YORK — Local and state leaders will commemorate the 160-year history of McCelvey Center March 16 with a ceremony for the placement of a state historical marker. The marker will commemorate the former site of the Yorkville Female Institute and York Graded School.
Anne Allison was fresh out of then-Winthrop College when she began teaching at the York Graded School in 1947. She and three other women, she said, were the first unmarried teachers in York schools.
The principal was a Citadel graduate named George C. McCelvey, and the school was later named McCelvey Elementary School, in honor of his leadership from 1912 to 1948.
“He was such a wonderful man,” Allison said. “He was strict, and I can still hear his voice in the hall, saying, ‘Boy, where you going?’ Everybody could hear it down the hall. He was military, and that’s the way he carried it out.”
Allison said she has good memories of her two years at the school that is now McCelvey Center. And so do generations of former students, many of whom still stop by to visit and reminisce.
On March 16, local and state leaders will commemorate the 160-year history of McCelvey Center with a dedication ceremony for the placement of a South Carolina historical marker.
The 11 a.m. marker unveiling will include music by York Comprehensive High School band and choral groups and remarks by former McCelvey principal Bill Plaxco, Mayor Eddie Lee and former Congressman John Spratt, among others.
One side of the marker will share the history of the Yorkville Female Institute; the other will be about the York Graded School. The marker is presented by the CHM and Yorkville Historical Society.
The school was built by Bethel Presbytery, which founded the Yorkville Female Collegiate Institute in 1853 and built the three-story brick building on East Jefferson Street. Over the next 134 years, the school underwent a series of changes, until the last school bell rang there on June 4, 1987.
Nancy Sambets, a Culture and Heritage Museum archivist who has compiled a history of McCelvey and who works in the building, said she meets many former students who return to visit.
“They have very fond memories,” Sambets said. “And a lot of former students remember the room they were in and who their teacher was. A lot of students went through here.”
The Yorkville Female Collegiate Institute taught a general curriculum of spelling, reading, geography, music and French, according to Sambets. Tuition ranged from $6 for spelling to $10 for embroidery and $20 for piano.
In 1867, according to Sambets, the institute became a boarding school, and in 1879, the integrated high school was opened to boys who could attend as day students. After South Carolina passed an act in 1888 to organize free public schools, the Yorkville Graded School opened in 1889 for first through sixth grades and a “higher school.”
In 1900, the building was destroyed when the chimney caught fire, and the school was rebuilt on its original foundations. It reopened in 1903 with modern electricity, steam heating and plumbing.
It continued as the York Graded School, and the theater and east wing were added in 1922, according to Sambets. When a new York high school was built in 1951, the school became York Elementary, and an annex was built in 1956 for grades one to three.
Michael Scoggins, a historian for the Culture and Heritage Museum who works at McCelvey, attended sixth grade there during the 1964-65 school year, after the building was named McCelvey Elementary. His former classroom is just down the hall from where he works today.
“It was an important year. There was a lot happening that year,” said Scoggins, who recalls first hearing about the Vietnam War that year. The space shuttle Gemini also was in the news, he said.
Scoggins said the school had no air conditioning, and used a boiler system for heat. “When the weather got hot, you opened up the windows,” he said. For heat, a janitor named Willie shoveled coal into a boiler.
Scoggins and other children played ball in a ballfield located behind McCelvey. And he and two brothers rode a school bus about an hour each way from their home near the York County line.
Eventually, the enrollment outgrew the building, according to Sambets, and classes were relocated to other schools. The school closed in 1987. It is now owned by the CUM, and it continues to serve as a historical center and a community performance and special events venue.