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Woodrow Wilson: Columbia's own

Gas was the primary means of lighting in the 1870s, here an extension runs from the gasolier to the lamp on the table providing a more portable light source
Gas was the primary means of lighting in the 1870s, here an extension runs from the gasolier to the lamp on the table providing a more portable light source
photo by author

South Carolina has one presidential home. It is the home of Woodrow Wilson, the president from Columbia. Wilson, who was president from 1913-1921, lived in Columbia from 1870-1874 when his father, Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, taught at the Columbia Theological Seminary, then located at the Robert Mills House. Dr. Wilson also served as the “Stated Supply” or interim minister at the First Presbyterian Church on the corner of Marion and Lady Streets. While the Wilsons were only in Columbia for four years, they had strong ties here and Dr. Wilson and his wife were buried in the First Presbyterian Church Graveyard. When Woodrow Wilson died in 1924, Columbia was considered as his burial place but the family plot was already filled. He was buried at the National Cathedral in Washington.

Columbia was the only place where the Wilson’s owned a home. As a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Wilson moved around quite a bit and lived in church-provided housing. Thinking the family would be here for a while, the Wilsons built a house on the corner of Hampton (then known as Plain) and Henderson Streets in 1872. The houserecently reopened and is managed by Historic Columbia.

Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Va. in 1856 and moved with his family to Augusta, Ga. about a year later. One of his earliest memories was in 1860 when he saw someone running down the street yelling, “Mr. Lincoln has been elected; there will be a war.” The Wilsons were in Augusta until 1870, then moved to Columbia when Wilson was 13. During the family’s last year in Columbia, Woodrow started college at Davidson College outside of Charlotte, N.C. For health reasons, he withdrew after one year and rejoined his family who had moved to Wilmington, N.C. In 1874, Dr. Wilson had a falling out with the seminary administration and decided to move on.

Woodrow Wilson later graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and was the only president to hold a doctorate, earning a Ph.D. in political science from Johns Hopkins University. After teaching at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan, Wilson returned to Princeton where he was president from 1902-1910. After one term as Governor of New Jersey, Wilson was elected President of the United States in 1912. In 1916, Wilson was reelected and led the country into World War I in 1917. After the war’s end, Wilson was the first president to travel abroad to attend the Paris Peace Conference. While trying to rally support for the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson suffered a massive stroke in 1919 and was an invalid for the last year and a half of his term. During his public career, Wilson made two trips to Columbia, to dedicate the YMCA building on Sumter Street in 1911 and for the funeral of his sister, Annie, in 1916.

The Wilson Family Home in Columbia has reopened. in addition There are 3 other Wilson homes open to the public in Staunton, Va,Augusta, Ga, and his retirement home in Washington, D.C.

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