Originally created 01/31/05

Childhood home of Woodrow Wilson deteriorating



COLUMBIA, S.C. - Local historians say one of President Woodrow Wilson's childhood homes needs a new roof and other renovations or it may be forced to close to the public.

The nation's 28th president, born in Virginia, was raised in Georgia and South Carolina and lived with his parents and two siblings in Columbia as a teenager during from 1870 to 1874. The family moved into the home, which includes Wilson's birth bed, in 1872.

The Woodrow Wilson house is furnished with period 1870s furniture, but only two of the pieces belonged to the Wilsons, including the bed.

A variety of repairs are needed to protect the house. Windows need to be replaced and outfitted with film to guard the furniture and home's interior from sunlight, plaster ceilings are showing cracks and electric wiring, especially on the second floor, needs updating.

Members of the Historic Columbia Foundation, which maintains the Woodrow Wilson house and three other homes in downtown Columbia, asked Richland County Council last week for about $5,000 for an assessment.

Councilwoman Kit Smith said the home "is a critical part of Columbia because we have so little left of our history compared to many other Southern cities," said Smith.

If the council approves the assessment, the renovation funding would likely come from private donations and federal grants, said Robin Waites, executive director of the Historic Columbia Foundation. Waites said work could begin as early as July.

"The house is at a stage in its life span where it requires a great deal of attention - it's never received a wholesale museum-quality restoration," said John M. Sherrer III, director of properties and interpretation for Historic Columbia.

Sherrer said the house functioned as a single-family residence between 1872 and 1928, when it was saved from demolition. The house opened to the public as a museum in 1932.

An estimated 20,000 people a year visit the four historic homes maintained by Historic Columbia. The Woodrow Wilson house seems to attract more out-of-town visitors than the others, largely because many people make presidential landmarks a specific destination, he said.

"With the increased focus on heritage tourism, we hope to draw more people into Columbia, and a structure like this has to be able to handle that," Sherrer said. "It's important to do it right because you get great returns when you maintain cultural assets in the right way."