Turns out Celia Mann, one of Columbias most celebrated historical figures, never set foot in the cottage on Richland Street that bears her name.
In December, a study to assess the condition of the Mann-Simons Cottage concluded with a bombshell: The house was not as old as originally thought. Mann already had died by the time the home was built, between 1870 and 1880. She never lived there after all.
That leaves the Historic Columbia Foundation to revise the story surrounding the cottage, a landmark in the citys African-American history.
Good research often changes familiar stories about history, said Katherine Richardson, director of the Sumter County Museum.
You just have to be open-minded, she said. The real story may end up being better than the first one.
In the case of the Mann-Simons Cottage, caretakers will spend the next 18 months rewriting the storyboards and preparing new displays about Celia Mann and her descendants, an extended family of entrepreneurs.
Mann was a midwife in antebellum Columbia who assisted both black and white women with the births of their babies, moving easily between the communities. As the family history goes, she was a freed slave who walked from Charleston to Columbia, arriving by 1837. She died in 1867.
Over the years, her descendants ran a lunch counter and neighborhood grocery, bought and sold real estate, made stylish clothing, repaired shoes and fixed furniture all from the corner of Richland and Marion streets.
A new approach to the familys story is supported by a two-year archaeological dig that turned up 60,000 artifacts, a few pre-dating the Civil War. Archaeologist Jake Crockett continues to catalogue the items: marbles and a toy bank; a turn-of-the-century handgun, cocked and loaded; the skeletons of family pets; shards of pottery reflecting the plain taste of one member of the household and the ornate taste of another.
The family was quick to adapt to the latest in household technology, from electricity to plumbing, said Historic Columbias John Sherrer, director of cultural resources.
They were sensitive to embracing modern conveniences, and modifying their house and various buildings to accommodate their changing needs and tastes, he said.
Crockett has created a map showing buildings on the site over time. Buried brick foundations, soil stains from disintegrated posts and hand-drawn maps revealed seven structures that had accumulated by 1900.
In the coming year, Historic Columbia intends to erect ghost structures, or frames, of those structures with the help of Richland 1 students studying construction.
But historians still are not exactly sure where Celia Manns home was located. Crockett said that will take more work.
At this site, there are so many things to look into and learn, he said.
One thing that has captured his interest is the lunch counter he described it as early fast food that operated at the corner starting in 1891. Its one of just three lunch counters in the country to be excavated.
When the structure burned in 1909, the remains were pushed into a trash pit and covered with a clay cap, preserving both the decor and the menu of the day.
Seems they were serving chicken, along with turkey, Crockett said. The cook seasoned with McCormick spices and something called Club sauce.
The business also was known as a confectionary, something closer to the idea of a soda fountain, so Crockett said the pressed-glass goblet pieces he unearthed probably functioned as dessert bowls.
He could tell the interior of the building was colorful painted yellow and red, with green tile. He found pieces of flat marble he suspects were part of the counter. A person may have walked up to it and eaten out on the counter, he said, or it was a pure take-away, we dont know.
Chronicling the various uses of the property provides more information about a Columbia family that persevered through challenging times, said Historic Columbia director Robin Waites.
The new information provides a much broader picture of the people who inhabited that site over a century and a half.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.