennial Celebration. Students there restored and modified the schoolhouse, adding a front stoop and belfry, while the Pine Needle Garden Club from Thomson, Georgia landscaped the area around it. The schoolhouse was moved again in 1984. At its current location, it helps visitors learn about rural life in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
During the school’s early years, education in this part of the state was not compulsory, and school leaders worked hard to encourage enrollment. Nevertheless, the 1912 Annual Report by South Carolina’s State Superintendent of Education noted that during the previous year, China Springs was consolidated with nearby Windsor and Kitchings Mill schools. At the time, all of the schools in Aiken County had “new furniture and good equipment.”
For decades, China Springs maintained an active Home Demonstration Club (later known as 4-H). It was also the site of numerous community events, including “ice cream festivals,” Halloween parties, and Christmas gatherings. These events were advertised to the public and sometimes even included an orchestra. It is hard to imagine how so many people could fit into such a small space!
The events were often used to raise funds for the school. In 1938, for example, China Springs hosted a supper and play in order to earn money for a piano. The students must have been successful, because a few months later, on January 25, 1939, the Aiken Standard carried an ad from the school that read, “WANTED – one used piano in good condition.”
Likewise, as the clipping below shows, China Springs School put on a “box party” in order to purchase a Christmas tree. Although the box party featured an orchestra, the ad notes that dancing would be strictly prohibited. (Box parties were popular in the early part of nineteenth century. A women would make a meal for two and place it in a cardboard box, which she would then decorate. In turn, men would bid on these meals – and the opportunity to dine with the woman who made them!)
Over the years, the school was led by various teachers and principals. While we do not yet have a full list of the various educators, records show that Mrs. Annie Lou White served as principal in 1943, Mrs. E. P. Kennedy was the teacher in 1933, and Miss Annie Clyde Montgomery of Milledgeville, Georgia taught in 1924.
The school also held night classes for adults. They were held each weekday, even on Fridays, from 7 until 9 PM. Today the old schoolhouse rests next to the Frederick Ergle Cabin, thought to be the oldest dwelling in Aiken County.