The Tamassee D.A.R. School: Filling Children's Lives with Sunlight

While the scenic Cherokee Foothills Highway is a home to several points of interest that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Tamassee D.A.R. School stands alone as a beacon of hope for children when they need it the most. 

The word “Tamassee” comes from a Cherokee legend about a great fire prophet who lived in a Cherokee village at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The fire prophet owned a large ruby called “The Sunlight of God,” and this jewel helped him serve his people as a healer and a wise man. People traveled many miles to seek his advice or to be made well when they were sick. Upon his death, he was buried on a knoll, which the Cherokee would come to call “Tamassee” or “The Place of the Sunlight of God.” The Tamassee Daughters of the American Revolution School (D.A.R.), one of only two such schools in the entire country, honors the legend of the great Cherokee fire prophet by offering children in crisis a place to heal, a place to learn, a place to dream, and a place to call home. 

Opening in 1919 and fully commissioned in 1924, the Christian faith-based Tamassee D.A.R School was created by the Daughters of the American Revolution to serve the children of Appalachia by providing them with a formal education. Tamassee D.A.R. School graduate Kenneth Wilson, who traveled down from the mountains of North Carolina to spend winters in the school along with some of his siblings says, “[The school] is where I learned to be the man I am today. I learned barbering there by cutting the other boys’ hair.” Wilson, who still owns the original set of barber tools that the school purchased for him, currently runs a barber shop with his son in Easley, SC. 

Today, the school serves children throughout the state of South Carolina through a yearlong residential program, and, because the majority of the children come from families within a 100-mile radius, parents and guardians are able to maintain relationships with their children. To have a child placed at the school, the South Carolina Department of Social Services or parents/legal guardians of children may submit an application for a child to become a resident of the school. While in the residential program, children live in groups of ten in “cottages” named after U.S. states. Two teaching parents reside in each cottage with the children. While some children may remain in the residential program until they graduate from high school, the primary focus is to reunite children with their families when possible. Teachers and support staff work to prepare attendees to go to college or enter the workforce after graduation. The Aftercare Program offers support to graduates as they transition to adult life. 

Could he visit the sprawling campus of the Tamassee D.A.R. School, with gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains as its backdrop, the great Cherokee fire prophet would likely contend that the Daughters of the American Revolution chose the location for the school wisely; they were looking for a spot that was “remote, yet accessible” and where “the need seeme[d] the greatest.” In much the same way that the campus’s numerous oak and maple trees, many that are almost as old as the school itself, provide shady refuge in blistering South Carolina summers, the Tamassee D.A.R. school offers sanctuary to children, by giving them the love, guidance, and support they need to “to grow mentally, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually” and to prepare to be happy and successful in their adult lives.

Photos courtesy of the Tamassee D.A.R. School.

Angela Rogers is a teacher, bibliophile, and freelance writer who is a lifelong resident of the Upstate.