Located on the northeast corner of Richland and Marion streets within the heart of downtown, this property was home, work place, spiritual center and a source of pride for members of the same African American family from 1843 through 1970.
Formerly enslaved Charlestonians, Celia Mann, a midwife, and Ben Delane, a boatman, became the first generation of family members to live on the property and laid a social and material foundation that allowed successive generations to pursue a variety of businesses and social undertakings.
Although only one house stands today, the Mann-Simons Site was a collection of commercial and domestic spaces owned and operated by the same African-American family from at least 1843 until 1970. The property and its multiple buildings changed considerably over time to better accommodate the needs, tastes, and aspirations of this remarkable family. In 1970, through eminent domain, the Columbia Housing Authority acquired the site, leading to a grassroots preservation movement that saved the main house, which opened as a museum in 1978.
Mann-Simons Outdoor Museum
The Mann-Simons Outdoor Museum features five “ghost structures,” frames of buildings that once stood on the site, including a former lunch counter, grocery store, outhouse and residences. Interactive interpretative signage tells the story of these former structures. This outdoor museum is a first for South Carolina and one of a handful of exhibits of its kind nationwide.
Collections within the Mann-Simons House largely reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of the family during the late 1890s through 1920s. A multi-year archeological excavation was completed in February 2012, during which more than 60,000 artifacts were uncovered. Future interpretation at the Mann-Simons Site will trace the journey of Columbia’s African American community from enslavement through urban renewal. Drawing from over eight years of intensive archaeological excavation and research, the site will highlight the challenges, successes, and longevity experienced by generations of the family that lived here from the late 1830s through 1970, with particular emphasis on the Jim Crow era of the late 1890s through the 1920s.
To learn more about the Mann-Simons Site and the archaeological excavations conducted on the property between 2005 and 2007, take our virtual tour.
After more than a decade of research, a series of archeological digs that uncovered thousands of artifacts and months of renovations, a re-interpretation of the Mann-Simons Site has led to the new permanent exhibit, which tells a richer and more complex story of the African American families who lived and worked at the site. The new exhibition opened for the first time during the 38th annual Jubilee: Festival of Black Culture & History on September 17, 2016.
The new exhibit and renovations at the Mann-Simons Site were made possible in part by the following sponsors: City of Columbia, NBSC a division of Synovus Bank, Member FDIC, Columbia Chapter of the Links, McDonald’s of Columbia, Gloria and Marshall James, Richland County Conservation Commission and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.