History – Schools
The building of the railroad in 1830 caused towns to spring up along its route. The planters came in from the outlying areas and built homes closer together. A train station and post office were built, and merchants established stores. The town of Williston was granted a municipal charter on December 21st. 1858.
A large percent of the population was well-to-do and the education of their children was no problem. However, there were many who were financially unable to obtain any education. The prosperous ones employed governesses to live in their homes and teach their children. Eventually these children went away to further their education at an academy or institute for there were no facilities in Williston.
A turning point came in 1853 when Mr. H. M. Thompson, a Scotsman, opened a private school. Tuition was one dollar a month. Mr. Thompson was an excellent teacher, highly educated, cultured and refined. He married Miss Josephine Matthews whom he had taught.
Mr. Henry Johnson established a private school. He came to Williston from Charleston at the beginning of the Confederate War. He and Mr. Thompson were chiefly responsible for the education of Williston youth during the war and for several years thereafter. Mr. Johnson married Miss Linna Smith.
About 1873 property Formally owned by Elijah Willis was used to build a school building. The school was diagonally across Church street from the old Methodist Church site and across the street from the Williston Baptist Church.
The school was a one room frame building with a chimney at each end. A Mr. Murphy was the first teacher. He placed the boys at one end of the room and the girls at the other. The pupils sat upon long benches with no backs, The books used by the pupils were any that their parents happened to have. Mr. Murphy was paid by the parents.
The first ‘free’ school opened in Williston between 1870-1880. Mr. Sams, from Charleston, was the teacher. He met with some difficulty — no pupils. It was considered degrading not to pay for the education of one’s children.
In 1879 Mr. Henry Willis opened a long, one room school and an era of successful teaching began. The population had grown enough to require two teachers. Miss Lizzie Thompson, who later became Mrs. Preston Dicks, was the assistant to Mr. Willis. So great was Mr. Willis’ reputation as a teacher that boys and girls from other places boarded in Williston in order to attend his school. Abraham Lincoln’s nephew, George Todd, son of Dr. Todd in Barnwell, was one of Mr. Willis’ pupils.
There were other schools during this time. Miss Della Bell and Miss Tillie Johnson, who later became Mrs. Harry Trotti, had schools in their homes. A Miss O’ Bierne gave music lessons for twenty-five cents each. She used a piano in the home of Mr. T. F, S. Weathersbee and taught his daughter, Lucia, in exchange for her dinner.
In 1888, by action of the General Assembly, the Williston Graded School District was created and a local tax levy of two and one-half mills was placed on all real and personal property. This was for the purpose of operating a free public school. The first trustees were: Mr. T. F. S. Weathersbee, Mr. W. C. Smith, Mr. A. M. Weathersbee, Mr. J. C. Hair, Mr. E. L. Nixon, Mr. W. H. Kennedy and Mr. D. W. Key.
A Mr. Middleton was the first head of this public school and was assisted by Miss Lou Crossland and Miss Tillie Johnson. School was now held in the Woodbury house, which was later the home of Mrs. Jennie Lou Folk Robertson. Mr. Middleton left before the year was up and Mr. D. W. Key finished the term.
In 1890 a new two-story frame building was erected on the Church Street site. Mr. 0. Y. Perry, Miss Minnie Dicks and Miss Tillie Johnson comprised the faculty of this modern school.
Col. F. N. K, Bailey came to Williston in 1891 and revolutionized education in this area. His influence was widespread. He began taking boarding students in 1892 and had pupils from thirteen different counties. At first they were boarded in private homes, but later a large dormitory was built on Church St. The school was named the South Carolina Co educational Institute.
Financial support for operating the school six months in the year was derived from property tax, dog tax, poll tax, and the profit from the dispensary. Town students paid one dollar and twenty-five cents a month tuition. Boarding students paid whatever Professor Bailey arranged with their parents.
There were seven faculty members. Great stress was laid upon the Music Department. The 1895 catalog notes that ninety-six students were enrolled in the department of Piano, Voice, Mandolin and Wind Instruments. Mrs. F. N. K. Bailey was the Music Director.
Professor Bailey moved the Institute to Edgefield in 1898 and then to Greenwood as the Bailey Institute, where it was located for a long lime. before permanently closing.
The Williston High School occupied this same building. There were seven members in the graduating class of 1900: two boys and five girls. A reprint of this graduating class appeared in the December 26, 1968, Williston Way. Under the picture was this wording: The seven graduates of the Williston High School of 1900 with the Superintendent, James E Sanders É.Admiral Norman Murray Smith, Horace J. Crouch, Miss Daisy Willis, Mrs. Land Quattlebaum, Delphine Thompson; Mrs. Clarence J. Fickling. Maude Hair; Mrs. R. E. L. Stallings, Ada Black; and Miss Maude Harley.
Mr. Horace Crouch was the last surviving member of this class. He served as Barnwell County Superintendent of Education for 59 years, serving until his death in 1971.
In 1912 the two-story frame building was abandoned for the new two-story brick school building that was built on Springfield Road. This building was located to the right of the present day Library and Museum building which was built as an annex in 1921 to provide more classroom space and an office.
Williston School District was consolidated with eight other districts in 1925 and a modern high school was built in which serves as the present day Dist. 29 Administration building and auditorium.
The basement area of the 1912 School building on Springfield Rd. became the Town Swimming Pool, with part the former annex building being utilized as locker room/showers and a ‘Teen Canteen’ recreational facility.
A temporary school building was erected in 1952 when the Savannah River Plant was being built and thousands of people came to live for a time in Williston. This building and the old elementary school were dismantled after a new permanent elementary school was completed in 1953.
The Kelly-Edwards School was completed in 1954. It was one of the finest modern school buildings in the county and accommodated black students; first through the twelfth grade. The enrollment in 1969 was 719. Today the Kelly-Edwards facility serves as Williston’s Elementary school.