HomeArchivedWoodrow Wilson Home Reopens to the Public

Woodrow Wilson Home Reopens to the Public

Just in time for President’s Day, South Carolina’s only presidential site opens its doors on February 15. 

After being shuttered for eight years, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home at 1705 Campton St. in Columbia will once again welcome visitors to a villa-style house and gardens. The house was completed in late 1871 for Joseph and Jessie Wilson and their four children, including a young man named Tommy (pictured) 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 Wilmington in 1874.

wilsonYears of research, rehabilitation and restoration have resulted in the home’s revival. “This has been a labor of love,” says 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.”

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 is now recognized 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.

In 2005, Historic Columbia closed the Woodrow Wilson Family Home due to structural issues, including a failing roof, crumbling plaster and foundation problems from 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.

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Restoration began in 2009 with the exterior of the building. 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.

intrenoInside, 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. An outbuilding based on the property’s former carriage house was also built 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 this spring.

When reopened on Saturday, 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. Visitors will be able to explore the Wilson family’s life in Columbia within the context of the tumultuous Reconstruction era. South Carolina — where the first shots of the Civil War were fired — became ground zero for Reconstruction, and countless hours of research on the part of contemporary scholars and staff have allowed Historic Columbia to delve into this period 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.

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“So many years of Richland County’s history are encompassed at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home,” says 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.”

This weekend’s events include a Preview Gala on Friday night at 7 p.m., followed by opening day on Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 9:30 a.m., with museum and garden tours, crafts and activities for kids, music, food and even a visit from Wilson impersonator Ed Beardsley throughout the day. On Sunday, the house will be open from 1-5 p.m. for tours, and on President’s Day, the home will be open for tours from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tour tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for children and free for Historic Columbia members.

Photo Credits: Home exterior, renovation and Museum of Reconstruction courtesy of Historic Columbia; young Woodrow Wilson at age 14 courtesy of Library of Congress. 

Thanks to Historic Columbia for providing information for this story. 

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