From the Island News By Hannah Dockery Tucked back off of Betsy Kerrison Parkway, surrounded by oaks and tulip poplars and azalea bushes, rest the memories of life on Johns Island from centuries ago. Travel back to 1870 and take a walk through Walnut Hill School House, a one room building used to educate white children living on the southwestern end of Johns Island. You’re likely to find students sitting on benches, writing on chalkboard slabs while listening to their teacher lecture on arithmetic, spelling, or literature. No calculators. No electricity. No projectors or overheads or whiteboards. The building may seem small and simple now, but back then, it contained a world full of knowledge. Long after the days of the Civil War, Walnut Hill continued to educate students until the 1930s, when it began being used as a courthouse. Around the same time, the former schoolhouse also operated as a newlywed home, explains Colin Cuskley, founder of the Johns Island Conservancy. “Couples would get married and before they had a place of their own, they would live here,” he says. “If the building needed to be used as a courthouse, they would just slide the furniture out of the way.” Visit the building today, and you will find the property has been brilliantly restored into a Johns Island Museum, containing artifacts, books, and artwork from across the ages. Walk by the back window and you’ll find beer bottles used by Union soldiers. Old textbooks rest alongside the teacher’s curriculum. Shards of painted glass from nineteenth century pottery on display still look just as beautiful. It all echoes the rich history running through the veins of the island. The schoolhouse museum is an area treasure, preserving pieces of history that otherwise could have easily been forgotten. To get the building in the shape that it is now was largely by happenstance and a lot of goodwill. In 1991, the old Walnut Hill School, which originally rested near Pumpkin Hill Road, was going to be torn down as a part of a road-widening project. “I hate seeing special buildings like that destroyed, so I had to do something about it,” explains Betty Stringfellow, granddaughter of William Andell, of Andell Plantation. Stringfellow obtained the rights to the building and had it relocated to her property, where it currently resides. In 2001, the schoolhouse began operating as a museum, but it closed down in 2010; thanks to the work of the Johns Island Conservancy, and Stringfellow’s dedication, volunteers dug deep to clean up the place and enhance the exhibits, reopening the museum last year. Ninety-one year old Stringfellow is as much a Johns Islander as the island itself. Her grandparents, William and Margaretha Andell, moved from Germany to Johns Island in the 1870s. In 1880, the Andell’s purchased the island. Stringfellow’s mother, Marie Andell Hamilton, attended Walnut Hill School as a young girl. “Mama used to ride her horse with her brothers to school,” Stringfellow says. “They wanted her to ride side-saddle like a lady, but she never did cause she would fall off or couldn’t keep up!” On Saturday, February 16, Stringfellow joined Cuskley and the Johns Island Conservancy to kick off a special exhibit at the museum entitled, “The Tree of Life.” The display features special photography showcasing the history of African-Americans on Johns Island from the late 1800s through the Civil Rights Movement. Working with several other volunteers and in conjunction with the Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston, Cuskley got together the display of fascinating photos, quotes, and music from the book Ain’t You Got a Right to the Tree of Life by Candie and Guy Carawan. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that from the 1870s until the 1940s, life didn’t change for African Americans on Johns Island a whole lot,” Cuskley explains. “It really wasn’t until the bridges started coming up that we began to see things change.” People will continue to come to Johns Island, Kiawah, and Seabrook for years to come. Its luscious beauty and beaches attract many from all over the world. But next time you’re traveling down Betsy Kerrison, take time to stop in the Walnut Hill Schoolhouse. You’ll be surprised at what all there is to learn. The Johns Island Scholhouse Museum is located at 4455 Betsy Kerrison Parkway, just before Freshfields Village. The Tree of Life exhibit will be on display on Saturday (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) and Sunday (noon – 4 p.m.) through March 17. The exhibit is also open weekdays by appointment. For more information, visit www.jicsc.org or call 637-4160.