Proposed Name Change
On Oct. 20, 2020, the Richland County Council strongly supported a proposal from the Historic Columbia staff and board members on changing the museum’s name to “The Museum of the Reconstruction Era” at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.
Previously promoted as the “Woodrow Wilson Family Home,” in 2014, Historic Columbia shifted the narrative at the site to explore the racial, social, and political landscape of Columbia and Richland County during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era (1865-77). The proposed name change reflects that interpretive change and addresses the visitor’s experience in a more transparent and direct way.
The repositioning of this site allows Historic Columbia to take a more forward-facing role in addressing the ongoing dialogue around the importance of the Reconstruction Era and the connection to current events. It foregrounds Historic Columbia's work on this pivotal era and more directly acknowledges the organization as a resource for those in search of a deeper understanding of this transformative period in American history.
The local landmark and National Register-listed building at 1705 Hampton Street will retain the title of the “Woodrow Wilson Family Home” as its preservation was predicated on its connection to the 28th president of the United States; however, all reference to the site as a museum will change.
Visitors to the The Museum of the Reconstruction Era are immersed in the context of Columbia in the 1870s as they explore how Columbia’s 9,297 residents, black and white, navigated the profound political, social and economic changes of Reconstruction. Through panel exhibits, interactive technologies and guided tours, visitors learn that this was a time when African Americans participated in government, founded churches, claimed access to education and negotiated new terms of labor. African American leaders are highlighted throughout the museum, including Charles M. Wilder, one of the first African Americans appointed as postmaster and Richard Greener, first black graduate of Harvard and the first black faculty member at the University of South Carolina, to name just a few.
The Museum of the Reconstruction Era also offers unparalleled opportunities for visitors to engage in meaningful conversation about the changing meanings of citizenship over the past 150 years. Through interactive dialogue visitors discuss the importance and responsibilities of citizenship in the Citizenship Center, a room featuring the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments prominently on the wall alongside provocative questions and videos intended to inspire discussion and explore the meanings of civil rights and engage in open dialogues about race and citizenship.
Completed in 1871, this Italian villa-style residence was home to a 14-year-old boy—the future 28th United States President-named "Tommy" Woodrow Wilson. During the height of Reconstruction, Woodrow Wilson's parents built this house, the only one they would ever own. Although the home has changed hands many times since the teenaged future president lived here, it stands as a reminder of the complicated racial history of one of the most misrepresented and misunderstood periods of American history.
Following a nine-year, comprehensive rehabilitation, the site features 21st-century exhibits that interpret the racial, social and political landscape of Columbia and Richland County during the Reconstruction era. The site is owned by Richland County and managed by Historic Columbia.
Reportedly designed under the influence of Jessie Wilson, the future president's mother, the landscape was divided into the formal front yard and working back yards, which included vegetable and flower beds as well as a kitchen house, privy and carriage house. While little documentation of the property exists from the time of the Wilson family's occupation, records indicate that roses, tea olives, crepe myrtle, japonica, and other shrubs were planted in the front yard, implying its use as a decorative garden area.
Today, large magnolias dominate the front of the property. There is a grass lawn in front of the house, and period plantings around the main walkway to the front door. Plants currently located in the front yard include crepe myrtle, cherry laurel, hackberry, Japanese magnolias, tea olive, magnolia and dogwood. A cherry laurel hedge dominates the Henderson Street edge of the property, and a hackberry tree is located on the side of the Henderson Street drive. Large cherry laurel and a pecan tree grow on the northeast corner of the property.
Did you know?
Historic Columbia maintains a permanent collection of more than 6,500 historic artifacts spanning the 18th, 19th and early-20th centuries, including a growing collection of locally made or used textiles, decorative arts, fine art, tools, and historic images. Learn more