Situated 5 miles south of Beaufort, St. Helena Island is a beautiful and historically significant site. The heart of Gullah culture, President Barack Obama made history in 2016 when he designated four historic landmarks on St. Helena’s Island as the only Reconstruction Era Monuments and National Park under the U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service. Learn more about the Presidential Proclamation here.
St. Helena Island is connected by causeway from Lady’s Island, in the northern part of Beaufort County. Penn Center is located here, a national landmark site with a museum, conference center, frequent educational and cultural exhibits and events and housing for group activities. Ruins of a chapel, historic churches and praise houses also lend character to the island. Fine dining and shopping, especially for local folk art, are additional draws of St. Helena.
Reconstruction Era National Monuments
Penn Center Historic District
16 Penn Circle W
Tucked in the heart of the South Carolina Sea Islands surrounded by glimmering marshes and nestled beneath the silvery moss-draped limbs of massive live oaks, is Penn Center. It is the site of the former Penn School, one of the country’s first schools for freed slaves.
Penn Center is one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today. We are located on St. Helena Island, one of the most beautiful and historically distinct of the South Carolina Sea Islands, and at the heart of Gullah culture.
Built in 1855 by slaves for their owners and established as one of the first schools for freed slaves. In October 1862, Laura M. Towne and Ellen Murray, Penn School co-founders, opened their school at The Oaks Plantation with nine students, and later moved to Brick Baptist Church when enrollment increased to 132 students. Charlotte Forten, the first African-American teacher, taught at Penn School until 1864.The Museum at Parris Island