Bennett School | Williamsburg County, SC | c. 1910s or 1920s
This rural schoolhouse was built in the early 1900s with funds from a local man named Bennett who had lived in this area all of his life before starting a large family of his own.
William ‘Bennett’ McCullough was born on Ox Swamp along the Black River in Williamsburg County, SC on June 29, 1853.
His ancestors had come to the area in the 1700s from England and began to cultivate the fertile lands of the inland swamp that were productive for indigo and cotton planting.
The productive agricultural conditions, reliance on enslaved labor to cultivate the crops, and access to the Black River for shipping goods to Georgetown, SC, made this area attractive to planters in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Village of Salters is Founded
Bennett would live out his entire life in this region, eventually appearing in records in the village of Salters, SC, located just a few miles from where he was born. Salters was established by a prominent planter, William Salters, who first appeared in land records here around 1806.
His descendant, Capt. John Salters, saw an opportunity when the railroad came through in 1856. After tracks were laid along the eastern edge of his property, he arranged to have a depot built near his house.
This made it easier to ship his own crops out to bigger markets but also, opened the lots along the rails up for sale, so homes and commercial enterprises could be built. His efforts established the village of Salters, where Bennett McCullough, who was born a few miles away on Ox Swamp, would come to live out all of his years.
The Bennett McCullough Family
In December of 1874, Bennett (age 21), married Caroline Elizabeth Salters (age 16 or 17), a descendant of the town’s namesake. They would birth and raise 11 children in this community, beginning many new branches that still extend deep into Williamsburg County today.
And while I haven’t confirmed this, I suspect that it was Bennett’s large family that inspired him to build this schoolhouse just outside the town of Salters. Prior to this, community children would learn in private homes or sometimes in church buildings. But the beginning of the 1900s brought new opportunities to rural school children as schools like this one began to open.
The Bennett School Opens
In either the late 1910s or early 1920s, Bennett McCullough offered to put up the money for the lumber and parts needed to build this school, and as a sign of gratitude, the community came to call it the Bennett School in his honor.
In records from the 1922-23, 1924-25, and 1925-26 school years, I found mention of its school teacher, Wilhelmina McCullough Amaker, (likely a niece or cousin of Bennett) a widow who taught community children alongside her own son, James O. Amaker, here.
The interior of the building had a large classroom with a partial wall that created a separate but smaller communal area.The schoolhouse was a one-teacher school, meaning that Mrs. Amaker would teach all ages together in the same room by herself.
Bennett McCullough would pass away in 1928, a few years after it opened, but it continued to serve as a school until at least 1935.
Memories of the old school
As I researched this idyllic schoolhouse, I came across numerous accounts from locals who shared memories passed down from their parents who attended school here in the years it was open. One such story recounted the school days of one student, who lived on the adjacent property. Because he lived closest, it was his job to get to school before everyone else each day to light the fire in the pot-belly stove that would keep the students and teacher warm.
Unfortunately, its days as a school building were short-lived. A larger brick school house had been built closer to town in the 1920s and sometime between 1935-1940, the schools were consolidated into the brick building and the Bennett School was closed for good. After that it was converted into living space, offering shelter for many years to tenant families who farmed tobacco on the surrounding land. Today, it is used for storage.