Columbia’s recently revived historic site
History in a Nutshell
When the Wilson family moved to Columbia in 1870 (so that Dr. Wilson could work as a teacher at the city’s Presbyterian Theological Seminary and as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church), they had every intention of making this charming South Carolina city their permanent home. That’s why they undertook the project of building the massive 4,000-square-foot home modeled after a Tuscan villa, complete with arched windows and doorways, right at the southeastern edge of what’s now Columbia’s Robert Mills Garden District. The house was finished in 1871, and Tommy Wilson (as he was known during his boyhood) lived there with his parents in his early teens, until a new posting took the family to Wilmington, NC. Still, the historic Woodrow Wilson Family Home was the only house Wilson’s parents ever owned.
What You’ll See
The house had to close in 2005 because of structural issues, but that turned out to be a good thing: while the house was being renovated, researchers took the opportunity to retrofit the house with appropriate details, right down to the paint color on the walls. Exhibits in the house help establish its place in history as the boyhood home of the President who would lead the United States through World War I and as a Reconstruction-era building in the post-Civil War South. The house is decked out in period antiques that give you an idea of what the home’s interior would have been like—very little of the home’s furniture today actually belonged to the Wilson family.
The home’s gardens are supposed to have been designed by Wilson’s mother, with a formal front yard planted with magnolia, crepe myrtle, cherry laurel, and dogwood trees, and with the kitchen garden, privy, and carriage house in the more functional backyard. Pay special attention to the magnolia trees in the front yard, which were probably planted when Wilson was a teenager. Be sure to look for the bed where Woodrow Wilson was born—the family packed it up to bring with them when they moved from Staunton, Va. If you have time, visit the cemetery at First Presbyterian, where Wilson’s mother and father are both buried.
Learn more about the Woodrow Wilson Family Home (and House Museum), check seasonal hours of operation, and get directions on the Historic Columbia website.
Looking for more fun ways to explore South Carolina? Check out our VisitSouth website for more great trip ideas!
Photos courtesy of Historic Columbia