This school building in historic Hartsville was built in 1926 to replace the former Hartsville Grammar School that burned on this site the year before. The second school, designed by Florence architects William J. Wilkins and Frank Vincent Hopkins, was named Thornwell Elementary School for Dr. J.H. Thornwell, the acting school superintendent who served the Hartsville School District in that capacity from 1919 through 1944. Prior to the desegregation of Darlington County schools in 1970, black students in Hartsville attended Butler School.
The school sits adjacent to another former public school building, the Hartsville Public School. That school served local white high school students from 1909 until 1925 when a new Hartsville High School was built on West Carolina Avenue. Thornwell Elementary School operated until 2007 when the Thornwell School of the Arts, a magnet elementary school, was established in the second Hartsville High School building. In 2010 the Darlington County School Board elected to donate this former school building to the Darlington County Community Action Agency for future use as a Head Start center. The organization also owns the adjacent Hartsville Public School as well as the Butler School.
Thornwell Elementary School is listed in the National Register as part of the East Home Avenue District:
The East Home Avenue Historic District is significant for its association with the residential development of Hartsville from ca. 1850 to ca. 1938; as a reflection of the diverse architectural styles and influences of that period; and for its association with the leading figures of the town’s history. Home Avenue has historically been the major residential street in Hartsville since it was laid out and landscaped in 1890. This district specifically illustrates the residential and commercial/industrial growth of Hartsville for the period ca. 1890 to ca. 1938. The district is a collection of 60 primarily residential properties, 54 of which contribute to the historic character of the district and 6 which are non-contributing. Architectural styles and influences include Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Craftsman, and Bungalow.