In 2005, Historic Columbia closed the Woodrow Wilson Family Home historic site due to extensive structural issues. $3.1 million in funding from grants, private donations and Richland County resulted in an unprecedented physical rehabilitation and a total overhaul of the site’s interpretation. After eight years of research and rehabilitation, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia and Richland County reopened to the public on February 15, 2014.
The three-phase restoration project began in 2009 and included major structural stabilization, new heating, new ventilation and air conditioning system, new electrical system, a fire-suppression system, extensive plaster repair and restorative carpentry. The roof was replaced with historically-accurate wood shingles, historic gutters were reconstructed, and 93 percent of the foundation was replaced. The current paint job features a palette accurate to the Wilson family’s time in the house, and the house’s floorplan was restored to its original flow. Evidence of earlier technologies and décor were preserved to show how the building changed over time.
The Woodrow Wilson Family Home is not only South Carolina’s only presidential site, it is also the only museum in the United States to focus solely on the Reconstruction era (1865-1876), a period that too often has been misrepresented and misunderstood. During the restoration, Historic Columbia had an opportunity to carefully consider the long-term plan for the site’s interpretation. Staff assembled a team of distinguished scholars from the University of South Carolina with the goal of producing a new interpretive scheme that would showcase the Wilson family in the context of the Reconstruction era, the transformative years when they called Columbia home. This property not only tells the story of the young future president’s life in Columbia, it uses the Wilson family as a springboard for interpreting the larger of story of what was happening in South Carolina in the years following the Civil War.
Visitors are immersed in the context of Columbia in the 1870s as they explore how Columbia’s 9,297 residents, both black and white, navigated the profound political, social and economic changes of Reconstruction. Through panel exhibits, interactive technologies and guided tours, patrons learn the history of African-American citizenship and contributions to the city, as well as racial tensions in the post-war period. Through the multifaceted reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, Historic Columbia is able to preserve and interpret the city’s nineteenth-century history and dispel the myths of Reconstruction that are so prevalent in society today. The museum now offers unparalleled opportunities for conversation on the changing meanings of citizenship over the past 150 years in the Citizenship Center, a room featuring the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments prominently on the wall alongside provocative questions and videos intended to inspire open dialogues about civil rights, race and citizenship.