HCF’s First Scholar in Residence Researches Reconstruction
Historic Columbia Foundation’s first Modjeska Simkins Scholar-in-Residence, Yale doctoral candidate Caitlin Verboon, recently concluded her research here in Columbia on the Reconstruction era (1865-1877). One of our goals for Caitlin’s tenure was to gather supporting documentation for our reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home because it was during the height of Reconstruction in 1870 that the Wilson family moved here from Augusta, Georgia. Verboon examined how relationships between all of Columbia and South Carolina’s citizens, black and white; northern and southern, urban and rural, helped shape Columbia’s physical and social landscapes. Her findings, combined with work that Historic Columbia Foundation staff members conducted simultaneously, will inform the future interpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.
According to Verboon, “Looking at the Wilsons and their environment in conjunction helps us to craft a richer and more nuanced portrait of the city and the ways politics was not confined to a narrow political sphere, as well as of the future president himself.”
A physical link to this often under discussed time period, the Wilson Home connects the antebellum and Civil War eras represented at the Hampton-Preston Mansion with the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras represented at the Mann-Simons Site and the Modjeska Simkins House, respectively.
Phase IIA of the multi-year rehabilitation of South Carolina’s only presidential site concluded recently following months of construction on a support structure and electrical upgrades and minor carpentry in the historic circa-1872 main house. Now, to the north of Tommy Wilson’s former home, stands a two story wood-frame building whose design is evocative of 19th and early-20th century outbuildings, such as barns, kitchen buildings and stables. This modern structure rests on an area of the yard that historically had a series of various support buildings on it during the 1870s through the 1920s.
Within its walls can be found restrooms, a catering kitchen and mechanical and electrical rooms that will supply services for both structures and that will allow Historic Columbia Foundation to accommodate a host of different programmatic and special event needs. Special thanks to Consolidated Systems Incorporated for the donation of the roof.
With the recent approval of $1,000,000 by Richland County council, no time will be lost as the Foundation will move forward with Phase IIB, which involves final rehabilitation within the historic former residence and grounds improvements. Following a competitive bid process, contractor selection will occur later this summer with work planned to start in September. Exciting times will continue throughout the remainder of 2012 and into the New Year. During the course of this spate of physical improvements, Foundation staff, working with scholarship committee members and a number of consultants, will develop the interpretive materials for the property, whose public debut is forecast for November 2013.
Maintaining, repairing, and adaptively reusing historic buildings requires motivation, perseverance, and most importantly, funding. Securing financial support, however, is not always an easy endeavor, even with a building as important as the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Most preservation organizations like Historic Columbia Foundation don’t have a rich uncle, much less a pot of gold on standby to pay for every pie-in-the-sky project. Instead, organizations prioritize their projects and pursue the ones they can realistically afford to do without depleting their budget. Year after year we follow this approach to make a positive impact in our community while also being good stewards of the financial support we receive.
Our budget will only take us so far, which is why we aggressively apply for grants and other financial incentives to help us accomplish more. As Donovan Rypkema states in The Economics of Historic Preservation, “Preservation incentives make preservation happen.” Financial incentives for preservation can come from a variety of local, state, and federal government initiatives as well as from private organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation. By leveraging funds allocated for a project with those received from matching preservation incentives, projects that were once considered too expensive can now become more feasible. Not only is this concept beneficial for individual buildings, it also creates a chain reaction that leads to additional investment in the community. Read the rest of this entry »
Selecting the most appropriate paint colors for historic buildings can be challenging, but with a little know how you can turn this potentially daunting task into a rewarding experience. Much like today, paint colors originally used for historic buildings were chosen because they were aesthetically pleasing at the time of construction. As architectural styles changed and certain colors fell out of favor, owners relied on new paint colors to keep their buildings fashionable.
A fresh coat of paint has always been an easy way to personalize or update a building without altering it structurally. A trip down the paint isle in your local home center will prove that this continues to be a popular solution. Hundreds of colors on neatly presented take home swatches invite you to freshen up your building’s appearance with relative ease. Making a color change is not necessarily a bad thing, but repeating this process every five or ten years results in layers and layers of paint buildup. Imagine how this cycle affects a 140-year-old building. Read the rest of this entry »
Each passing season reminds us that the world around us is constantly changing. Flowers and lush green lawns give way to falling leaves and frosty mornings. Hot, cold, rainy or dry, we protect our bodies from the elements with weather-appropriate clothing and an occasional umbrella. Even though we realize the importance of staying comfortable and dry, we somehow expect our buildings to endure season after season of harsh environmental conditions without any additional protection. This is an unrealistic expectation, however, because buildings begin to deteriorate the moment they are constructed. Left unattended, even normal exposure to the elements along with general wear and tear can lead to severe deterioration. One of the easiest ways to counteract the effects of time is to perform periodic preventative maintenance.
Routine periodic inspections and preventative maintenance allows us to keep a close watch on the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Throughout the rehabilitation process we carefully addressed the issues that caused previous deterioration and developed solutions that will help mitigate any future problems. We understand that a building is only original once and each architectural component that is replaced diminishes a building’s authenticity. Replacing a few boards today may not seem excessive, but continuing this practice over a period of 50 or 100 years results in a structure that will be more replaced than original. Read the rest of this entry »
As our society becomes more focused on energy conservation and green building techniques, the preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings will continue to play an important role. Why? Because reusing existing buildings, materials and infrastructure is more environmentally friendly and often more economical than new construction. The practice of tearing down the old in favor of the new not only ignores the energy and labor originally expended to manufacture materials and construct buildings, it also creates an enormous amount of demolition and construction debris that ends up in our landfills. Conserving useful materials is a more positive approach that reduces the amount of new products that need to be manufactured and ultimately minimizes waste. Think of it as recycling on a very large scale.
Conservation is a fundamental tenet of historic preservation and is evident throughout all aspects of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home rehabilitation project. During the initial planning sessions for the project, the staff here at Historic Columbia Foundation made a conscious decision to place a high priority on the conservation of historic materials. We wanted the building to be a physical record of the time period in which it was built and reflect the details and craftsmanship of a bygone era.
One of the easiest ways to implement this philosophy was to retain and repair the building’s historic wood windows. Many rehabilitation projects across the country have unfortunately traded their historic wood windows for vinyl replacement units for the sake of energy conservation; however, we were confident that restoring our windows would help preserve the architectural integrity of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home while also being a more sustainable and energy efficient solution. Read the rest of this entry »
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Historic Columbia Foundation. In 1961, a group of preservation minded individuals embarked on a campaign to save what is known today as the Robert Mills House. The momentum created by the rehabilitation of the Robert Mills House has perpetuated Historic Columbia Foundation’s 50 years of tireless dedication to Columbia’s architectural heritage and irreplaceable cultural resources. Historic Columbia Foundation’s golden anniversary will not only celebrate its past accomplishments, but will also showcase its ongoing historic preservation efforts within the city. The rehabilitation of South Carolina’s only presidential site, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, is currently in progress and will continue to be one of Historic Columbia Foundation’s top priorities throughout 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
Christopher Quirk, project architect for the rehabilitation of the WWFH Rehabilitation, explains the partnership between Historic Columbia Foundation and John Milner Associates, Inc. See hard hat tours of preservation in progress!
WWFH Rehab Overview
The physical work on the Woodrow Wilson Family Home began in April 2009 with a structural investigation led by project architects John Milner Associates, Inc. and general contractor Huss, Inc. Once the contractor removed architectural finishes to reveal the existing framing conditions, the following was noted by John Dumsick (Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers):
“…the structure is a unique combination of heavy timer framing and light building construction. Whereas the sill, corner braces, king studs and stairwell framing are of more traditional heavy timber construction with the incorporation of mortise and tenon connections with and without hardwood pegs; the remaining structural framing elements (common studs, joists and ribbon boards) are of balloon framed construction. This may represent a reaction of the economic times in the south following the Civil War and the new embrace of technology and industry for rapidly produced building materials.”
The amount of rot at the sills and studs is much more significant than originally estimated. Due to deterioration from trapped moisture and past insect infestation, close to 90% of the sill, most of which was original to the 1870s structure, is being replaced.