If you read my entry on the Hampton-Preston Mansion then you know it was originally owned by Ainsley Hall. When Wade Hampton became so enamored with the Hampton-Preston Mansion, he purchased it from Hall and promptly booted Hall out. Ainsley sold his magnificent house while his wife was out of town. As you might expect, if you sell your wife’s house while she is gone you better well be prepared to pony up with a bigger and even grander home to help get your self out of the doghouse and back on the porch. That being said, that is exactly what Ainsley Hall did.
This fine example of the Federal/Greek Revival home was built in 1823. Sadly for Ainsley he would pass before the home was completed. I guess maybe that is some sorta karma for selling his wife’s house.
The home was designed and gets its name from architect, Robert Mills. Born in nearby Charleston in 1781, he was one of the first trained architects in America. When he ventured to DC, he met an architect wanna-be named Thomas Jefferson. Mills would later go on to be a protégé of Benjamin Latrobe. Mills is the guy who designed the Washington Monument, which of course on a must stop on any trip to DC. The home is only one of 10 known homes designed by Mills.
The home makes use of Mill's liberal use of symmetry and simplicity. It boasts Ionic Greek-style columns that support a portico. The home sits over the basement. Another highlight is its Venetian windows. Inside the grand home you will spot twin parlors, brilliant ceiling ornamentation, and silver doorknobs.
I am not sure if Mrs. Hall was so distraught over her husband’s death that she couldn’t bear to be in the home without him, or if she was still reeling over hubby selling her home. Whatever her reason Mrs. Hall never lived here. She sold the home to a local group of Presbyterians who turned it into a theological seminary. The first class was held in 1831. Future president, Woodrow Wilson’s father, Dr. Joseph R. Wilson, as well as his uncle, Dr. James Woodrow, taught here. The building that they used has now been converted to a display room and where you can find restrooms.
In 1927 the college relocated to Decatur GA. Over the years several more collages were housed here including Winthrop University, which is now located in Rock Hill SC. Oh and which, by the way, is where I received my BA in Sociology and Social Work. In the 1960s the home was slated to be torn down but was saved by a group of historical house lovers who didn’t think this significant home should be destroyed. In 1967 the home was open as a museum to the public.
Since the Hall’s never moved in, naturally most of the furnishings are not of the family, but are what would have been displayed in such an opulent home of the time. Styles include American Federal, English Regency, and French Empire. They also have 2 beautiful Aubusson rugs on display. Outside the home guests will find a magnificent garden for strolling while you are waiting to tour the home.
This home, the Hampton-Preston Mansion, and the Mann-Simmons Cottage are owned and operated by the fantastic Historic Columbia Group. They also own the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, but it is currently undergoing restoration and is closed to the public. The home and the Hampton-Preston Mansion sit directly across from each other. There is parking on the side of the street or there is limited parking on the grounds. Inside on of the cottages you will find a well-stocked gift shop and there are restrooms on the premises. . Due to the nature of the home it is not handicapped accessible. Photographs are not allowed inside the house, but you are free to take as many pictures as your heart desires outside the home and in the gardens.
Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4 pm (last tour begins at 3)
Sunday 1-5 pm (last tour begins at 4)
Closed Mondays and major holidays.
You must be on a tour in order to see the inside of the house. Tours last about 45 minutes. It took me around 2 hours to see all three homes. Tours start on the hour.
Rates: To be honest I am not sure all of the current combo rates. The current posted rates for combo tour reflect admission to the Wilson House, which is currently closed. I paid $10 with my AAA for admission to all 3 houses. Single rates are:
The foundation hosts a number of special events, series, and workshops throughout the year. You can visit them at www.HistoricColumbia.org.
Two great resources for Southern plantations and mansions are:
Bob Vila’s Guide to Historic Homes of the South . This is an older book so you will have to look somewhere like Amazon (www.amazon.com) to find a copy.
Marvelous Old Mansions and other Southern Treasures By Sylvia Higginbotham. Should be readily available from your favorite bookstore or directly from the publisher at www.blairpub.com.
If you are like me (and my pal zabelle) and love historical houses, then make this one of your first stops in Columbia. This home is truly an architectural and historical find located only a few minutes from the downtown area of this historical capital city.
Very highly recommend.