Mann-Simons Outdoor Museum Gets New Interactive Wayside Signage

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Historic Columbia Foundation is pleased to announce the completion of the Mann-Simons Outdoor Museum with the addition of interactive wayside signage and a new website, launched on February 13.

New wayside signage in front of the Mann-Simons Site.

New wayside signage in front of the Mann-Simons Site.

“The installation of the wayside signage and the QR codes they contain, which lead people to greater information via our website, is an exciting chapter in the expanded interpretation of this historic site,” said John Sherrer, director of cultural resources at Historic Columbia Foundation. “It marks the culmination of seven years of archaeological research by Dr. Jakob Crockett and scores of researchers that has led to a heightened appreciation and understanding of the Mann-Simons Site.”

Located at 1403 Richland Street, 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. These structures will now be accompanied by interpretative signage that 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.

M-S wayside signage QR code

When scanned by a smartphone, QR codes on each sign take the user to for more in-depth information.

Nine wayside signs will be installed on the site’s grounds, each with a QR code that, when scanned with a smartphone, takes you to a mobile website with more extensive information, photos and video about the Mann-Simons site, family and archaeological project. A desktop-compatible version of the site is available at

“These signs coupled with the ghost structures provide a unique interpretive experience that Columbia has never seen before,” said Sherrer.

Incorporating this free exhibit onto the popular property allows the community to better engage with the African-American heritage this site offers. The site currently is open for guided tours Tuesday through Sunday for $6, but this exhibit is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, free of charge.

About The Mann-Simons Site: Although only one house stands today, the Mann-Simons Site historically 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.

Former slaves from Charleston, 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.

Celia had four daughters, three of whom according to family history moved to Boston and “crossed the color line.” The remaining daughter, Agnes Jackson, stayed in Columbia, inheriting the estate. Married first to Thomas Jackson and later Bill Simons, Agnes had seven children. When she died in 1907, her son, Charles Simons, became head-of-household. Charles owned and worked at a small grocery store on the property until his death in 1933. His brother, John L. Simons, ran a small lunch counter on the property from 1891 until 1909.

Upon his death, Charles’ wife Amanda inherited the property. Following Amanda’s death in 1960, the estate was transferred to their adopted daughter Bernice Connors. In 1970, through eminent domain, the Columbia Housing Authority acquired the property, which led to a grassroots preservation movement that saved the main house, which opened as a museum in 1978.

The fourth and final phase of a multi-year archeological excavation was completed in February 2012. During the dig more than 60,000 artifacts were uncovered, resulting in unique findings to the property. Click here to read more. Since then the Foundation has made several updates to the property including the construction of five “ghost structures” or frames of buildings that once stood on the site and belonged to the Mann-Simons family, wayside signage, revised interpretation through new gallery exhibits, period rooms and signage. The Mann-Simons Outdoor Museum is free and open to the public. This project is funded by The Humanities Council SC, AT&T, AARP South Carolina, The Links, Inc., Wells Fargo, National Trust for Historic Preservation, City of Columbia, and Johnson, Toal & Battiste, P.A.

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WLTX News19 Features the New Outdoor Museum at Mann-Simons

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Friday afternoon WLTX News19 reporter Sydney Cummins visited the Mann-Simons Site to learn more about the recent additions to the property. The new (free) Outdoor Museum at the site will debut at the Foundation’s 34th Annual Jubilee Festival of Heritage on Saturday, August 18. To check out the story online, click here or click the video below.

 For more information on this free festival that runs from 11 am – 5 pm at the Mann-Simons Site, visit our calendar listing here. New this year, the Foundation will also host a FREE Panel Presentation to better explain the project and as well as the discuss the importance protecting our historic assets and how the disciplines of archaeology, historic preservation and public history can be used to achieve a better understanding of important historic properties. This free panel is Thursday, August 16 at 6 pm at the Big Apple.

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What Do These Bones Mean? | Artifact of the Month!

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Among the many bones recovered from the archaeological excavations at the Mann-Simons site were those belonging to three raccoons. What do they mean? Most simply, the bones mean there were at least three raccoons on site for some portion of their lives (or at least their deaths). But to know more we must first understand that the meaning of an object is not inherent in the object itself, but instead emerges from the context within which people and objects interact. Of course, when investigating the past it is impossible to observe these interactions—the primary context. Therefore, we must rely on secondary context: where an object was found in association with other objects and physical features.

Femura and vertebra from the buried raccoon.

Our raccoons came from two different contexts. The first was discovered in a small, roughly rectangular depression in a former planting space in the backyard, about three feet from a former building. No other artifacts were found in the depression. This raccoon was buried (if it had been a cat or dog, we might suggest the animal was a pet). The other two were discovered in a large circular pit also in the backyard. The pit contained 3,996 artifacts in addition to the two raccoons, artifacts ranging from bottles and nails to food remains and brick fragments. This was a trash pit and these raccoons were thrown away.

Mandibles from the two discarded raccoons.

These bones can be understood not only in relation to the family (who clearly disposed of them with no evidence of consumption), but larger society as well. The presence of raccoon remains in trash pits is not a rare phenomenon. Cats, rats, raccoons, dogs and other animals were routinely disposed of for population control and urban sanitation. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, these so-called ‘nuisance’ animals were often perceived as an important vector in the spread of disease in cities, and were even thought to be a possible cause of the national influenza outbreak in 1918. The disposal of three raccoons by the family could be viewed as a means of improving health conditions in Columbia.

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Mann-Simons Dig in the News…

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Now that the fourth and final phase of excavations at the Mann-Simons Site is coming to a close, Historic Columbia Foundation has had the honor of being featured in the news for this notable project.

Below you’ll find quick-links to recent press about the Mann-Simons dig:

–         WIS TV’s Taylor Kearns story and video

–         The State newspaper’s Noelle Phillips “Diggin’ History” story with photos: “Excavated clues tell Columbia family’s story

If you’re new to this story, refer to Jakob Crockett’s (HCF archaeologist) guest post here to get the latest.

About Mann-Simons:
Although only one house stands today, the Mann-Simons Site historically 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. Learn more…

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Fourth and Final Phase of Archaeological Excavations at Mann-Simons Site Complete

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Guest post by Jakob Crockett, Archaeologist at Historic Columbia Foundation

The exposed surface of Level 2, representing the period between 1909 and 1970. The linear space between the rows of bricks was a walkway, with plantings to each side.

The fourth and final phase of archaeological excavations at the Mann-Simons Site is complete. For three months, Joseph Johnson and I excavated 386 square feet on the southwest corner of the site. The goals were threefold: (1) more fully define the nature of operations at the lunch counter; (2) recover surviving evidence of the first-generation house; and (3) better understand how the family used this yard area over time. Although findings are preliminary, five layers were identified in the field.

Moving forward in time, the bottommost layer, Level 5, represents the pre-1870s occupation of the site. This was the period of Ben Delane and Celia Mann, who were living on the corner of Richland and Marion streets by at least 1843. Consistent with other parts of the yard, few artifacts were discovered. What was discovered was the west wall of their house, the house that existed prior to the one standing today. Represented by five post holes, the wall, running north-south, measured 15-feet (the east-west dimension remains unknown). An additional post hole was discovered underneath the Richland Street sidewalk, thought to be part of the front porch.

Level 4 represents the period between the 1870s, when Ben and Celia’s house was removed and the current house built, and 1891, when John L. Simons opened a lunch counter. The space seems to have been used much as it is today: an interface between house and street, with a few plants scattered about.


The five primary stratigraphic layers within the southwest yard area: Level 1 (1970+), Level 2 (1909-1970), Level 3 (1891-1909), Level 4 (circa 1870s-1891), Level 5 (pre-1870s).

Level 3 was the era of the lunch counter, 1891-1909. A rich diversity of artifacts were recovered, from expected items such as bottle caps, bones and cans, to unexpected items (at least in the quantity recovered) like 1-inch copper straight pins (over 30), unfired ammunition (over 10 cartridges) and coins. Most exciting was the discovery of a brick drain. Located within the stand against the rear wall, the open drain tied into the Columbia wastewater system, which the City began to lay in 1902.

With the destruction of the counter in 1909 came the opening of the front yard space, our Level 2. The area was heavily populated with various-sized plants and a brick-lined walkway.

Level 1 was the period 1970-today, a layer highly disturbed by construction activities after the 1970 eminent domain sale and landscaping associated with museum activities.

Post holes associated with the west wall of the house occupied by Ben Delane and Celia Mann. The post hole at the bottom of the photograph is thought to be part of the front porch.

City of Columbia workers remove a five-foot section of sidewalk along Richland Street

The skeleton of a chicken was discovered at the north extent of the excavation. The fully-articulated chicken was intentionally buried in a small grave.

Excavation is only one part of archaeology. The next steps include washing and cataloging all the artifacts, digitizing field maps, integrating new findings into previous work, and of course, figuring out what it all means. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact me at or 803.238.7452.

About Mann-Simons:
Although only one house stands today, the Mann-Simons Site historically 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. Learn more…

Read more →