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In 1919, during the height of the Arts and Crafts movement, the Fermata School for Girls was established in Aiken, South Carolina, to instill the values of nature, social responsibility, and the arts and crafts skills of previous times. Founded and supported by members of the Aiken Winter Colony, the school started with 5 students and 4 instructors and grew to 70 boarding students from around the world and 28 day students – including such notable pupils as Diana Barrymore, Doris Duke, Margaret Roosevelt, and Elizabeth Kennedy.


Originating in a private home, the school eventually moved to the grounds of a large estate along Whiskey Road and expanded to numerous buildings and structures. The school thrived for 22 years until the commencement of World War II. Soon after the school’s closing in 1941, a fire destroyed all Fermata buildings except for the infirmary and headmaster home, now a private residence, and the gymnasium, currently part of the Fermata Club and the last standing public building of the historic Fermata School for Girls.


The Fermata School Gymnasium was constructed in 1929 in the Arts and Crafts style by McGhee and McGhee contractors, a team of local, African American, skilled craftsmen. Sought after by the winter colonists, the McGhees built numerous structures for the Aiken Winter Colony including houses, stables, and the iconic Hopelands Gardens serpentine wall. Honoring the pro-simplicity, anti-industrial ideals of the times, the McGhees incorporated clean lines and natural materials in building the Fermata Gymnasium – one of the many historic structures in Aiken that gives the city its undeniable charm.

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