Name: Hampton Preston Mansion
Location:Columbia, South Carolina
Ticket Prices: -
This trip takes us back in time nearly two hundred years, exhibiting a simpler way of life and more modest methods of construction and building applications, to the state capitol city of Columbia, South Carolina. We will explore two neighboring mansions involving a curious twist, with one never being utilized for its intended private residence use, and both, eventually leading to the housing and education of many students.
The Hampton-Preston Mansion was built in 1818 for Ainsley and Sarah Hall where they lived until 1823 when Wade Hampton I came along and yearned to buy the home for his wife, Mary Cantey Hampton. The deal was struck for $35,000 and the Hall family moved out (and will be heard from later in this piece). Back at that time the roads surrounding the property were dirt, and horses were the mode of transportation, so this was an exceptionally fancy place to live in. The Hampton’s had six children, three of which survived to adulthood. Daughter Caroline married John Preston, thus, the reason for the second half of the home’s name.
For appearance sake, the main floor’s interior is very simple with the entry hall and four rooms, each warmed by its own fireplace. A unique style of concealed shudders is tucked away near each window, to extend whenever the weather, darkness or sunshine necessitated. The home displays a Gentlemen’s Parlor, Dining Room, Library and a Party Room which was used primarily by the ladies, but also followed its name for festive occasions. Upstairs encompasses the private family quarters with a special room set aside for mourning, as there was an abundance of death back then. Thinking in modern day terms this home is lacking a couple of “necessity” rooms: no bathrooms, which means they trotted outside to the privy, come rain or shine, heat or cold. Additionally, there is not a kitchen to be found in the house. Due to the great danger of fires started in that vicinity and burning down the house, the kitchen was usually a separate building away from the main house, and this building has been razed.
Following decades of the family’s residence, the Hampton-Preston Mansion had numerous uses including a convent, a college for women, and Union Army headquarters during the Civil War. After much time it became dilapidated and was spared destruction by the Historic Columbia Foundation’s restoration. One detail of interest, is that it is only half the size it formerly was during its heyday, as the back half was torn off! Currently it contains furnishings and family memorabilia dating from the 1800's.
Please recall that Ainsley and Sarah Hall were the original owners of the Hampton-Preston Mansion and were bought out by Wade Hampton I in 1823. Well, they needed another house, so they hired Robert Mills, the first federal architect of the United States (who designed the Washington Monument and the U.S. Treasury Building), to design their new home, situated across the street from the Hampton-Preston Mansion. Unfortunately, this story goes downhill from here. Mr. Hall died before the house was completed, and his wife was forced to sell the property before ever living in it! Consequently, the architect’s name goes down in history on this mansion. \\
In 1831 the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia purchased the Hall House for $14,000 and established the Columbia Theological Seminary to reside at this site, continuing there for 97 years. Changes in original building intentions required modifying the residence to accommodate dormitories, education facilities, the library, a chapel, and dinning areas. Altering the grounds to adapt to the school’s needs, changed its history forever. After other college uses, the buildings’ and property’s state of decay nearly led to its demise until the Historic Columbia Foundation came to the rescue and purchased the estate for $350,000 and restored the home. Total restoration is not possible since the Hall family never lived in it, so it is filled with an interpretation of life in the 1800's for an affluent family, including a pantry with wine cellar, warming kitchen (once again, the real kitchen would have been located in an exterior flanker building), main dining room, library and parlors for the ladies and gentlemen, music room and personal rooms upstairs. This one included an indoor bathroom; however, there was not one closet to be found.
My must see for the Robert Mills House would be the entry foyer area constructed in a symmetrical semicircle with doors leading in all directions–highlighting the “twin parlors” at the back of the house, showing off the glistening chandeliers, the piano, and a harp. Great window views of the gardens and the blossoming trees may also be enjoyed from there.
For more information: www.historiccolumbia.org