Distinctive Destinations

York W. Bailey Museum at Penn Center

  • Address 16 Penn Center Circle West
    St. Helena Island, South Carolina 29920
  • Hours
    9:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
  • Phone 843-838-8554

Visit York W. Bailey Museum at Penn Center

Plan Your Visit


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 - Penn School National Historic Landmark District. The 50-acre historic site of the former Penn School, one of the first schools in the South for formerly enslaved individuals, houses more than twenty historic buildings and structures. The York W. Bailey Museum tells the story of Penn School and the West African people who formed a unique and distinct culture.

For more than 158 years, the Penn Center, Inc., located on St. Helena Island, SC, has been at the epicenter of African American education, historic preservation, and social justice for tens of thousands of descendants of formerly enslaved West Africans living in the Sea Islands, known as the Gullah Geechee people. The Gullah people have continued to survive to today and represent the most tangible living example of one of the outcomes of the Port Royal Experiment, a plan by the federal government to “test the capabilities of the Negro for freedom and self-support” during the Civil War.

Founded in 1862, the Penn School was one of the first academic schools in the South established by two Northern missionaries, Laura M. Towne and Ellen Murray, to provide a formal education for formerly enslaved West Africans. In 1901, the Penn School expanded to become the Penn Normal, Agricultural, and Industrial School after adopting the industrial arts curriculum taught at Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes. Later, in the 1960s, Penn Center took up the mantle of social justice by ushering in the Civil Rights Movement and serving as the only location in South Carolina where interracial groups, such as Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Peace Corps, could have safe sanctuary in an era of mandated de jure segregation. In 2019, Penn Center was designated a Reconstruction Era National Historic Park.

Benefits for National Trust Members

$2 Off Adult Admission

Join the National Trust to enjoy a host of membership benefits.

Join Today