The Mann-Simons Site, on the corner of Richland and Marion streets, has long been a shrine of freedom to the African-American community. The cottage, constructed around 1870, was owned by descendants of Celia Mann, a free black woman. Her extended family and descendants occupied the house until 1970 when it was sold to the Columbia Housing Authority. Mann herself lived in a smaller house directly on the corner of Richland and Marion.
Celia Mann, according to legend and the Historic Columbia Foundation, made her way from Charleston to Columbia and made her living as a midwife who delivered both white and black children. Celia, of whom there are no known images or photographs, died in 1867.
Her daughter, Agnes, lived at the cottage for more than forty years, from before her mother’s death to her death in 1907 and raised eight children here. Her second husband, Bill Simons, was a musician who played in the Joe Randall Band which played at both white and African-American events. He also gave music lessons to children of both races.
Several other family members lived in the neighborhood as well as in the cottage. John Lucius Simons, son of Agnes operated a lunch counter directly on the corner of Richland and Marion, next to the cottage and carved walking sticks which were sold at the State Fair. His brother, Charles, had a tailoring and grocery business on the other side of the cottage. The lunch counter and grocery store are marked today by ghost structures. He and his wife, Amanda, lived in the cottage beginning in 1910. Four years later, Amanda’s orphaned niece, Bernice Robinson Connors, came to live at the cottage and did so until 1970 when she sold it. Bernice taught school in South Carolina for 37 years. She inherited the cottage in 1960 on the death of Amanda Simons (Charles had died in 1933). Bernice died in 1998.
The Mann-Simons Cottage is maintained by the Historic Columbia Foundation which restored the cottage in the mid-1970s. The foundation has added ghost structures and wayside signage. The house itself is a “Columbia Cottage” with a raised basement and contains numerous family furnishings. Unlike the Robert Mills House or Hampton-Preston Mansion, which show how the elite planters lived, the Mann-Simons Cottage shows how African-American families lived in the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries. At times, as many as 15 people wouild live in this rather small house at one time. Tour tickets are available at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills on the grounds of the Robert Mills House at 1616 Blanding Street. Tours are available Tues-Sat 10-4 and Sunday 1-4. Every year, on the Saturday before Labor Day weekend, the foundation hosts Jubilee: A Festival of Heritage. That event will be held on August 24.
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