Editor’s Note: In order to have the most complete and accurate account of what Dillon Historic School Foundation Chairman Gerald Berry’s remarks at a hearing regarding the placement of a historical marker at J.V. Martin Jr. High School, The Herald is printing the remarks as released to The Herald by Chairman Berry.
PRESENTATION: J.V. MARTIN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL COMPLEX
Good morning to each of you.
I am Gerald Berry, Chairman of Dillon Historic School Foundation, and I speak to you today as the chosen representative for this group. We are present to offer our formal request and final support as our effort to gain recognition for the J. V. Martin Junior High School Complex as granted by the National Register of Historic Places with your approval, of course. This Complex includes the following four facilities on that campus located in historic downtown Dillon: The Dillon Graded School and the three additions to the original 1912 Dillon Public School – the auditorium, the gymnasium, and the cafeteria.
This your, Columbia Pictures released the movie, “The Monuments Men,” directed by George Clooney. It is an American-German film based on the non-fiction book of the same title, and it tells the story of a group of men who were “tasked with finding and saving pieces of art and other culturally important items before their destruction b Hitler during World War II.” These men risked their lives to save these items. One of them gave the following reason for this bravery: “People will die, and we will have no way of knowing their time on earth. But by saving their art, sculptures, books, and architectural treasures, the future generations can see, touch, and learn how they lived and who they were.”
Dillon County is one of South Carolina’s youngest counties and does not yet possess or publicly display significant collections of local art or literature. But, Dillon County does present exceptional examples of historic architecture – The Dillon Graded School (1896), East Elementary School, the Dillon Count Courthouse, the Dillon Count Agricultural Building, the Dillon High School Auditorium and Gymnasium (1936 by the Work Projects Administration), the United States Post Office, and many beautiful period homes and churches throughout the area.
All of these must be saved if Dillon County’s future generations are to learn the history of our county and appreciate the visions of those who, more than a century ago, laid the foundations and shaped the community that we live in today and that we must now Respect, Protect, and Preserve. All of these must be saved for an equally important reason: When newcomers arrive in our town, they must become immediately aware that the town’s population also includes those who value local history and who share a diversity of interests in architecture, aesthetics, and cultural arts.
Quite some years ago, a number of Dillon’s citizens expressed a strong interest in this protection and preservation of our local heritage and, thereby, insuring our town a healthier future through enhancing the quality-of-life and projecting a renewed sense of growing optimism. Many of these citizens focused their attention on the restoration of the former high school auditorium – a once-beautiful, fully functional facility that had been neglected and allowed to fall into a lamentable state of disrepair and abandonment. Knowing of this public interest, the District Superintendent, Ray Rogers, made the following statement in the September 27, 2007 edition of The Dillon Herald: “…there are some people who have expressed an interest in renovating the J.V. Martin auditorium with private funds…that would be fantastic.”
Then, subscribing to the philosophy of Respect, Protect, and Preserve, a group (Dillon Historic School Advocacy) was organized in 2010 under the leadership of Mr. Don Barclay with the expressed purpose of preserving the four historic buildings of the J.V. Martin Complex and to begin investigating the application processes necessary for including the site on the National Register of Historic Places.
After DSHA’s organizational meeting, the group met with Dillon District 2 Superintendent Ray Rogers to discuss their goals and to carefully plan strategies to preserve and restore the neglected auditorium of the former Dillon High School. Supt. Rogers did attend several DHSA meetings and, until just recently, had supported the group’s efforts to realize two specific goals: firstly, applying for recognition from The National Register of Historic Places and, secondly, preserving and restoring the former high school’s auditorium. Unfortunately, that support has been abruptly withdrawn without any stated cause of reasonable explanation.
Despite this unfortunate loss of support from the local school system, DHSA has since grown stronger, fine-tuning its efforts and continuing its progress to accomplish its goals, has gained community support, has received media coverage, and, within the last month, has become Dillon Historic School Foundation, recognized by South Carolina Secretary of State, Mark Hammond. Consequently, DHSF has become increasingly resolute in currently safeguarding and ultimately preserving the J.V. Martin School site from those who propose to erase these important elements of our cultural heritage and of our county’s brief history. Gaining recognition by the National Register of Historic Places is of utmost importance for it might possible grant us some chance of reprieve and eventually allow us the time to plan our work ahead while providing us the freedom to dream of a brighter future for our hometown.
When all members of Dillon Historic School Foundation were asked to express their dreams by writing “vision statements,” several members complied. Two of these dreams are presented for you here as an appropriate conclusion to this presentation:
(In reference to the J.V. Martin School Site)
“These buildings provide a venue to showcase multicultural events that will enlighten, educate, and entertain the citizens of Dillon County. Furthermore, as part of our architectural history, these buildings deserve preservation so that future generations will know who we were – they can see our world and they can touch their past.” [Jimmy Humphrey] (In reference to the Dillon High School auditorium)
“For all the years I attended Dillon High School and made it to the Friday assemblies, I looked forward to the time I would be able to sit at the front, in the middle, as a senior. It was not until years after I graduated, that I realized the important part of my high school years. By being in the auditorium on those Fridays, I was part of the “Dillon High School Student Body.” We were “one,” collectively as we attended each event. I should not have been concerned about “moving up.” I was part of a bigger idea. Now, I see this auditorium as a place that will bring the community together as one. It does not matter about color, religion, financial status, or where you live. We will be one as an audience, enjoying a play, a concert, a choir, or a moving speaker – just enjoying a good time together.” [Terry Morris] Thank you very much for allowing me this opportunity to speak to you here today and to share the thoughts of those I represent. If there are questions, please ask them. Either I or a member of Dillon Historic School Foundation will be pleased to respond.
Again, I thank each of you.
Gerald M. Berry, Chairman
Dillon Historic School Foundation