This crumbling wooden school house in Centenary is said to be the oldest remaining in Marion County. It was built during the late nineteenth century at the site of a Baptist church, which no longer exists. Sources vary on the building date of the school, with some claiming circa 1870 and others stating 1887. Both the school and the church’s cemetery are named for David W. Palmer, a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives.
David’s father, William G. Palmer, Sr., arrived to Georgetown from Ireland in 1795 and purchased 92 acres along Cypress Creek near the Little Pee Dee River. David became a cotton farmer and, at his death, owned 20 slaves and 1,500 acres of land. He also served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1840 through 1842. Some sources say he died in 1842, while others say 1844. He is thought to be interred in the Palmer Cemetery in an unmarked grave near his father, mother, and first wife, Sarah Allston Taylor.
In 1841 Palmer’s nephew, Pinkney Palmer (sometimes spelled Pinckney), asked David and David’s son-in-law, William Fladger Richardson, to erect a Baptist church and cemetery on this site. Richardson was married to Palmer’s daughter, Elizabeth. David Palmer had six children with his first wife, who died in 1838. He and his second wife, also named Sarah, had two more children. Records indicate that Palmer family members were interred at this site even before the land was officially conveyed to Palmer. For example, David Palmer’s first wife is buried here; she died three years before Palmer and Richardson received the land.
While the Baptist church that once stood on this site is no longer standing, a school house, which opened at least by 1887 and was known as the Palmer School, remains. It operated until the 1920s, and one source claims it taught local white students from first through eighth grades. However, a personal account, transcribed below, states that the two-teacher school did not acknowledge grade levels. The Palmer School is considered the first public school in Marion County. Palmer family members established a trust for the perpetual upkeep of both the school and the cemetery.
A project of the Works Progress Administration, the Federal Writers’ Project, was established in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt to compile the local histories of people around the country. As part of the Federal Writers’ Project, the South Carolina Writers’ Project recorded the following interview of Mr. Wilbur White, a farmer in Marion County, in 1938. Mr. White says the following about his experiences at the Palmer School:
In my childhood days, I went to Palmer School, near Centenary, and managed to pick up a right good little scattering of learning. A hundred pupils were enrolled in the school, though there were no standards at all to speak of. It was one of these old time two-teacher schools with no grades, no reports, and no promotions. One of the best teachers I ever had, I remember, was wild as a turkey but smart as he could be. I know I learned more from that man than I ever expect any of my three children to learn from these educated teachers today. In my high school days, I went to the old Centenary school, which was graded and reports sent out quarterly to our parents.
My children don’t have any idea about the kind of school I used to go to. When I was a kid, I didn’t think a thing of walking three miles to school every day, rain or shine, hot or cold. With my dinner in a tin pail and my three books thrown in my little homemade sack, I would leave home every morning by daylight and I never recall getting home in the late afternoon that I couldn’t see our old kerosene lamp burning through the window from a good distance down the road. Now, my children catch the bus right at our own door about eight o’clock in the morning and ride three miles to a fine school in the town of Marion in no time. They get out of school at two o’clock.
Click here for a list of interments at Palmer Cemetery.
Note: We have researched the Palmer School extensively, and we are actively seeking more information or personal accounts. If you can add to this entry in the South Carolina Picture Project, please let us know. Thank you!
Palmer School: Interior Photos