The former Coulter Memorial Academy in Cheraw was established by the Reverend J.P. Crawford in 1881 as the first school in Chesterfield County to serve African-American children. It was founded by the Presbyterian Church USA in conjunction with Second Presbyterian Church, now called G.W. Long Memorial Presbyterian Church.
The school, which only had a few students when it began, originally met in the first building to house Second Presbyterian Church. In 1924 a brick building was constructed behind the church to be used as the Coulter Memorial School under the direction of Dr. G.W. Long, minister of the church as well as principal of the school during that time. Dr. Long and his wife, Lillian, worked to better the school, whose student population increased under their leadership from eight students in 1908 – the year the Longs arrived – to around 500 in 1943, the year of Dr. Long’s death. From 1933 through 1947 the school offered junior college credit, and in 1949 it merged with the public school system. The acendemy closed in 1955, and today the building is the home of the Freemasons’ Sanctorum Lodge Number 25.
The Coulter Memorial Academy is listed in the National register as part of the Cheraw Historic District:
Around 1736 Welsh Baptists came to South Carolina and settled in the Pee Dee region. In 1766 Eli Kershaw, who had been given a grant of land along the Pee Dee River, laid out the town of Cheraw. It was incorporated in 1820. Located at a key navigational point, Cheraw began to develop as a commercial center of interior South Carolina; however, the Civil War and Reconstruction temporarily halted this progress. For a time development was impeded and rebuilding was delayed. Although the town eventually prospered, much of its physical character remained unaltered.
The town of Cheraw also played an important role in South Carolina military history. During both the American Revolution and the Civil War, British and Union troops used St. David’s Episcopal Church as a hospital. The meeting house style church still stands today. Additionally in 1825, Revolutionary War figure Marquis de Lafayette stayed in Cheraw during his tour of the United States. Located within the district are a variety of architectural styles that include the early frame homes of the 1800s (often called upcountry farmhouses, or essentially I-House in type), antebellum structures with Classical Revival details and Greek Revival porticos, and Victorian houses from the turn of the century. The district also includes several churches, a cemetery, and the towns’ original boundary markers dating from 1766.
Reflections on Coulter Memorial Academy
Cheraw’s Director of Tourism and Community Development, David Sides, adds, “Coulter Memorial Academy was the first school for African Americans in Chesterfield County. Begun as a day school by the Reverend J.P. Crawford in 1881, the parochial school was sponsored by the Northern branch of the Presbyterian Church. The school became a co-educational boarding school with a high school and junior college. The academy had a peak enrollment of 509 in 1943, with students from five states in attendance. The school campus occupied much of the property along this section of Second Street including the land across the street from the academy – this included housing for the academy’s president and large gardens to provide all the vegetables to feed the students and school staff. The academy became a part of the public school system in 1949 and was last used as a school in 1955. It currently belongs to Sanctorum Lodge No. 25 (PHA). Also on this property and of special significance to Cheraw’s black history is the College Inn Restaurant. During the days of Coulter Academy, this establishment was the only place in town where blacks were welcomed to sit and enjoy a hamburger and a shake.”