Before its restoration, the historic White family home in downtown Rock Hill had caved-in floors and crumbling plaster walls.
Wood had turned to rot. Feasting termites and powder post beetles left tracks all over the hardwood floors.
"Structurally, it was in deplorable condition," said Wade Fairey, executive director of Historic Rock Hill, the nonprofit group that spearheaded the 6,000-square-foot home's renovation.
But with the help of hundreds of donors, the home of one of Rock Hill's oldest families is about to open its doors to the public for the first time.
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The building now serves as the headquarters for Historic Rock Hill, which bought the building and has been restoring it over the past five years.
"They have done a masterful job of saving that structure," said Winthrop University history professor Eddie Lee.
Historic Rock Hill has scheduled a grand opening for 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Unlike house museums, Fairey said, much of the White Home will remain unfurnished and available to rent for engagements. That income will help pay for other historic preservation projects.
But the house will feature some of the furniture and portraits collected over five generations of Whites who lived there. Several rooms will be dedicated to historical exhibits about the White family, Rock Hill and the restoration of the house.
"That structure is a monument to the White family, and they were entrepreneurs and cotton farmers and they were successful," said Lee, who is also the mayor of York. The house "reminds us of our agricultural past, which is rapidly disappearing."
Renovating a house - especially one more than 100 years old - is far more difficult than bulldozing it and starting over, Fairey said, and the White Home was no exception.
Rebuilding the foundation while keeping the house intact, he said, was one challenge.
During the restoration, as much of the original structure was kept together as possible, including multiple stair cases and roofing systems. About 15 percent of the floors were completely replaced.
Visitors might be surprised that the house is now coated in its original color - not white, but a sepia-hued off-white. Repairing the porches and recreating the artful lattice work required custom carpentry, Fairey said.
From house to history
Lydia Lochocki, who works in the White Home's gift shop, is excited that it is finally ready for the public. She believes the home will attract artists and historians, becoming an important fixture in Rock Hill.
"It's already starting to do what I hoped," she said, "It's evolved and it's going to mushroom.
"It makes me feel like I'm a part of Rock Hill."
Lee agrees the home will play a part in revitalizing downtown.
Saving the home and re-landscaping the property will cost about $2.3 million once completed, Fairey said, but every penny has been worth it.
The White family home is so important because its history illuminates that of Rock Hill, Fairey said.
When George Pendleton Stewart White and his wife, Ann Hutchinson White, moved to Rock Hill in the late 1830s, they bought a modest, box-like farmhouse and 142 acres for $500 in silver from another prominent family, the Blacks.
That property spanned from their home all the way to the historic Bleachery.
Over the years, the family sold property and grew their farmhouse vertically and horizontally - a history that charts the family's success and Rock Hill's transition from a burgeoning settlement to a bustling community.
"They were probably the best preservationists" of the area's history, Fairey said.
Visitors can browse through that history in the exhibits and tour the three acres of grounds, featuring other historic structures, including a log cabin, and gardens.
"The family was heavily involved in horticulture," Fairey said of the Whites.
Among the plants and trees that populate the gardens are live oaks, Formosa azaleas, oak leaf hydrangeas, Chinese Cunningham fir trees, magnolia trees, and a grove of pecan trees.
Historic Rock Hill has more than 2,000 historic documents about the White family, including those that:
Tell who the artisans were who built the White Home
Include receipts for home furnishings bought in Baltimore, Charleston, Columbia and elsewhere
Document the purchase of slaves
Include a contract for the leasing of a slave named Charles to build the railroad. The contract specifies what's to be paid for his rent, including shoes and clothing.