Gifts from Historic Holidays

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By: Kathryn Kaslow

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.

If you’re interested in getting a closer look at holidays past, be sure to visit the Robert Mills House and the Hampton Preston Mansion through December 31 for Historic Columbia’s holiday tours.

This article was published originally in The Columbia Star.

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Feed your curiosity with Historic Columbia’s Lunch & Learn Series

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Lunch & Learn is back again to feed your brain on your lunch break. The November session of Lunch and Learn features University of South Carolina graduate students presenting ongoing research about the history of Columbia as seen from new angles.

What was it like to be enslaved on the South Carolina College (the University’s antebellum name) campus before the Civil War? Historic Columbia’s own Jill Found seeks to answer that question in the first Lunch & Learn session on November 7 from 12–1 p.m. at Seibels House, 1601 Richland Street.

South Carolina College relied on the labor of enslaved people for many activities around campus. Slaves swept dorm rooms and cooked meals, they drove wagons and cut wood, they worked in the gardens and built the Horseshoe’s iconic buildings. In short, it was slave labor which insured the University ran smoothly.

The work of enslaved individuals also supported student learning. Jack, the first person bought by South Carolina College, worked in the chemistry laboratory keeping up the equipment and aiding professors.

Jack did much more than work in the chemistry lab though. He formed connections to people and institutions that would help him make a way for himself in the world and labored in his free time, running errands for students. Found’s research focuses on the complicated lives, roles, and relationships held by Jack and others on campus.

The November 7 session will also feature author Katherine Chaddock. She will be signing her book about Richard Greener, the first African American professor at the University of South Carolina, Uncompromising Activist: Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College.

On November 14, Olivia Brown will explore the Jewish community in Columbia at the turn of the 20th century by examining the evolution of Jewish food traditions in the South.

Lastly, on November 21, Charlotte Adams will look at the evolution of the Seibels House, the oldest house in Columbia, to make sense of the different layers of history and architecture visible ( and invisible) on the building.

Each session will be held from 12–1 p.m. at Seibels House, 1601 Richland Street.

Ticket prices vary as discounts are available to students, teachers, and HC members.

Walk- ins will be accepted as space allows, but reservations are recommended. For more information, please click here. Historic Columbia looks forward to learning with you in November.

Don’t forget your lunch!

This piece was originally published in the Columbia Star.

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Historic Columbia to create virtual tour of Hampton-Preston Mansion

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Historic Columbia is pleased to announce a new partnership with SYNOVUS/NBSC and AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, to support enhanced interpretation of the Hampton-Preston Mansion & Gardens. The goal of this project is to meet the educational needs and expectations of 21st century visitors to one of Richland County’s and Columbia’s most historically significant and publicly accessible sites. The Virtual Tour is anticipated to launch in culmination of the Hampton-Preston Mansion’s bicentennial anniversary in 2018.

Embracing 21st century digital technology, Historic Columbia is developing an expanded guest experience through a new virtual tour of the Hampton-Preston Mansion. This virtual tour will bring the site to life for onsite visitors, students in the classroom, and remote visitors. The virtual tour will provide a unique, personal, and more nuanced story of the historic site.

The virtual tour will feature historic images, 360-degree videos, drone aerial photography and a touch-screen interactive element through which individuals can learn more about objects in the collection.

In addition, first person interpretation of individuals who lived and worked at the site will be included. Support of this project enables Historic Columbia to expand services and visitation to a broader population including students, residents and tourists.

AgFirst Farm Credit Bank and SYNOVUS/NBSC’s investment will ensure that Historic Columbia continues to interpret Richland County’s rich and diverse history with modern, cutting-edge technology and to provide a significant impact on visitors, students, and virtual visitors.

By creating these materials with 21st-century skills and South Carolina state educational standards in mind, the result will be a body of information accessed through a platform of various learning styles that will be dynamic, effective, and lasting.

For more information on how to support this project and other improvements taking place at the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, contact Wendi Spratt at 803.252.7742 x12 or via email at

This article was originally published in The Columbia Star 

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Historic Columbia Kicks Off its Homeschool Friday Program 

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By Lois Carlisle, Historic Columbia 

Homeschool Friday returns, and Historic Columbia invites homeschool students to participate on the first Friday of each month between September and May. Each month’s program is from 10-11:30 a.m. and includes engaging hands-on activities for students to explore the history of Columbia and Richland County. These dynamic programs are designed for elementary and middle school-aged students.  

On Friday, Sept. 1, students will take a walking tour through the historic Olympia Mill Village where they will learn the history of working men and women in the late 19th through the mid-20th century. This off-site program will explore several historic buildings in the Olympia Mill Village including the Union Hall where workers gathered to fight for better working conditions, including restrictions on child labor in Columbia. Students will learn of the varied uses of today’s 701 Whaley at a time when it served as a company store, bowling alley, library, and dance hall..  

On Friday, Oct. 6, the program will introduce students to the history of Columbia’s German population, which arrived during the city’s earliest years.  In addition to learning the many contributions immigrants made to the city. Students will explore various German cultural customs, including pretzel making and yodeling. As the year goes on, programs include a cross-section of the city’s music history,  a study in foodways, presidential visits in South Carolina, civil rights, and women’s history (to name a few).  

Registration is available for individual programs as well as a year-long package. Advanced tickets are $5 per student for members and $6 per student for nonmembers. Tickets bought at-the-door are $8 regardless of membership status. Accompanying adults get in free.  

Homeschool Friday is open to families and homeschool groups of less than 10 students. For larger groups, we recommend arranging a separate visit to explore that month’s topic.  

Visit to see the full Homeschool Friday schedule. To register, CLICK HERE, call 803-252-7742 x 26 or email We look forward to learning with you!

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Experiencing the Eclipse in Columbia

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By James Quint, director of education, Historic Columbia

During its 230-year-history, many travelers ventured to Columbia in order to interact with politicians and businessmen in the budding state capital. Even more travelled here to work, to trade, or to sell their goods from the far corners of the state. Some come to learn at Columbia’s colleges and universities. Unquestionably, the most famous visitor of the 18th century was George Washington when he made his stop during his tour of the South in 1791.

On August 21, hundreds of thousands of guests will arrive in the Midlands, as it has been named the best place on the East Coast to watch the total solar eclipse with 2 minutes 36 seconds of totality. As our state prepares to welcome record crowds, city services, law enforcement, cultural organizations and a variety of other groups prepare for an influx not seen since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1987.

While Myrtle Beach and Charleston may be viewed as the tourist meccas of South Carolina, and to be fair there are many others, including Columbia, our city has an array of engaging activities to ensure a positive experience for those visiting during this historic weekend. Residents and visitors will look to the sky at 2:41 p.m. on to see the Great American Eclipse, which may be one of the most visually impressive events of their lifetime.

Undoubtedly visitors from all over the world will want to learn more about Columbia’s history and culture, which is why Historic Columbia has planned a series of events and tours to engage them in our rich past.

Our community’s longtime connections with the military will be explored during a Historic Water Balloon Battle Happy Hour on Friday, August 18 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. This popular annual event will explore military tactics in ways that will also cool participants in famously hot Columbia with more than 1,700 water balloons. Thousands of water balloons will be discharged in four battles tracing tactics used in the Revolutionary War, World War I and later 20th century conflicts.

Tours of Historic Columbia’s four historic house museums, the Robert Mills House & Gardens, Hampton-Preston Mansion & Gardens, Mann-Simons Site and the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction, will be offered throughout the weekend.  Each site tells a compelling story of individuals and events who have shaped the capital city and beyond.

Walking tours of Main Street and the Vista will be offered simultaneously at 9 and 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings and are perfect options for folks to explore the area’s architecture, development and history.

More than 600 people will gather at the historic Robert Mills House & Gardens on Monday afternoon to watch the Eclipse. While this event is sold out, the gardens and grounds are open daily to the public and free to access during normal business hours – so be sure to come and visit on another day.

Just as city leaders and residents welcomed George Washington in 1791, we hope you’ll join us in welcoming the thousands who will arrive in the Midlands and encourage them to learn more about our city and county. Visit to learn more about the events scheduled during Total Eclipse Weekend.

This article was originally published in The Columbia Star.

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Turning Heads: Columbia’s First Mid-Century Masterpiece

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By Lois Carlisle, Historic Columbia
At the northwest corner of Assembly and Laurel streets stands one of the earliest examples of Modern architecture in Columbia. The Veterans Administration Regional Office Building (VARO), with its sleek, horizontal lines and use of innovative building techniques, was the first of its kind in the capital city. At the time of its construction in 1949, the VARO would have featured prominently on the city’s shifting skyline. Imagine looking up from the bottom of Arsenal Hill and seeing such a building—one whose design linked it with that of other major cities in the United States –Atlanta, Raleigh, Richmond, and most importantly with Washington DC. Satellite or regional offices for Federal agencies were new at the time. To generate a sense of authority, the VARO’s architects aligned its design with that of the newest additions to the nation’s capital.

One of the most distinct features of the building is the granite relief sculpture at its entrance. Edmond Amateis, a Beaux-Arts trained sculptor for numerous War Memorials and works for the Department of Commerce Building in DC, completed the piece in 1952. The work depicts an agricultural allegory in South Carolina with Dr. Thomas G. Clemson, the prominent farmer, instructing scientific agriculture. The work depicts symbols and images that represent equal rights and opportunity African Americans amidst South Carolina crops and agriculture.

Previously the Veterans Administration offices were located outside of the city at Fort Jackson. By building the VARO in the heart of downtown’s commercial district, it became easier for veterans to access healthcare, military benefits, and housing services. The location of the building itself allowed for increased visibility not only with clientele, but also with the general public. This building was proof that the federal government not only had a presence in South Carolina, but a vital one.
The VARO’s architects were LaFaye, LaFaye, & Fair and Stork & Lyles—the latter being the precursor firm for Lyles, Bisset, Carlisle, & Wolff (LBC&W). The Columbia-based LBC&W was one of the most prominent architecture firms in the Southeast, with a prolific body of work that shaped South Carolina skylines for decades. (If you’ve seen Cornell Arms, the Palmetto Club, Russell House, Claire Towers, Thomas Cooper Library, or the VARO’s neighbor, Columbia’s Main Post Office, then you are familiar with the firm’s body of work. If your house sits in Forest Acres, then you might live in an LBC&W original.)

The VARO Building holds significance for its function as a pivot point for federal architecture in Columbia. Prior to the VARO’s construction, the city’s government buildings were executed in the Renaissance Revival Style. LBC&W veered from the traditionalist mode of construction and opted for a sleek, linear form which reflected the contemporary, dynamic values of the federal government’s new post-WWII agencies. In other words: the VARO was sexy.
Currently, this ground-breaking, style-shifting, emblem of a generation stands empty. In 2015, upon learning that the General Services Administration (GSA) was calling for the building’s demolition, Historic Columbia requested that the State Historic Preservation Office consider VARO as eligible for National Register status. Once determined eligible, GSA decided to offer the building for sale. This iconic mid-century modern building, located at the cusp of the key commercial district, now has the opportunity for new life.
May is National Historic Preservation Month. Visit to learn more about its role in advocating and preserving historic sites like the VARO.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Star on May 26, 2017.

Veterans Administration Building_1 Veterans Administration Building


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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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Absolute Slaves: Race, Law and Society in Antebellum South Carolina

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By Rochelle Outlaw, J.D., Ph.D. Candidate, USC

Today, South Carolina remains one of the most diverse states in the union. According to the 2015 census, nearly 37 percent of South Carolina’s residents identified as a racial minority. Approximately, 28 percent of the state’s population is African American. The state’s racial diversity is grounded in the history of the founding of the colony.

Closely linked to the island of Barbados, South Carolina was the only colony where blacks outnumbered whites at the turn of the eighteenth century. The arrival of African slaves and free people of color from Barbados and a limited number of white women in the colony all contributed to a society that was accepting of racial diversity and interracial relationships. Unlike other southern states including North Carolina and Virginia, South Carolina never adopted a one-drop rule and did not have an anti-miscegenation clause in its constitution until 1865.

Indeed, South Carolina society had changed by the beginning of the nineteenth century. Racial slavery was embedded in its society and whites viewed slavery as their key to prosperity. What did not change about the state, however, was that as such, South Carolina offers a unique opportunity to study race, law and society during the antebellum period.

To learn about the common-law definition of race and how it related to social and political thought on race in antebellum South Carolina, attend Historic Columbia’s Lunch and Learn series from noon – 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21. This session will be led by guest presenter, Rochelle Outlaw, J.D., Ph.D. Candidate at the University of South Carolina and will be held at the Mann-Simons Site located at 1403 Richland Street. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit, email or call 803-252-1770 x 23.


This article was originally published in the Columbia Star.

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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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Chicora College Yearbook Memories

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For sisters Elizabeth (McElveen) Yountz, Robin (McElveen) Ragans, and Dale (McElveen) Jaeger, a recent visit to the Hampton-Preston Mansion was an exciting opportunity to see Chicora College, the Alma Mater of their grandmother Sarah Cornelia Cockfield. “It was a real thrill to see her in the annuals and see the ‘dorm’ room that she experienced,” said Elizabeth (Cornee) Yountz.  Cockfield, who grew up in Johnsonville near Lake City, graduated from Chicora in 1918. Historic Columbia was pleased to offer the sisters access to our collection of Chicora College yearbooks which contain many photographs of their grandmother that they had not seen before.


The  Presbyterian College for Women merged with Greenville’s Chicora College to form Chicora College for Women in 1915.  The school remained on Blanding Street at the Hampton-Preston property until 1930.






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