Former president's childhood home called Augusta 'jewel'



A two-story home on the corner of Telfair and Seventh streets is decorated very simply for the holidays.

Wreaths made of pine boughs and pinecones adorn the front and back doors, and a simple garland wraps around the bannister leading to the second floor.

There is no Christmas tree, but in the mid-1800s, when President Woodrow Wilson lived in the house, there probably would not have a tree either.

“The reason we don’t have a Christmas tree is because we’re interpreting it as 1860s period during the Civil War. Things, even food, was in a shortage. Even in Augusta where there was no fighting, there were refugees here from other towns, so there was a shortage of food. They had probably the minimum of Christmas decorations during the war. Things of nature, but as far as a tree, the Wilsons may not have had a tree during the war,” said Stephanie Herzberg, a tour guide for the Boyhood Home of Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson lived in the house from the time he was 1-year-old until he was 14. His father had taken the job as minister of First Presbyterian Church, which provided him with a generous salary and the brand-new house.

“Woodrow Wilson said his actual first memory in life was right here in Augusta, swinging on the gate that led to his father’s house,” Herzberg said. “He said he was a few months shy of his fourth birthday, and he heard two men going by talking loudly about somebody named Lincoln, who had been elected president, and of course that would mean war. But at 4, he didn’t know what they were talking about.

‘‘He went running inside through that same front door to ask his father what war meant.”

Later, as the fighting escalated, Wilson watched across the street as his father’s church became a hospital. On a desk in Wilson’s former bedroom, drawn by the former president, is a sketch that depicts railcars filled with wounded soldiers being brought to the church for care.

“Historians think that what he remembered from this is why he was so adamant about keeping this country out of World War I as long as possible,” Herzberg said.

Historic Augusta, Inc., purchased the house in 1991 and restored it to its original appearance. The walls are painted the color they were in the 1860s. And furniture once used by the Wilson family is present, on loan from First Presbyterian Church.

Wilson made his marks on the home – literally. The dining room table bears scratches which, he later admitted, came from his playing beneath it, and an upstairs window bears a small etching of the name “Tom.”

Herzberg said he was likely interrupted or caught, because he was known as Tommy until he went to college, but no one ever called him Tom.

Herzberg said many guests who tour the home are tourists, but she would like to see more local interest.

“This is a jewel for the city of Augusta to have had a president spend his formative years here. The home was not torn down and actually has 13 pieces of furniture that was used by his family while he was growing up,” she said. “I definitely think the story is worth telling and worth sharing.”

The Wilson home is open for tours Thursday through Saturday on the hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for students in grades K-12 and free for children 5 and younger.

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