A lot of what I’d learned about in history during my school years has faded away. This trip became a refresher course in South Carolina history, back before the Revolutionary War had begun.
We visited the Huguenot Worship Site of 1764 and a graveyard predating our country’s freedom. These people came from France to the wilds of South Carolina for a new life, away from religious persecution. One of the cabins we saw, the Guillebeau Cabin, was built by one of these early settlers. To preserve it, it was moved to Hickory Knob State Park and is now available as a rental.
We also visited the John de la Howe School. Upon his death in 1797, Dr. de la Howe bequeathed his estate to South Carolina to become a school for training poor boys and girls.
Before visiting John de la Howe’s grave and its adjoining interpretive trail, we went to the administration building to check in. When they heard what we were doing they introduced us to the Superintendent of the school and another top administrator. They told us about an alumnus, Anthony Warren, who had written a book about the history of the school and had established the interpretive trail near the gravesite.
We signed in left and a card for Mr. Warren to reach us. We then drove through the school to a secluded corner that had once been the plantation, farm, and now grave of Dr. de la Howe. With threatening weather we decide to revisit the site, hopefully after an opportunity to speak with Mr. Warren.
A Charleston boy, Anthony Warren graduated from the John de la Howe School in 1962, and returned to downtown Charleston. After serving in the military he returned and took advantage of the GI Bill, graduating from the University of Georgia with a background in Industrial Engineering. He started and ran a successful business until his retirement.
He loved history, and the school that had helped shape him. His passion for both led to his research of the life of Dr. de la Howe, and how the school came to be. After coming to the colonies from France, John de la Howe had started in practice in Charleston, not far from where Tony had grown up.
Tony’s research led to archaeological excavations around Lethe, Dr. de la Howe ‘s plantation and farm. He helped to identify the remains of many structures and thousands of artifacts.
Using what he had learned about Dr. de la Howe, he wrote a historical novel, Lethe. On the back cover, it tells that the events in the book are historically accurate, but that the author has filled the gaps using his imagination.
Through email and phone calls, we were able to make contact with Tony. He was so excited about the prospect of the trail through the old plantation being included in our work that he made the long drive to meet us, offering to personally walk us through the site.
He arrived the next evening at Hickory Knob State Park. We talked until late, learning about Tony, the school and John de la Howe. Here was a person passionate about the school and the way it had transformed his life.
The next morning, over breakfast, while talking about what the alumni were doing to help support the school, I asked him if there had been other alumni who had done well, and were able to give back.
Refrencing my NASA history from our conversation, he remembered a fellow from NASA. It was someone who had graduated long before Tony, and had a very successful career in the early days of the space program. But Tony could not recall his name. They had met at an alumni reunion a few years back.
I worked at Kennedy Space Center for 33 years, as did my father. Being on base from 1957 until 2010, we had known and met hundreds – if not thousands – of people. Often when people hear where I worked, they ask if by chance I knew a friend or relative. Once in a rare while, I have known or heard of the person. The Space Center was huge! It was its own city in terms of population. But when Tony said “Cal Fowler,” I could have fallen out of the chair!
Not long ago, I attended Dr Cal Fowler’s memorial service. I’d just finished reading his memoir, “My First 80 Years.” I now remembered reading that he grew up as an orphan, working at a farm school. The John de la Howe School.
The story goes back to the mid 1950s and the early days of the United States manned space program. Cal and my father worked together for General Dynamics/Astronautics. Cal was the Site Manager and Launch Conductor for Complex 14. At one time he held the title of being “the person who had launched more men into orbit than any other man in the free world.”
My connection with Cal began as a young Boy Scout. Each year, my Council held a large Scout Show. In our area, Cal – also an avid pilot – offered a plane ride to the Scout who sold the most tickets.
Yes, I was that winning Scout. If this little story doesn’t make you believe that it is a small world, nothing will.
Rest in peace, Cal. And thanks to Tony for the help and new friendship.
Learn more about Tony’s novel, Lethe
See a map of Lethe Plantation archaeological site drawn by Tony
Learn about the John De La Howe School
Arthur Stiller Jr.
Wanting to come back and visit. It’s amazing how the school has grown. Thank God for all the volunteers,schools and government help that to keep it open.