Hampton-Preston Interpretive Improvements

Historic Columbia will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Hampton-Preston Mansion this spring by reopening its doors with a more comprehensive and inclusive story of the people who lived and worked at the property. The new interpretive framework will provide visitors with a variety of tools that will help them critically explore historical perspectives beyond the mansion’s antebellum owners and their planter-class peers.

These interpretive enhancements have dramatically built upon the foundational exhibit “Home to Many People,” which debuted 15 years ago and provided the first significant coverage of the roles enslaved people played at the site and in Columbia in general. The strongest concepts and stories from this exhibit have been further developed and integrated into both of the site’s main floors to ensure a more balanced representation of African and African American voices.

Historic Columbia staff have spent the past several years gathering new archival sources and working with consultant Dina Bailey to develop this new interpretive framework, which features a diverse group of women, men and children who lived and worked at the property from the mansion’s construction in 1818 through the South Carolina Tricentennial celebration in 1970.

Some of the changes include:

  • Twenty-one new wayside signs installed throughout the property. The new signage describes the experiences of enslaved laborers, educational opportunities available to people of different classes and races, and key moments in the property’s past, as well as the evolution of the site’s historically renowned gardens.
  • An updated and more immersive tour experience, which will allow visitors to travel through each room following different tour pathways, engage in hands-on activities and view primary documents on digital devices.
  • Eight interpretive reader rails installed in the downstairs rooms, which highlight the often-unseen contributions and struggles of the enslaved women, men and children who labored at the site from 1823 through 1865. These panels show the duality of black and white experiences through a variety of lenses, including labor, sport, southern foodways, travel and art.
  • Revamped and expanded interpretive content in the second story rooms, which will feature the Chicora College dormitory and three new interpretive spaces. The hallway will explore the themes of loss, mourning and memory using interpretive panels contextualizing Mary Boykin Chesnut’s diary and photographs.
  • There will also be a panel documenting the struggle newly freed Africans and African Americans faced in trying to reclaim their ancestry and find relatives.
  • A new transitional space in the southwest room where visitors can explore how memory and commemoration shaped how South Carolinians explored the past. One featured figure is Mary C. Simms Oliphant who attended the College for Women located on the site and who authored a South Carolina history textbook.

The northwest room is partially reconceived as a sitting room in the Hampton-Preston Tourist Home, which opened in 1944, and shows the disparities in accommodations available to white and black travelers in the South prior to and during the Civil Rights Movement. The second portion of the room will feature objects from the South Carolina Tricentennial celebration, which prompted the mansion’s rehabilitation and transformation into a publicly accessible historic site in 1970.

These improvements will be available to the public in the spring of 2018 and are made possible through grants from AgFirst, National Trust for Historic PreservationRichland County Conservation CommissionSouth Carolina Humanities and Synovus/NBSC