“This originally was an empty lot where neighborhood children played baseball games,” Sarah Burnett said Sunday while leading a walking tour of Columbia’s Old Shandon neighborhood.
Peeling away layers of Columbia history, Burnett explained to some 25 people who braved a steamy August afternoon that the former baseball field – just west of the Wheatley Branch of the Richland County Public Library – is now the site of a collection of seven small old homes, some hidden from street view. All were relocated here in 1978.
“While they lost the baseball field, we in the neighborhood gained a really beautiful selection of homes,” said Burnett, who’s lived in Old Shandon some 10 years.
Burnett, a volunteer tour guide for the Historic Columbia Foundation, then led the group off the street and through the tee-tiny yards of the seven homes, eliciting comments such as “This is a little village!” and “I had no idea all this was back here!” from the group.
The tour, which took about an hour, made a longish loop around two full square big blocks of Old Shandon, a 37-acre area featuring more than 40 buildings, mostly houses, of architectural merit.
In addition to her historic observations, Burnett imparted some contemporary insights.
A majestically tall, two-story white frame house in the Queen Anne style in the 900 block of King Street, for example, has been largely restored by a young couple who now live there.
“It had sunken into great disrepair and was uninhabited for quite some time,” Burnett said. “This really represents the growth of new young families in the area, restoring homes and bringing vitality.”
Substantial numbers of Old Shandon’s tall oak trees are aging and residents are working to keep “beloved accents” that trees bring to an inner-city area, she said. “Residents are starting to invest in the understory of trees to provide for the next generation,” she said.
Burnett touched on the somewhat confusing nomenclature surrounding the name of Shandon. “This was the first Shandon . . . the original Shandon,” she said. “New Shandon, or Shandon as we think of it (nowadays), is actually the neighborhood across Devine Street.”
Stopping in front of a large red brick church with white columns at 819 Woodrow St., Burnett explained that it was for some 85 years the site of Shandon Baptist Church, now on Forest Drive.
Today, it is the “wonderfully thriving” Bethel AME Church, she said.
In the 2700 block of Preston Street, Burnett stopped before a historic two-story house. It is where her aunt and uncle, University of South Carolina law professor Pat Hubbard and his artist wife, Judy, live.
“This was built in 1911,” she explained, telling how her uncle had for 30 years worked on and improved a decades-old garden that came with the house when the Hubbards bought it. “It’s a really nice example of an old garden preserved. There are so many homes in the area where the gardens haven’t been preserved.”
A half-block away, a white stucco church with elegant stained-glass windows, was once Shandon Methodist Church. It has housed several denominations after Shandon Methodist relocated. It is now a Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Every weekend, the bells chime. “It is a sound to behold,” Burnett said.
Members of the group enjoyed the tour. “It was wonderful,” said John Hopkins, 62, of Lexington.
His wife, Sharon, 60, enjoyed the tour’s pace. “It had a casual atmosphere, the relaxed walking part of it, and it was nice to see things up close, ask questions and hear what other folks had to say.”
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.