For almost two decades the modest three-room building at 2025 ½ Marion Street stood vacant. A curiosity for some passersby who pondered its past, it was a target of derision for others skeptical of its future. Outside, a cockeyed chimney seemed an ominous portent of structural problems that might lie beneath the peeling paint of clapboards and tired windows. Inside, the wood-frame cottage’s flaking plaster and well-trod floorboards belied the site’s rich association with South Carolina’s pre-eminent civil and human rights activist, Modjeska Monteith Simkins. Her home, immediately to the east, had undergone renovation in 1997. To what vital use—a use that also would preserve the important physical layers of history embedded within its walls—could this building be placed?
This question and another that followed immediately thereafter—what would Modjeska Simkins have wanted? — lay at the heart of innumerable discussions. Historic Columbia Foundation staff and multiple stakeholders, especially persons who worked with Mrs. Simkins in her quest to correct civil injustice, arrived at a compelling answer – the structure should become a live-work unit for a scholar-in-residence program whose participants would engage in research befitting their namesake’s ideals and interests.
The decision made, Historic Columbia Foundation sought to assemble the necessary funding from a host of sources. Partnerships included BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, which purchased and then donated the Simkins property to the City of Columbia in 2007. Congressman Jim Clyburn, impressed with the building’s potential, spearheaded an effort to receive funding from the now-discontinued Save America’s Treasures program. [Previously, in 2009, Historic Columbia Foundation received funding from this federal grant for the structural stabilization and exterior restoration of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.] Ultimately, his efforts yielded $150,000, which the Foundation was able to match through further sources, including a $25,000 grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission.
Under the direction of The Boudreaux Group, Willm Construction of Columbia performed eight months’ worth of rehabilitation work in compliance with Department of the Interior Standards for the work on historic building, which transformed the once-run-down cottage into a comprehensively updated facility while retaining its historic integrity. Highlights of the work include a reconstructed front porch, based on a photograph taken in April 1960; new heating, ventilation and air conditioning and plumbing systems; an interior paint scheme based on a scientific paint analysis; and exterior lighting and a double-loop wire fence in keeping with the building’s period of significance (1934-1966).
Monday, June 11th, marked the much-anticipated arrival of Historic Columbia Foundation’s first Modjeska Simkins Scholar-in-Residence – Yale doctoral candidate Caitlin Verboon. With her dissertation research experienced sponsored by Steve and Gail Morrison in honor of Candy Y. Waites, this Chapel Hill native will be in Columbia until late September investigating the Reconstruction era (1865-1877), particularly how relationships between black and white; northern and southern, urban and rural folks shaped life Columbia physical and social landscapes to become a New South city during the later 19th century. Caitlin’s findings, coupled with research that Historic Columbia Foundation staff members are conducting simultaneously, will inform the future interpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, which this fall will be undergoing Phase IIB of its multi-year rehabilitation. 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.
It is fitting that this ground-breaking scholar-in-residence program debuts during Historic Columbia Foundation’s 50thanniversary year. Building upon the last five decades of work, Foundation staff anxiously awaits the new opportunities that this research and the live-work facility will afford the organization in the coming years.
Ways to Get Involved:
1. Become a member of Historic Columbia Foundation. For as little as $35 (individual), your membership cost helps Historic Columbia Foundation in our local preservation and education efforts. Learn more…
2. Visit our historic house museums and gardens, including the Mann-Simons Site, Hampton-Preston Mansion, Seibels Garden, Robert Mills House & Garden, Woodrow Wilson Family Home (open the first Tuesday of the month for hard hat tours). Learn more…
3. Donate to Historic Columbia Foundation in honor of our 50th Anniversary. In an effort to save the Robert Mills House from demolition 265 visionary individuals, families and businesses each contributed $1,000 (equivalent to a $7,341 gift in 2011!) to Historic Columbia Foundation between 1961 and 1964. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Historic Columbia Foundation, our Board of Trustees invites you to continue the legacy of the 265 founding leaders by being among the first 265 donors to make a contribution to our 2011 – 2012 Anniversary Campaign. Your gift may serve as a memorial or honorarium and may be directed to benefit our special projects, endowment or general operation fund as noticed in 50th Anniversary donation form here.
4. Become a fan of Historic Columbia Foundation and Preservation Matters on Facebook.(Facebook.com/HistoricColumbia andFacebook.com/PreservationMatters) and/or follow us on Twitter (@histcolumbia). Your likes, comments and retweets help us spread the word about our organization.
5. Volunteer for Historic Columbia Foundation. By volunteering for Historic Columbia Foundation, you meet new people, visit historic sites, and discover the culture and lifestyles of South Carolina’s capital city and Richland County. Spend as little as six hours per month, or volunteer each week with us fulfilling our mission to nurture, support, and protect the historical and cultural heritage of Columbia and its environs through programs of advocacy, education, and preservation. Learn more about becoming a volunteer (and the many volunteer benefits) here.
6. Spread the word about our 50th Anniversary by posting a link to this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and/or your website.
7. Encourage your employer to support Historic Columbia Foundation. Much like the 1,000 visionary donors in 1961, sustaining the efforts of Historic Columbia Foundation for the next 50 years will require donations not only from individuals and families, but also from local businesses. You can learn more about our business partners here. Contact Wendi Spratt in our development office at 803.252.7742 ext. 12 firstname.lastname@example.org.