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Presidential site restoration to cost $2 million

The future president Woodrow Wilson lived in this home in his teens from 1872 to 1875. The home is in need of repair, which are estimated to cost $2 million.
The future president Woodrow Wilson lived in this home in his teens from 1872 to 1875. The home is in need of repair, which are estimated to cost $2 million.

COLUMBIA -- Restoration of the Woodrow Wilson home in Columbia -- South Carolina's only presidential site -- will cost $2 million, according to a structural assessment by a Louisville, Ky.-based team of specialists.

Richland County already has provided most of the $1 million in hospitality taxes it pledged for the home at 1705 Hampton St., which it owns and the Historic Columbia Foundation manages.

The foundation has raised $50,000 in donations.

Executive director Robin Waites said she is optimistic the project will be eligible for two federal grants totaling $500,000. "We feel like we can leverage the money that the county very generously gave us."

The remaining $450,000 will have to come from individual or corporate donors, Waites said.

The total cost includes restoring the 1870s-era garden in front of the house and the working orchard and vegetable garden in the rear. The garden features magnolias planted by Wilson's mother more than 100 years ago.

The Victorian home, built in the style of a Tuscan villa, kicked off the city's preservation movement in the 1920s. Now, it is planned as a centerpiece in Historic Columbia's planned 21-block Garden District.

"This home has so much to tell about Columbia and South Carolina during Reconstruction," said Charles Raith, associate director of architecture and preservation for John Milner Associates.

"It was a special place for a future president of the United States to be formed and developed."

The house has been closed to visitors since 2005 because of structural and other problems.

The $200,000 study -- part of the renovation cost -- resulted in a 300-page report. The report includes a complete history of the site, a structural analysis, an archeological investigation, a paint analysis of all rooms and a landscape assessment.

The firm, which has done landscape and structural analysis and interpretation plans for historical sites from the Grand Canyon to the Washington Monument, will recommend ways to interpret the site and will direct repairs and renovations down to the choice of paint.

"We are going to approach this site both as the preservation of an historic Columbia home and landscape and as a look at Wilson as the president of the United States," Waites said.

Wilson, who was born in Virginia, lived with his parents and two siblings in Columbia from 1870 to 1874, when he was in his teens.

His parents supervised the building of the home, and the family moved into the house in 1872. It would turn out to be the only house the family ever owned.

Wilson's father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, was a Presbyterian minister, and the family usually lived in church-owned housing.

Joseph Wilson was a supply minister at Columbia's First Presbyterian Church and a teacher at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in the nearby historic Robert Mills House at the time.

The home was modeled on the Andrew Jackson Downing design, popular mostly in the North during the Victorian age.

Some historic photos exist of the home, but only of the front and west sides. The team doesn't know how the detached kitchen and other outbuildings looked.

"We really hope that some members of the public have photographs of the back of the house or the east side," said firm associate Christopher Quirk.

The family lived in their dream house only two years, then moved on, possibly when Joseph Wilson did not get advancement to head of the seminary.

"He didn't get something that he wanted," Quirk said.

The Italianate home was quite unusual in pillared Columbia. It was painted gray with golden trim and deep red foundation.

The home sparked a statewide preservation effort in 1928 when it was slated for demolition to make way for The Township auditorium.

The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary purchased it and put out a call to "enlist all civic organizations" to help.

By the end of 1928, 95 statewide organizations rallied to save the home. The home was turned into an homage to the 28th president, who shepherded the nation through World War I.

When completed, the garden will represent gardening during Reconstruction.

The five other historic homes the foundation manages Seibels House, Mann-Simons Cottage, Hampton-Preston Mansion, Robert Mills House and now the Modjeska Simpkins House will represent other eras in more than a century of landscapes and gardening.

The first garden to be completed, at the Seibels House, echoes the 1920 Colonial Revival "layered" garden that once surrounded that house. It is nearly complete and is open and free to the public.

The Township was built on Taylor Street instead.

The Italianate home was quite unusual in pillared Columbia and would have been much more striking than the white house that sits there today. The analysis shows the home was painted according to Downing's recommendations: gray with golden trim and deep red foundation.

The home sparked a state-wide preservation effort in 1928 when it was slated for demolition to make way for The Township auditorium.

The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary purchased it and put out a call to "enlist all civic organizations" to help.

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