The Historic Columbia Foundation announced Monday the Wilson home’s doors will open again Feb. 15, with a number of events planned to coincide with Presidents’ Day two days later. It has been closed since 2005.
“This has been a labor of love. Twice this house has been on the brink of ruin,” Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites said. “This shows the power of preservation.”
The new home will be a museum with exhibits about Wilson’s life and what Columbia was like during Reconstruction. The work was paid for by a combination of grants, donations and money from Richland County.
Wilson’s family moved to Columbia when he was 13, and he lived in the city for about four years. His father taught at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Columbia. Wilson’s father, mother and sister are all buried at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, where Wilson’s father was the minister.
“Those were very formative years. You can see him out on that balcony, looking over the city and soaking everything in,” said Hank Shaw, an amateur historian from Columbia who has written a book on Wilson.
The home was set to be demolished in 1928 to build an auditorium, but residents rallied and saved it. The house served as a museum until 2005, when it was closed after plaster began falling from the ceiling and engineers noted water had badly damaged the foundation. It took several years to get the money to renovate, and Historic Columbia spent that time having a historic analysis of the home, which determined the original paint scheme and the likely uses for each of the rooms, Waites said.
The garden around the home has also been restored, including several magnolia trees planted on the grounds by Wilson’s mother.
The Columbia home is one of four historic sites for Wilson, along with his birthplace in Stanton, Va.; a home in Augusta, Ga., where he grew up; and the home in Washington, D.C., where he lived after his time as president.
The Wilson home is South Carolina’s only presidential site. Historians generally think Andrew Jackson was born in the state, but there is some dispute over whether the home where he was born might have been located in North Carolina. South Carolina built a state park on some of the Jackson family’s old land.
The Columbia museum will also deal with Reconstruction. Wilson was in Columbia toward the end of the bitter reconciliation after the Civil War, when federal troops were still around and the federal government exerted its power over affairs in the state which was the first to secede from the union.
It isn’t too much of a leap to imagine Wilson remembered his Columbia days as he led the United States into World War I and tried to broker deals for peace that would fall apart in less than 20 years.
“Woodrow Wilson was a moral, Christian man who greatly admired his father,” Shaw said. “I think he learned a lot while he was here.”