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.
The Woodrow Wilson Family Home was closed nearly five years ago to prepare for a complete rehabilitation. The process began with the laborious removal and storage of the building’s furnishings and museum collections. Then, extensive research was conducted and a comprehensive plan for the property was developed. Using a $335,000 Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service as a catalyst, Historic Columbia Foundation and a team of professionals began phase I of a $3.4 million three-phase rehabilitation plan in April 2009. The plan was divided into phases in order to address the building’s most critical needs in the proper sequence.
The plan includes rehabilitating every aspect of the building and site while adhering to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The structural integrity of the building, the authenticity of its architectural components, and the interpretation of its historical context will be of utmost importance. In addition to returning the property to how it appeared in the 1870s during the Wilson family’s ownership, Historic Columbia Foundation plans to expand the historic property’s role beyond the typical house museum. It will function as an interpretive center that will educate visitors about the home’s most famous resident, the adolescent Thomas “Tommy” Woodrow Wilson who became the 28th president of the United States, as well as life in the city of Columbia during the tumultuous period after the Civil War known as the Reconstruction Era.
As 2011 approaches, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home rehabilitation project continues to move forward. Phase I, which called for stabilizing the building and restoring its exterior, has recently been completed. This phase was extremely important due to the fact that the building was plagued by a significant amount of hidden deterioration. Water infiltration, past insect infestation, and harsh environmental conditions had taken a toll on the historic building.
A structural evaluation was conducted to identify key areas of damage, diagnose the causes, and provide solutions to mitigate or eliminate any future adverse effects. Exterior repairs to the masonry foundation and new wood sills, studs and siding were required to restore the building’s structural integrity. A new historically correct wood-shingle roof was installed and the historic wooden windows were restored to prevent moisture infiltration.
After performing a comprehensive historic paint analysis the exterior elements were painted in a harmonious array of grays, yellows and browns derived from the building’s original color palette. These colors provide a glimpse into the style of the Victorian period in which the house was built and adhere to the philosophy proposed by Andrew Jackson Downing in his book Cottage Residences published in 1842. The renewed exterior of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home gives the impression that the building is well on its way to being fully rehabilitated, but in reality a considerable amount of work to the interior and site remains. Now that the building envelope has been secured the Woodrow Wilson Family Home rehabilitation project is ready to move forward to the next phase.