COLUMBIA, S.C. (Nov. 11, 2013)—After eight years of research, rehabilitation and restoration, South Carolina’s only presidential site, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, will reopen to the public on Saturday, Feb. 15, just in time for President’s Day.
“This has been a labor of love,” said Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites. “The Woodrow Wilson Family Home is one of our state’s greatest historic treasures. Twice now this house has been brought back from the brink, and it stands as a testament to the power of preservation, a monument to our 28th president and a gateway to explore the contested time period in which it was built: Reconstruction.”
Historic Columbia will celebrate the reopening of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home with a preview gala on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, and will officially open the house and museum to the public on Saturday, Feb. 15. A full slate of opening weekend activities is being planned, and the house will be open on Monday, February 17 for Presidents Day.
“So many years of Richland County’s history are encompassed at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home,” said Richland County Councilman Greg Pearce. “As the owner of this historic building, Richland County takes great pride in the years of research, planning, and hard work that have led us here. We can’t wait to open these doors to share our story with visitors from all over our great country.”
The Woodrow Wilson Family Home is a villa-style house completed in late 1871 for Joseph and Jessie Wilson and their four children, including a young man named Tommy who would grow up to become the 28th president of the United States. The Wilsons only lived in the house for two years; they left Columbia for a pastorate in Wilmington, N.C., in 1874.
The Wilsons sold the house in 1876, and it passed through several private owners before coming under threat of demolition in 1928 due to the construction of the Township Auditorium. Activists rallied around the property, saving it from destruction in what we now recognize as the first grassroots preservation movement in Richland County. It opened as a shrine to President Wilson in 1933, operated by the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary until 1966, when Historic Columbia became the property’s steward.
Restoration & Rehabilitation
In 2005, Historic Columbia closed the Woodrow Wilson Family Home due to structural issues, including a failing roof, crumbling plaster and foundation problems due to water damage. Since then, $3.6 million in funding from grants, private donations and Richland County (the property’s owner) has resulted in an unprecedented comprehensive physical rehabilitation.
Nearly four years of in-depth research went into developing the plan for restoration, which began in 2009 with the exterior of the building. The roof was replaced, historic gutters were repaired, and 92 percent of the foundation was replaced. Scientific analysis of the layers of paint on the house uncovered its original exterior and interior color scheme, and the current paint job is as close to that original scheme as possible.
Inside, renovations done by earlier property owners were taken out, restoring the house to its original flow. The original floors and banisters were refinished, original tiles on each of the eight fireplaces were fixed, and period-appropriate light fixtures were purchased and installed. HC also built an outbuilding based on the property’s former carriage house at the back of the grounds, featuring restrooms, storage areas and a catering kitchen.
The garden restoration, made possible by a $100,000 donation from Columbia Garden Club, has created a beautiful Victorian garden that surrounds the house. The property was divided into a formal front yard and a working back yard, with vegetable gardens, roses, crabapples and muscadine grapes, as well as an historic tea olive and magnolias growing on the grounds. Like those at other Historic Columbia properties, the gardens of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home will be available for special event rentals starting in the spring of 2014.
The restoration of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home would not have been possible without the support of Richland County, the Department of the Interior’s Save America’s Treasures grant program, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Humanities Council SC, Columbia Garden Club, NBSC, Southeastern Freight Lines, AgFirst, Childs & Halligan, the Lucy Hampton Bostick Charitable Trust, Keenan Energy Company, The Osceola Foundation and many private donors.
A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia and Richland County
When reopened on February 15, 2014, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home will feature professionally-designed exhibits, period vignettes, interactive audio and video components and exterior signage that will grant visitors an experience never before encountered at this venerable landmark. Through new exhibits, artifacts and hands-on elements, visitors will explore the Wilson family’s life in Columbia within the context of the tumultuous Reconstruction era. Benefiting from countless hours of research on the part of contemporary scholars and staff, Historic Columbia will delve into Reconstruction in the only home owned by the parents of the man who became the 28th President of the United States and the world’s first modern international statesman.
The Reconstruction Era, 1865 to 1877, was the time period immediately following the Civil War when the United States transitioned from a slave state to a free society. It was a time period of excitement and a great potential for change, as well as concern for those who did not want the change. South Carolina—where the first shots of the Civil War were fired—became ground zero for Reconstruction.
Preview Gala & Opening Weekend
Historic Columbia invites visitors from all over the country to join in the opening celebration through the following events on opening weekend, February 15 – 17:
- Preview Gala – Friday, February 7 at 7 pm
- Opening Day– Saturday, February 15, 10 am to 4 pm
- 9:45 am – ribbon cutting ceremony
- Museum and garden tours
- Crafts and activities for kids
- Music, food and a visit from President Wilson himself!
- Sunday, February 16, 1 pm to 5 pm: open for tours
- Presidents Day – Monday, February 17, 10 am to 4 pm: while Historic Columbia is traditionally closed on Mondays, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home will be open for tours from 10 am to 4 pm to celebrate the holiday.
About Historic Columbia:
In November 1961, a small group of individuals intent on saving the Ainsley Hall House from demolition officially incorporated as the Historic Columbia Foundation. Over the next five decades the organization, which was founded on the premise of preservation and education, would take on the stewardship of seven historic properties in Richland County. Today, the organization serves as a model for local preservation efforts and interpretation of local history. Visit historiccolumbia.org or find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube for more details.