Total Solar Eclipse in South Carolina

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We were all amazed at the total solar eclipse that made its historic path over South Carolina this past Monday. Thanks to everyone who joined us from near and far to witness history in the making #OnThisSpot in Columbia, S.C.

There were a few pieces published at the end of last week that we want to highlight, just in case you missed them. The following article was published initially in The Columbia Star on August 17.

In the Path of Totality

By John Sherrer, director of cultural resources, Historic Columbia

Have you ever been in the path of something that you cannot escape? Have you ever been faced with an event that cannot be avoided? Such situations often elicit anxiety or even dread. What if you knew exactly when and where such an event was to occur? What would you do? How would you prepare?

Rather than with anxiety and dread, it has been with rapt anticipation that Columbians have readied themselves for an astronomical event noteworthy of history books. We, and the anticipated hundreds of thousands of visitors to the capital city, stand in path of totality. On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cast us in darkness. Day will become night, as this breathtaking phenomenon impacts the city like no other has in generations.

Stories of earlier solar eclipses, recorded by The State newspaper reveal the concerns, preparations and observations of our forebears while providing us with intriguing glimpses into the capital city they knew. For instance, the total solar eclipse of June 8, 1918 found Columbia lying far northeast from its path of totality. Leading up to the event, which would ultimately cast a modest shadow on the city, writers offered that, “The moon and sun in their glory cannot greatly eclipse Columbia.” Looking forward, on June 12, a correspondent concluded, “We ought to be able to pay some attention to the next eclipse, which is scheduled for 2017. The [First World] War should be over by that time, even according to . . . some of our own choicest pessimists.”

A little less than two decades earlier, on May 29, 1900, Columbians and other South Carolinians witnessed an eclipse of greater local impact, as they found themselves just outside of the path of totality for an event that engrossed most citizens but particularly “scientists, professors, students, ministers and ladies galore,” who traveled to the town of Little Mountain for a better view. Their journey involved rising early, making their respective ways to various electric streetcar stops and congregating at the train station where they boarded eight cars for the 30-mile trek.

They carried with them window panes and broken bottles caked in smoke from “lightwood splinter,” or fat wood to protect themselves from the eclipse’s harmful light. Following the event, in which animals were said to bed down for the night and birds ceased their songs, the 450-strong crowd returned to Columbia, many with “sooty nose or blackened cheek” from their protective “glasses” and several suffering from “barked shoes [and] torn dresses.” These inconveniences aside, their brush with the path of totality left many of them with an incomparable lifetime memory.

Soon, we, too, will experience an event of our lives. Unlike those of our predecessors’ our solar eclipse experience places us directly in the path of totality. But, while Columbia will be bathed in total darkness, albeit briefly, the sun and the moon will not truly eclipse the excitement and celebration citizens of and visitors to the capital city will enjoy during this once-in-a-lifetime event #OnThisSpot where #HistoryIsCool.


And this article was part of our #ThrowbackThursday collaboration with Cola Today.

Total Eclipses #OnThisSpot

The last total eclipse to cross the US was in 1918, but on the eastern seaboard, it only crossed through Orlando.

The last time the path of totality touched South Carolina was on May 28, 1900.

The very edge of the path skirted the City of Columbia creating a dusky haze for a few moments, according to eye witness accounts.

USC’s Garnet and Black noted that a total solar eclipse would be visible in Columbia on May 28, 1900 in their annual school calendar (they made it a holiday).

South Carolinian Oscar Montgomery Lieber (eldest son of Francis Lieber, who lived at South Carolina College and is the namesake of the admissions building) traveled to Labrador in 1860 on an “Eclipse Expedition” and recorded his findings in an attempt to have them published (it never was).

During the 1900 eclipse, some folks were not too impressed with the spectacle. John Coleman Feaster, a native of Fairfield County was a farmer who wrote in his diary on May 28, 1900: “We all saw the total eclipse of the Sun this AM, i.e. Gussie, Wife, Self, and Pen James. I plowed some corn and watermelons this A.M. Wife and Gussie gone to Pelt’s.” (But were they Bradford watermelons, tho?)

Apparently nonplussed by the potential for cosmic event, the State only mentioned the total eclipse once in their May 28, 1900 issue. The next day? Almost every page was devoted to the event.

Why should you get pumped over this eclipse? Solar eclipses aren’t uncommon. Usually, however, you have to travel out of your way to see them—swim to the middle of the ocean, freeze in Labrador, etc. Never again in our lifetimes will the path of totality cross through our backyards. So while people from Texas and Maine and Nevada are scrambling to find a Columbia hotel room, we can post up in our lawn chairs for an early happy hour next Monday.


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A Critical Time for our Nation’s Museums

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Fielding Freed, HC director of house museums

“I love museums!” The comment was enthusiastic and genuine. It came from one of South Carolina’s Congressmen last month during Museum Advocacy Day organized by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). A record attendance of more than 350 people from all 50 states who spent the day canvassing Capitol Hill underscored the concern over proposed cuts in federal funding for museums. Many of us do, as a matter of fact, love museums:

  • Museums are popular. There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than number of people who visit theme parks AND attend major league sporting events. Just one local example, in 2016 the South Carolina State Museum had over 160,000 visitors and a school visitation of 68,000.
  • Museums impact our economy. Nationally, museums sustain more than 400,000 jobs and directly contribute $21 billion to the economy each year. Here in South Carolina, where tourism is our number one industry, museums play a vital role in both entertaining our visitors (where do summertime tourists go on a rainy day?) but also educating them about the role our state has played in American history.
  • Museums serve the public. Just one example includes the twenty-five museums in our state that participate in the NEA’s Blue Star Museums initiative giving free summer admission to all active-duty and reserve personnel and their families (serving over 923,000 people nationwide).

The South Carolina delegation visiting Capitol Hill included students from USC’s Honors College and museum folks from Richland, Horry, Charleston, and Oconee counties. We spent the day meeting with our representatives to request that they maintain funding for the Office of Museum Services (OMS). The OMS, which is part of the larger Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), awards grants that help to educate students, digitize collections, and engage communities.

Here are some interesting numbers that help to explain why we felt strongly enough to travel to D.C. to represent our state’s museums in person:

  • From 2014 to 2016, 3 South Carolina museums received IMLS grants totaling $139,000.
  • During those same years, 3 NEH and NEA grants totaling $553,000 went to five museums.
  • The Humanities Council of South Carolina received $2.1 million and the South Carolina Arts Commission $2.3 million. Those funds, in turn, flowed outward and supported a wide variety of museum programs and projects.

The proposed federal budget recently submitted by the White House will directly and negatively affect the historic and cultural organizations of South Carolina. Of particular concern is the proposal to eliminate entirely the NEA and NEH.  Now is the time, if you love museums, to act. We have helped start the conversation, but now it’s up to those who value what South Carolina’s museums contribute to our quality of life to voice their support before it’s too late.

With Senator Graham

Caption: Fielding Freed with other SC delegates visiting Senator Lindsey Graham on Capitol Hill last month.

Originally published in The Columbia Star

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Free Times Responds to Wilson Controversy

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Following the national media coverage of the controversy surrounding Woodrow Wilson’s legacy, Rodney Welch recently visited the Woodrow Wilson Family Home and spoke with Historic Columbia staff about how this unique museum addresses these dynamic and difficult conversations. This article originally appeared in the December 23, 2015 issue of Free Times

Wilson and Howe Families

As U.S. Reconsiders Woodrow Wilson, Columbia Leads the Way

Nationally and locally, Woodrow Wilson’s past has been catching up to him.

Last month, students at Wilson’s alma mater, Princeton University, staged a sit-in at the president’s office and demanded Wilson’s name be removed from all campus buildings.

Here in Columbia, the divided legacy of the 28th president has been a topic of conversation ever since the newly renovated Woodrow Wilson Family Home at 1705 Hampton St. reopened in February of 2014.

Although long known as a champion of liberal reform who led the country during World War I, Wilson was also the president who re-introduced segregation into federal offices in Washington, D.C., treated black leaders with contempt, and screened D.W. Griffith’s racist epic The Birth of a Nation in the White House.

Far from avoiding the issue of Wilson’s racial views, exhibits in Columbia’s Woodrow Wilson Family Home tackle them upfront, partly because it’s unavoidable. This is the home where Wilson lived from 1870 to 1874, from the ages of 14 to 18, when a defeated South was still licking its wounds.

“One of the key things we want to do here is we want to talk about Reconstruction,” says John Sherrer, cultural resources director at Historic Columbia, which manages the home. “We want to be able to create the scenario of ‘This is Columbia and this is South Carolina after the Civil War.’”

For Jennifer Taylor, who wrote the docent script and is currently writing her Ph.D. thesis on the home, the willingness of the museum staff to approach sensitive topics makes it rare.

“The way that they’re talking about race and political power, those are important subjects that aren’t generally covered in these spaces,” she says.

“I think we actually are unique among the Wilson sites in the way that we interpret this Wilson house,” says Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites.

The Columbia home is one of four Wilson museums in the country. There’s also the presidential library in Staunton, Virginia, a boyhood home in Augusta — where the family lived before moving to Columbia — and the retirement home in Washington, D.C.

“Looking at communications from folks in D.C. and folks in Augusta, they certainly now are saying that Wilson was a complex guy, but it’s not something that they talk about necessarily at the historic sites, whereas we do that at this site,” Waites says. “So I’m not sure that there is, honestly, the expectation out there that a house that deals with Wilson would do this.”

Throughout the house, displays contrast Wilson’s placid domestic world with the political corruption and terrorism going on in the streets of Columbia.

In video presentations, Wilson is assessed by speakers as diverse as biographer A. Scott Berg and hop-hop artist DJ Spooky.

Historic Columbia co-hosted a screening of the latter’s film Rebirth of a Nation — a remixed, rescored and re-narrated version which examines Griffith’s compositional techniques and ideology — in January at the Nickelodeon Theatre.

“What we try to do here is look at the myths surrounding Reconstruction and break those down and tease those apart and put human faces on a lot of the events,” says Fielding Freed, Director of Historic House Museums with Historic Columbia. “As our guests go around the house, they’re starting to get a real idea that this was about human beings really renegotiating the majority of what was taken for granted for so many years and so [much] American life and that was slavery, and that’s no longer part of the social fabric of the country.”

Jasper Lawson of Massachusetts, who grew up in Columbia and graduated from the University of South Carolina, stopped by the home during a visit to his 50th reunion at C.A. Johnson High School.

“It’s a lot more informative than when I was a 14-year-old teenager popping in here,” he said. “Now I say, well, Wilson is not an exceptional president in terms of his racial views or anything like that. He’s no exception.”

For Lawson’s partner, Jay Landers, Wilson’s views were likely a matter of his environment.

“How you’re brought up is how you’re brought up,” he said. “He’s no different. We will be criticized in 20 or 30 years for what we’re doing now.”

He didn’t have to look far for a contemporary example.

“We experience that all the time, being an interracial married couple,” he said. “We’ve been married for 11 years, coming from Massachusetts, which was the first one with same sex marriage — we get to experience it. And there are places in today’s world where we won’t go right now.”


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The Impact of Columbia on Woodrow Wilson

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[The following was written by our Executive Director, Robin Waites, and published in The State on December 14, 2015 as an Opinion Extra. Richland and Lexington County residents are invited to take a guided tour of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home for only $1 on Sunday, Dec. 20.]

Recent student protests at Princeton regarding President Woodrow Wilson may seem far removed from Columbia, but Wilson’s views on race are part of our everyday conversations at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.   Since reopening the historic site in February 2014, Richland County and Historic Columbia have operated the museum as a place that explores the Reconstruction era, considers its impact on Wilson, and promotes open dialogue on all aspects of Wilson’s Presidency.

Woodrow Wilson Family Home


The Wilson’s moved to their home at the corner of Hampton and Henderson streets in 1871 when the future President was 14 years old.  This was in the middle of the Reconstruction era, a tumultuous period between the conclusion of the Civil War and the beginning of legally sanctioned segregation across the South.  Race, inextricably interwoven into politics and power, was central to the experience of Blacks and Whites in Columbia in 1871.  Racial matters structured lives in ways codified by law and negotiated through generations-old social customs. It was within this context that a white, privileged southern teenager began to form his impressions of the world and grow intellectually.

Woodrow Wilson is considered a successful, two-term President, who led America to victory in the First World War.  He is perhaps best known for laying the groundwork for the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations.  He is often held out as one of America’s most effective Presidents.   But, missing from the usual narrative on Wilson’s legacy is a discussion of his domestic policies, particularly those involving racial segregation.

Wilson campaigned in 1912 on a platform of racial inclusion, but went in the opposite direction once in office.  His actions to re-segregate federal offices that had been at least partially integrated took racial reconciliation backwards.  His association with public figures who championed legal segregation of the races sent a message to white and black alike that he eschewed policies that would bring about more equal treatment of blacks and whites.

The mindset behind these policies had its foundation within the very era in which Wilson grew into an adult in Columbia. Exhibits and guides at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home tackle these challenging issues and discuss the structural segregation in the post-Civil War era, as well as political terrorism carried out against blacks by the Red Shirts, and the apparent endorsement of Birth of a Nation in 1915 by then President Wilson.  Discussion of these issues has long been avoided but needs to be addressed in today’s world if we are going to be honest in our assessment of history and how it has shaped the world we live in today.

As the country is engaged in dynamic and difficult conversations about race and specifically the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, Historic Columbia offers a unique environment to consider how this national leader’s experiences and opinions shaped his later actions.   More broadly, in opening the door to discussion about our complex past, we all may thoughtfully shape our shared future.

Robin Waites is the Executive Director of Historic Columbia, which manages the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.  Waites oversaw the multi-year rehabilitation and re-interpretation of the site, which is the only museum of Reconstruction in the country.

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Film Columbia Takes a Happy Hour History Tour

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Have you wondered what our Happy Hour History Tours are like? Well, now you can get a taste of these famously historic walking tours thanks to the video above produced by Gustavo Montaña as part of the Film Columbia initiative. Through Film Columbia, One Columbia for Art and History partners with local filmmakers to shoot footage of artistic and cultural events throughout Columbia, SC to create an ongoing archive of footage of these exciting events and to encourage the use of this footage for promotions that demonstrate what a cultural city Columbia really is.

Learn more about Film Columbia here, and don’t forget to check out our event calendar to see what historic events we have coming up!

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Volunteer Training Starts Monday!

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Our marketing director and one of our awesome volunteers, Scott Shrader, stopped by ABC Columbia this week to talk with Anderson Burns about volunteering at HCF and how you can get involved! Volunteer training starts on Monday, June 10 – email Ann Posner at to learn more today!


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ABC Columbia Highlights HCF’s Reconstructing Religion Exhibit

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ABC Columbia’s Anderson Burns interviewed Historic Columbia Foundation’s Director of Historic House Museums Fielding Freed about the Reconstructing Religion: The Presbyterian Experience (1865-1876) Exhibit on display from March 22 – May 12 at the Robert Mills House and Gardens.

Check out the story and video here.

This exhibit will highlight aspects of religion in Columbia during Reconstruction (1865-1876) including the post-emancipation emergence of separate African American churches such as Ladson Presbyterian as well as young Woodrow Wilson’s move to Columbia in 1870.


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Preservation Matters: Renovated Brennen Building promises new ‘focal point’ on Main Street

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The State newspaper’s Jeff Wilkinson highlighted the recent renovations of Main Street’s Brennen Building in today’s (11.29.12) paper.

“The Brennen Building – the oldest building on Columbia’s Main Street, reportedly built circa 1870, and home to the legendary Capitol Cafe from 1911 to 2002 – will become bank offices, meeting space and perhaps a restaurant once again,” Wilkinson wrote.

Robin Waites, executive director of the Historic Columbia Foundation went on to say, “When you get the right people around the table, these projects become doable. And when they are finished, people see how these historic structures become jewels for the city.”

Check out the full article online here.

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Historic Columbia Shares Top 10 Local Landmarks in Free Times

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In this week’s Free Times, HCF Executive Director Robin Waites shares Historic Columbia’s list of the top 10 local landmarks that are eligible for the City of Columbia’s local landmark designation. Read the full story here, and view our entire list of eligible landmarks below:

1st Church of Christ Scientist  1114 Pickens Street
Adluh Flour Mill  804 Gervais Street
Antique Mall  705 Gervais Street
AP Williams Funeral Home  1808 Washington Street
Arsenal Hill Presbyterian Church  1103 Laurel Street
BB Kirkland Seed and Distributing Co  912 Lady Street
Benson Elementary  226 Bull Street
Berry’s on Main/Manson Building  1600 Main Street
Bull Street Campus Historic Corridor
Carver Theatre  1519 Harden Street
Claussen’s Bakery  2001 Greene Street
Columbia Canal  City of Columbia
Columbia Electric Railway  1337 Assembly Street
Cornwall Tourist Home  1713 Wayne Street
Creason Building  1246 Lady Street
Curtiss-Wright Hangar at Owens Field
Elmore Home  907 Tree Street
Eurytania Building  1728 Main Street
Fire Department Headquarters  1001 Senate Street
Glenwood Hotel  1619 Sumter Street
Greyhound Bus Depot  1220 Blanding Street
Howard’s Department Store  1306 Assembly Street
Lutheran Church of the Ascension  827 Wildwood
McMaster School  1106 Pickens Street
Named apartment buildings:
Boling  930 Laurens Street
Lucille  1321 Blanding Street
Adrian  1419 Bull Street
Bon Air  806 Barnwell Street
Hyland Apartments  1215 Elmwood Avenue
Marlboro Apartments  1116 Blanding Street
Singley Apartments  1600 Greene Street
The Beverly  1525 Bull Street
The Court  828-830 Gregg Street
The Gracelynn  1200 Henderson Street
Wit-Mary Apartments  1018-20 Marion Street
Timothy  2607 Devine Street
North Columbia Fire Station No. 7  2622 North Main Street
Oliver Gospel Mission  1532 Assembly Street
Olympia Armory  511 Granby Lane
Palmetto Compress Building  612 Devine Street
Pine Grove Rosenwald School  937 Piney Woods Road
Powell’s Furniture  1519 Sumter Street
Richard Samuel Roberts House  1717 Wayne Street
SC State Armory  1219 Assembly Street
Veterans Hospital  6439 Garner’s Ferry Road
Wardlaw School  1003 Elmwood Avenue
Waverly Hospital  2200 Hampton Street
Wesely UMC  1725 Gervais Street
Whaley Street Methodist Church  527 Whaley Street
Women’s Club of Columbia  1703 Blossom Street
World War Memorial Building  920 Sumter Street
YMCA  1420 Sumter Street

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