Penn Center

Penn Center, Saint Helena Island: Hours, Address, Penn Center Reviews: 4/5

9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Tuesday
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Wednesday
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Thursday
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Friday
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Saturday
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
About
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 formerly enslaved individuals. 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
Suggested duration
2-3 hours
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Popular mentions

4.0
209 reviews
Excellent
100
Very good
67
Average
34
Poor
6
Terrible
2

Caitlin M
1 contribution
Must visit
Jul. 2021 • Couples
Such an inspiring place to visit! Definitely one of our favorite things we did on our trip to Charleston and the Low Country. Would definitely recommend paying extra for the tour with the documentary and the docent, who was a wealth of knowledge. The docent on duty for our tour was of Gullah Geechee heritage and pointed out her second grade teacher in one of the museum photos. So cool!

Also recommend stopping at the art gallery down the street featuring authentic Gullah Geechee and West African art, as well as Gullah Grub across the street from the gallery if you catch it open. After the museum you will be majorly inspired to support this unique culture of people!
Written 2 July 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

snyTraveler
Maryland47 contributions
So Much History
Jun. 2021
Very friendly staff and very interesting historical place about our Nation's Reconstruction era. The school was founded by Pennsylvania Quaker missionaries to educate freed African-Americans. The museum is full of information, photos and artifacts. Very interesting.
Written 15 June 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Riley’s Mom
Asheville, NC119 contributions
Amazing history
May 2021
The Penn School was established in 1862 as the first school in the US for freed slaves. In the 1960s it changed to the Penn Center and focused on civil rights. MLK wrote his I have a dream speech here. Wonderful guided tours and many buildings to explore.
Written 26 May 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Gale
2 contributions
Please Update Site
Apr. 2021
My sister and I arrived from Tybee Island GA where we were vacationing at 2 pm (we are from MD) to find the museum closed and no tours available. There was nothing written on the website to indicate this and we would have happily flipped our schedule had we known before arriving. The gentleman in the visitor's center was unapologetic but did suggest we head over to another part of the grounds which were open for a walk about to hear the "free tour from the Ranger". Ms. Small's presentation was excellent and we were very happy that our drive was not a waste of time. Please update your website so that others do not miss out on this rich historical experience.
Written 29 April 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

SarahWJustice
Prospect, KY14 contributions
Great introduction to Gullah history
Apr. 2021 • Family
My husband and I visited this center with our 10 and 12 year old daughters. The guided tour offered a nice video with remarks from the tour guide. It introduced us to a part of history that’s not well known. We enjoyed it!
Written 7 April 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Paradise93063
1 contribution
Wonderful Discovery
Mar. 2020
We visited the Penn Center back in the '90s for the first time and then again about 6 years ago - both times on our own. A lot had changed between our first and second visits; however the impact remained the same - awe inspiring. The first time we saw a wonderful movie about how the folks in the area reconnected with the people from where their ancestors came in Africa. There were many more things and a real museum the second time plus a great gift shop. We were pretty much on our own both times and that was OK. There is a lot to process when you are there. We have highly recommended this historic place whenever we have the opportunity - and there are times we make the opportunity ourselves. A lot more could be "done" with the place but don't "sell it short" just because it hasn't been done yet. Just soaking in what is there is very worth-while. I wish we could go there again but our traveling days have passed us by unfortunately. The date that they ask for in not appropriate for my review. It would not allow me to amend it nor could I post without one. Please ignore the 3/2020. Also, it was my husband and myself and that is not understood from the choices offered.
Written 7 February 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Shelliu
Hilton Head, SC4,046 contributions
Great history but run down and closed earli
Nov. 2020 • Family
The history is undeniable. It’s powerful to be where MLK wrote “I have a dream” and be at such an important civil rights location. I do wish the experience dud more to highlight the great history. We were hoping for an audio tour, downloadable app and s as blue to see more of the buildings but that wasn’t the case. We also didn’t get to tour the museum which closed early even though they said they would be open until 4. There was just a paper map and short blurbs about the buildings. They buildings also look like they are in fairly bad shape which was sad. Still worth visiting, especially when they are more fully operational.
Written 12 November 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

elandja
Apex, NC553 contributions
A New Piece of History -- Well Worth the Visit
Oct. 2020
The Penn Center introduced me to a completely new piece of history about SC and the low county. Such an incredible story about the education program that was developed to teach formerly enslaved people during the Civil War era, ,the expansion beyond core competencies of reading, writing and arithmetic to live skills and more trades at the turn of the 20th century and them becoming a place where blacks and whites could meet together for public discourse with a place in Civil Rights history. A few of the buildings are under the auspices of the National Park Service as National Reconstruction sites. I recommend as a great learning experience.
Written 21 October 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

RBonTheLake
Rock Hill, South Carolina577 contributions
Interesting place
Sep. 2020
The park ranger was very knowledgeable and gave us some great information. We only went into the schoolhouse but it was very educational. There was a short video you could watch.
Written 27 September 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Alitraveli
Seattle, WA14 contributions
Education is key to liberation
Dec. 2019
The Penn Center was a school for freed slaves and provides insight into the challenges faced by children who transitioned from slavery to a still very racist society where they were not enslaved. The Center is also an inspirational place where Martin Luther King, Jr. and others fought for civil rights. I suggest starting by watching the informative video. I wish there had been a docent tour available, but the self-guided visit is still quite worthwhile. The gift shop is worth a visit too.

If you have a car, visiting here makes for a nice day trip from Hilton Head Island. The drive is lovely. We tried to have lunch at the nearby Gullah Grub restaurant, but it was unexpectedly closed, so we ate on the nice patio of the Foolish Frog.
Written 1 August 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Penn Center

Penn Center is open:
  • Tue - Sat 9:00 am - 4:00 pm