February 16, 2013

Sumter County couple dies as 168-year-old house burns down

The house, part of which predates the Civil War, was fully engulfed when fire crews arrived, said Sumter Fire Capt. Joey Duggan.

A Wedgefield couple is dead after their historic home caught fire late Thursday.

Edward "Ed" Hall, 87, and his wife, Harriett Hall, 83, died after their home at 1020 S.C. 261 S. caught fire about 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

The house, part of which predates the Civil War, was fully engulfed when fire crews arrived, said Sumter Fire Capt. Joey Duggan. Electrical problems are being blamed for the fire, and the couple died from carbon monoxide poisoning and thermal burns.

Family members, including daughter Sherry Salyer of Bishopville, combed through the remains of the house Friday morning looking for important documents and mementos. They said they'd rather not speak with an Item reporter when asked.

According to an incident report, Harriett Hall was found dead behind the home. She had been badly burned. Edward Hall's body was found inside the residence. Sumter County Coroner Harvin Bullock said Ed likely dragged his wife out of the home before going back in for some reason. His body was found toward a rear entrance to the home.

"If he got her out of there on his own, that must have been something," said Charles Foberg, who lived across the street from the Halls for 25 years. Foberg said Harriett was bedridden for medical reasons and Ed had trouble breathing but was always quick to take care of his wife.

The Halls were the first people Foberg met when they moved to the area in 1988. He said the couple were wonderful, friendly neighbors who despite their age were always quick to help.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Hugh McLaurin, who lives in Wedgefield, said he knew the Halls only in passing but always found them with smiles on their faces.

"She was just the sweetest thing, and he was a very gentlemanly fellow who was really well-respected as far as I know," said McLaurin.

There were two sections of the house. The original part was thought to have been built in 1844 with an additional part added on about 100 years later. The fire started in the lower level of the older part of the home, which was the area the couple was sleeping in.

Capt. Brian Horton with the Sumter Fire Department said crews have found hidden stairwells and passageways throughout the house and the family suspects it may have been used as a refuge for slaves escaping capture through the Underground Railroad.

Foberg said one aspect of the house that always stood out to him was a "weird" spiral staircase that led to the basement, although he never heard the Halls talk about the history of the house.

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