Diving into the imagination, playing dress up, hosting skits and talent shows for parents and friends—children have been dreaming up different ways to play for hundreds of years.
In 2017, it’s easy for a child to find entertainment. Conversely, because they did not have smartphones, video games, or TVs, children living in the mid-1800s relied heavily on creativity to entertain themselves.
Not all children received lavish gifts on Christmas. For some families, an orange in your stocking meant Santa had been generous. However, if a family could afford it, parents may have bought their children toys like the one pictured.
“The Visit of Santa Claus to the Happy Children,” made around 1870, is an example of a moving panorama.
Toymakers used the latest printing technology (chromolithography) to mass-produce a series of drawings on rolls of paper. A crank on each end could move the scroll in either direction, and the children narrated the scenes that passed by.
The panorama included a script that described how the main character, an adult, decided to immerse himself in the world of children and their light-hearted play in order to find happiness in life. The story culminated with a Christmas scene and the unveiling of Santa Claus as the narrator.
The manufacturer, Milton Bradley (a name associates with Christmases past, present, and future) also emphasized the toy’s educational value. Some of the scenes imparted moral lessons, and the instructions encouraged children to make up their own stories if they became bored with the script. Parents could use this toy to teach reading, speaking, composition, and art.
From a child’s perspective, though, playing with a panorama was pure fun. The scroll of pictures came in an ornate box decorated to resemble a theatrical stage. Some children even used curtains to frame their “stage.”
By hiding behind these curtains, the narrator could give the illusion he or she was invisible, and the scenes progressed on their own (almost like a movie).
Spectators would receive tiny tickets to the show, which usually took place in the parlor. Parlor theatrical performances were just one way that upper and middle-class families spent their leisure time, and children would have been delighted to receive gifts like these over the holidays.
Celebrating the holidays often means taking part in family traditions year after year. Each activity holds meaning and value for a family—from trimming the tree to caroling in the neighborhood.
But have you ever wondered where these traditions originated? The staff and volunteers at Historic Columbia love sharing these stories with guests on tours and at programs during this time of year.
Visitors can explore two historic properties— the Robert Mills House and the Hampton-Preston Mansion—to see what a South Carolina Christmas looked like in years past. Holiday guides share fascinating tidbits on how current traditions emerged in our community while others have faded away.
One character who has changed over the years is the big man himself. The 1821 book, The Children’s Friend: A New Year’s Present, to Little Ones from Five to Twelve, reveals one of the most important animals to Santa Claus, his sleigh was pulled by one reindeer.
One year later, the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, would further expand on our knowledge of Santa Claus. Today, we know this poem as “The Night Before Christmas.” It’s amazing to think how this poem remains popular after 195 years.
Christmas in South Carolina—especially in the 18th and 19th centuries— drew inspiration from other nations and cultures. Wreaths and greenery were fashioned from what was on hand in the nearby woods or—depending on where you lived—what grew in your yard.
The tradition of decorating with dried fruit comes from England. Mulled wine comes from the Portuguese tradition of serving hot Madiera during the holiday season.
Native South Carolinian Joel Poinsett brought Poinsettias back with him to the United States while serving as ambassador to Mexico. All these traditions are reflected in the seasonal décor at the Robert Mills House and Hampton Preston Mansion.
There are many opportunities for families to learn more about the holidays in the 19th century at Historic Columbia.
This holiday season, give a gift that will go down in history! For as long as supplies last, Historic Columbia is offering some great membership + gift opportunities.
Membership + Gift
Give the gift of a Historic Columbia membership! All new gift memberships purchased between now and Thursday, Dec. 21 will receive a complimentary Robert Mills House Christmas ornament.
Membership + Remembering Columbia Bundle
Purchase a membership between now and Thursday, Dec. 21 and receive $5 off the Remembering Columbia book. To receive this special discount, the book must be purchased at the sale of the membership. Individual membership book bundle: $55.00 Family membership book bundle: $70.00
Membership + Down Under Bundle
Back by popular demand, Historic Columbia’s Behind-the- Scenes Tour series opens the doors to Columbia Down Under! Join us for this exclusive event (Jan. 17 & 18), where you’ll enjoy wine, beer and light hors d’oeuvres along with the tour! Individual membership & One Down Under Tour Ticket $60 ($75 Value) Couple/Family membership & Two Down Under Tickets $ 100 ($130 Value)
The holiday season is here and Historic Columbia is pulling out all the stops! From carriage rides to caroling, there’s plenty to see and do in the Robert Mills Historic District through the new year. To kick-off the holiday season, HC will host its annual Santa Signing from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18 at The Gift Shop at Robert Mills House. This free, family-friendly event is the perfect opportunity to get into the holiday spirit, visit with Santa, enjoy holiday activities and begin checking off your shopping list! In addition, guests will have the opportunity to tour parts of the Robert Mills House and see the elves hard at work, gingerbread cookies and goodies baked by Mrs. Claus, and wrapped gifts and hanging stockings by the fireplace. Guests will receive 30%-off their purchase at the Gift Shop and light refreshments.
For those interested in peeking in on holidays past, holiday tours will be available through Dec. 31. Visit us at 1616 Blanding St to see a variety of historic holiday decorations and seasonal traditions in the Robert Mills House and Hampton-Preston Mansion. Guides will tell tales of holidays past in Columbia and demonstrate how families decorated and entertained during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
And for those who aren’t ready for December holidays just yet, Thanksgiving weekend is a perfect time to enjoy HC’s historic gardens. The beautiful grounds and gardens of HC’s historic properties are always free and a wonderful way to walk off Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family – or bring a picnic of leftovers! Historic Columbia’s properties include more than 14 acres of landscapes, featuring gardens that range from an expansive park-like setting with an elaborate formal garden to a traditional 19th-century swept yard.
Before you head this way in your sleigh, be aware that Historic Columbia and all our properties will be closed on Thursday, November 23, for Thanksgiving. The last tour will be given at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, November 22. Tours will resume at regular hours on Friday, November 24.
Ready to get started? Historic Holiday Tours are free for HC members, $5 for youth and $8 for adults, and tours run through Dec. 31 with special events and programs happening along the way. While the Santa Signing is free, registration for this event is highly encouraged. To purchase tickets and to register, visit historiccolumbia.org, email or call (803) 252-1770 x 23.
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Oct. 1 – 31 | All Day Event | Gardens of the Robert Mills House
Scarecrows have taken over the Robert Mills House gardens! This free exhibit features handcrafted scarecrows made by local families, business, organizations and classrooms. On a stroll through the gardens this fall, you’ll see dozens of ghoulish, historic and colorful scarecrows. Keep an eye out for “Sneaky Steve,” a mischievous scarecrow hiding somewhere on the grounds in a new location each week. For information, visit historiccolumbia.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (803) 252-1770 x 23.
Thursday, Oct. 5 | 6 – 7:30 p.m. | 4100 Block on Kilbourne St. in Heathwood
Get an inside look at former home of Lester Bates Jr. This architect-designed mid-century home is nestled in the Heathwood neighborhood. Current owners will share stories of curating modern furniture on a budget, as well as a few renovation trials and tribulations. This house showcases some of the most quintessential mid-century furnishings designed by Harvey Probber, Florence Knoll, Thayer Coggins, Heywood-Wakefield, Eero Saarinen, and the architectural style of the home and extensive use of glass and open design concepts to help forge a connection with nature. It was designed by Robert Jackson, Jr., whose firm, Jackson and Miller Architects, also designed Palmetto Health Baptist hospital and the former Maxwell Furniture store on Main Street. Take a walk through a home so carefully restored, you’ll feel like an extra from Mad Men.
Tickets are $25 for members and $30 for non-members, and registration is for members only until Sept. 28. For more information, email or call (803) 252-7742 x 15.
Historic Columbia’s 2017 Preservation Workshop series, presented by Crawlspace Medic, returns in October. Historic Columbia and the Committee for the Restoration and Beautification of Randolph Cemetery (CRBRC) will host a Preservation Workshop at the Seibels House to explore the ins and outs of renovating and maintaining a historic house. The workshop, led by Sean Stucker, director of facilities for Historic Columbia, and Staci Richey, owner of Access Preservation (which specializes in window restoration) and board member of the CRBRC, will lead attendees through a presentation and discussion that offers tips and examines how to plan, outline and manage a home rehab project. Participants will go on to explore work done over the decades at the Seibels House and will have the chance to check out ongoing and recent renovations at several neighboring properties. The Seibels House is located at 1601 Richland St. Light refreshments are included, and tickets for the workshop are $5 for members and $10 for non-members. To purchase tickets, email email@example.com or call (803) 252-1770 x 23.
Sunday, Oct. 8 | 2 – 3:30 p.m. | Tour begins at Melrose Park
Explore the Melrose Heights neighborhood with Historic Columbia from 2 – 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 8 during the monthly Second Sunday Stroll presented by Seed Architecture. The guided walking tour will travel through the historic neighborhood, which was recently listed as an historic site on the National Register of Historic Places. Stops will include highlights of various architectural styles, kit homes popular in the 1910s and historic locations in one of Columbia’s earliest suburbs. The tour will begin at Melrose Park located at 1500 Fairview Drive. Tickets are free for members and $8/adult and $5/youth for non-members. To purchase tickets, visit historccolumbia.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (803) 252-1770 x 23.
Historic Columbia invites the public to help share the history of the Mann-Simons family and become a volunteer tour guide of the newly interpreted site. This training session will consist of the following: a sample tour of the site, an overview of the family, history of the site, broad topics related to the site: slavery, Jim Crow, civil rights and urban renewal, and a day in the life of a volunteer, which will cover logistics of giving tours and other opportunities at the site. Volunteer training is free. Coffee and light refreshments will be provided at the training.
As a volunteer for Historic Columbia, you will:
Receive a 15 percent discount on purchases at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills.
Enjoy complimentary admission to our historic museums for yourself and members of your immediate family.
Attend special Historic Columbia functions for free or at reduced rates.
Receive a free subscription to Historically Speaking, Historic Columbia’s quarterly newsletter.
Tour and visit other historic site during monthly volunteer meetings and presentations.
Plus, make new friends and share experiences with others who have similar passions.
Grab your flashlights and join Historic Columbia and Elmwood Cemetery staff for guided tours presenting some of Columbia’s eerie and peculiar past by the light of the moon. Different than the regular monthly tours, Spirits Alive! Cemetery Tours feature costumed tour guides, snacks and other Halloween-related activities. Tickets are $8/adults and $4/youth for members and $12/adult and $6/youth for non-members. To purchase tickets, visit historccolumbia.org, email email@example.com, or call (803) 252-1770 x 23.
Sunday, Oct. 15 | 1 – 4 p.m. | Woodrow Wilson Family Home
Residents of Richland and Lexington Counties are invited to take a guided tour of one of our historic museums for just $1. This month, visit the Woodrow Wilson Family Home for Dollar Sunday. General admission prices apply for any house tours after the first. Walk-ins welcome! Tours leave at the top of the hour from 1 – 4 p.m. Purchase admission and meet for tours at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills. For information, visit historccolumbia.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (803) 252-1770 x 23.
Thursday, Oct. 19 | 7 – 10 p.m. | Robert Mills House & Gardens
Join Historic Columbia’s The Palladium Society (TPS) at the 14th annual Bluegrass, Bidding & BBQ fundraiser presented by Jaguar Land Rover Columbia. This annual celebration of live music, delicious barbeque, specialty drinks and an assortment of silent auction items will be held from 7 – 10 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19 on the grounds of the Robert Mills House & Gardens, located at 1616 Blanding Street in downtown Columbia. This year’s silent auction will feature a variety of items, including destination packages to historic cities across the Southeast, experiential packages to explore local cultural sites, behind-the-scenes tours of Columbia’s hot spots, gift cards to restaurants, boutiques, gyms and much more. Ticket prices are $25 for TPS members, $35 for Historic Columbia members and $45 for the general public. Tickets are $50 at the door. All proceeds will support Historic Columbia. For information, visit historccolumbia.org, email email@example.com, or call
Friday, Oct. 27 | 5:30 – 7 p.m. | Robert Mills House Parking Lot
Put on your costume and join Historic Columbia as we bring the fun of Halloween to the Robert Mills House during Trunk or Treat! Children will enjoy trick-or-treating with a twist in a safe and fun environment. Community members and organizations will display decorated trunks filled with candy in the parking lot of the Robert Mills House. Awards and prizes for best costumes and best decorated trunk will be given at 6:45 p.m. Don’t forget to visit the Gift Shop at Robert Mills and check out the Scarecrows in the Garden during this free event!
Trunk or Treat Vehicle Participation: Historic Columbia is accepting registrations for businesses and organizations and families to place a decorated vehicle at the event. This is a great opportunity for businesses and organizations to promote their mission, give away branded merchandise, and hand out candy to hundreds of children at a free community event.
Registered vehicles should arrive between 4:30 and 5:15 p.m. When giving out toys prizes or candy, remember that children will range in age from infants to young teens. Electricity will not be provided to registered vehicles in the event area, so please bring flashlights. Attendance is estimated at 400 families for the event. Please plan accordingly. For information, visit historiccolumbia.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (803) 252-1770 x 23.
Group Tours Historic Columbia is happy to arrange a private guided tour for groups of 10 or more with advance registration. Bus tours are available. To schedule a group tour, call (803) 252-1770 x 23 or email email@example.com.
Guest Blogger: Catherine Davenport Flowers, Curatorial Assistant
As a graduate assistant at Historic Columbia, I have grown attached to a trove of old treasures. I recently lifted one object out of its case for our holiday exhibit: a doll whose delicate frame has somehow managed to stand the test of time. Her dark hair and rosy cheeks remind us that the houses of the past were home not just to adults, but also to children. Their story is as much a part of our history as that of their parents.
Maybe you received a porcelain doll growing up, only to be exhorted by your mother to handle it gingerly. Today, these fragile things are meant more for admiring than for playing. But this German figurine made in the mid-1800s has a more durable construction. In the 19th century, only a doll’s head was porcelain; the body was made of cloth stuffed with sawdust, resin, or cotton. The composition made the doll lightweight and sturdy in small hands.
The doll in our collection is a precursor to Barbie and other fashion dolls that would evolve well into the 20th century. She came bundled with a wooden trunk containing another gown, tiny socks, shoes, and a straw hat. Dolls also presented an opportunity for girls to hone their needlework skills by sewing new garments for the toys from spare fabric. In changing outfits, young girls of means used the doll to embody their own understandings of womanhood and refinement.
If the 19th century doll in our collections has lasted over a century, perhaps yours is still around somewhere, too—waiting someday to be treasured.
You can see this porcelain doll and other Christmas gifts of times gone by at Historic Columbia’s Hampton-Preston Mansion and Robert Mills House, decorated for the holidays until December 31. For images of the houses decorated for the season, CLICK HERE.
Urban legend has it that the popularity of aluminum trees like this one declined sharply after the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas Special. In the cartoon, he picks a scrawny but natural tree instead of Lucy’s preference for “the biggest aluminum tree you can find.” The natural tree leads to Charlie Brown re-discovering the true meaning of Christmas. Once Linus’ blanket was thrown around the base of that needle-dropping pine, the aluminum Christmas tree was doomed.
This glittering survivor, and the suitcase, reminds us that the Hampton-Preston mansion was once a hotel for tourists. At the height of the aluminum Christmas tree fad in the late 1950s and mid-1960s, there were over thirty manufacturers of silver trees in the United States. This tree, made by the Peco Company in Austell, Georgia, had never been opened or used before it was donated to Historic Columbia in 2013.
The holidays are getting closer, and Historic Columbia is ready to help you kick off the holiday week with festive fun for the whole family.
Join Historic Columbia for its annual Candlelight Tours and Carriage Rides on Friday, December 19. Beginning at 6 pm, visitors can explore the Robert Mills House, Hampton-Preston Mansion and Mann-Simons Site by candlelight. HC’s historic house museums are decorated for the season and give a glimpse into the holiday traditions of Columbians from 1825 to 1900. Candlelight Tours are free for HC members, $12 for adults and $8 for youth. Reservations are not required for the tours, and the last tour starts at 8:30 pm.
On Saturday, December 20, Santa Claus will take a break from his preparations and visit the Robert Mills Carriage House for a holiday treat to remember at Breakfast with Santa. From 8 to 11 am, enjoy a continental breakfast while listening to seasonal music. After your meal, take a tour through the decorated halls of the Hampton-Preston Mansion, see a Victorian Christmas tree, make a holiday craft to take home and take a picture with HC’s Victorian Santa Claus. Breakfast with Santa is $10 for HC member adults, $3 for member youth, $12 for non-member adults, $4 for non-member youth and free for all children 3 and under, and reservations are required.
While Santa has been gathering lists, the elves in the Gift Shop at Robert Mills have also been hard at work providing great values. Visit the shop for holiday shopping deals and fun activities during both Candlelight Tours and Breakfast with Santa to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list.
Enjoy a day of celebration with your family on December 6 at the Robert Mills House for Historic Columbia’s Historic Holidays Family Day and Choir Showcase!
Experience the holidays in the decorated Robert Mills House during Family Day from 10 am until noon. Learn how the Christmas tree appeared in South Carolina and how a South Carolinian made the poinsettia a well-known holiday decoration while enjoying crafts and activities for the whole family, and take home handmade ornaments to decorate your tree. Family Day is $6 for non-member youth and free for Historic Columbia members and all adults.
At noon, join HC in front of the Robert Mills House for the annual Choir Showcase featuring performances by local elementary school choirs. The participating schools include Watkins-Nance Elementary School, Bethel-Hanberry Elementary School and Conder Elementary School. The Choir Showcase is free and open to the public, and HC is offering $1 Holiday House Tours of the Robert Mills House, Hampton-Preston Mansion and Mann-Simons Site during the event.
Don’t forget to stop by the Gift Shop at Robert Mills for some holiday shopping during these events. Enjoy a storewide sale during these events and save 25% off your holiday purchases. There’s still time to register for the Candlelighting Holiday Box giveaway before the drawing during HC’s Candlelight Tours and Carriage Rides on December 19.
Keep your December jolly with HC’s special events and programs throughout the month:
The holiday season is nearly upon us, and Historic Columbia is pulling out all the stops. Starting Friday, November 21, see a variety of holiday decorations and traditions in the Robert Mills House, Hampton-Preston Mansion and Mann-Simons Site. Guides will provide stories of holidays past in Columbia and discuss how families decorated and entertained during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Historic Holiday Tours are free for HC members, $5 for youth and $8 for adults, and tours run through January 4 with special events and programs happening along the way:
Santa Signing. Saturday, Nov. 22. Visit the Gift Shop at Robert Mills for a storewide one-day sale of 30% off all holiday trim décor and gift items! Our Victorian Santa will visit from 1 to 3 p.m. to sign free coloring pages for the little ones and take photos. Families will be able to buy a Santa Key and Reindeer Treats to help Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve and enjoy cookies and drinks while shopping. During this free event, register for giveaways for a great holiday stocking packed with or for a beautiful holiday wreath for Mom or Dad.
Historic Holidays Family Day. Saturday, Dec. 6 at 10 a.m. Enjoy the holidays in the decorated Robert Mills House and learn about the history of several holiday traditions while enjoying holiday crafts and activities as a family. Family Day is free for adults and HC member youth and $6 for non-member youth.
Choir Showcase & $1 Tours. Saturday, Dec. 6 at noon. Local elementary schools will provide musical entertainment in front of the Robert Mills House for the community. This event is free and open to the public, and HC invites you to enjoy special $1 Historic Holiday Tours during the event.
Candlelight Tours & Carriage Rides. Friday, Dec. 19 at 6 p.m. Visit the decorated halls of our historic house museums on a guided candlelight tour. Enjoy musical entertainment and children’s activities while celebrating the holidays with HC. Before or after your house tour, enjoy a carriage ride through the Robert Mills historic district. Carriage rides are $5 per person, and tours are $12 for adults, $8 for youth and free for HC members.
Breakfast with Santa. Saturday, Dec. 20 at 8 a.m. Enjoy a continental breakfast in our cozy Carriage House while listening to seasonal music. After breakfast, take a festive tour through Hampton-Preston Mansion, see a Victorian Christmas tree and make a holiday craft. Don’t forget to get a picture with HC’s Victorian Santa Claus! Admission is $10 for HC member adults, $3 for HC member youth, $12 for non-member adults, $4 for non-member youth ages 4 to 12 and free for kids 3 and under.
Events aren’t the only way to celebrate with HC this season. Give a one-of-a-kind present and support Historic Columbia by shopping at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills; visit historiccolumbia.org to find more about upcoming sales and events.
Thinking about renting a Historic Columbia property for your event this winter? Schedule your event by November 30 and save 15%! For more information, contact Heather Bacon-Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org, and learn more about the properties available for rent at historiccolumbia.org.