For almost two decades, the modest three-room house at 2025½ Marion St. stood vacant.
Outside, a cock-eyed chimney seemed an ominous portent of structural problems that might lie beneath the peeling paint of clapboards and tired windows.
Inside, the wood-frame cottage’s flaking plaster and well-trod floorboards belied the site’s rich association with one of South Carolina’s pre-eminent civil and human rights activists, Modjeska Monteith Simkins. Her nearby home had undergone renovation in 1997. To what vital use – a use that also would preserve the important physical layers of history embedded within its walls – could this building be placed?
This question and another that followed immediately thereafter – what would Modjeska Simkins have wanted? – lay at the heart of innumerable discussions. Historic Columbia Foundation staff and multiple stakeholders, especially people who worked with Simkins in her quest to correct civil injustice, arrived at a compelling answer: The structure should become a live-work unit for a scholar-in-residence program whose participants would engage in research befitting their namesake’s ideals and interests.
The foundation raised money from a host of sources, including BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, which purchased and then donated the Simkins property to the city of Columbia in 2007. Congressman Jim Clyburn also acquired $150,000 from the now-discontinued Save America’s Treasures program. Historic Columbia used that to attract other money, including a $25,000 grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission.
Under the direction of The Boudreaux Group, Willm Construction of Columbia performed eight months’ worth of rehabilitation work in compliance with Department of the Interior standards for work on historic building.
The house got a reconstructed front porch, new heating, ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing systems, an interior paint scheme based on a scientific paint analysis and exterior lighting and a double-loop wire fence in keeping with the building’s period of significance (1934-1966).
This summer marked the much-anticipated arrival of Historic Columbia Foundation’s first Modjeska Simkins Scholar-in-Residence: Yale doctoral candidate Caitlin Verboon. The Chapel Hill native will be in Columbia until late September investigating the Reconstruction era, particularly how relationships between black and white, Northern and Southern, urban and rural folks helped shaped Columbia during the late 19th century.