This is a trip into a history of my childhood neighborhood, a section of Columbia fondly known as Bagnal ’s Bottom. This sandhill subdivision has a rich history dating back to Wade Hampton III and includes many interesting people. [ My thanks to Cantey Heath Jr. for his informative book, “Smiling peace may bring prosperity: A history of the Forest Hills neighborhood of Columbia, South Carolina” 1985, which is a major source of Forest Hills information.]
Benjamin Abney died in 1921 at age 63 leaving his 1903 home in Abney Park, his development in the old Hampton estate previously known as Diamond Hill, between Gervais Street and Forest Drive. His assets were divided among his heirs.
Joseph Walker (1884- 1983), was born in York, S.C., moved to Columbia at 17, and worked for the W. E. Smith Company where he learned the cotton merchandizing business. He joined M. C. Heath and Co. and became a member of the firm in 1907. He formed his first company in 1917, and in 1923, he founded Joseph Walker and Company. By 1949 it had grown into one of the largest cotton- buying firms in the southeast and Walker became a member of the New York Cotton Exchange.
In 1925, Walker, his brothers Cosmo and Robert, J. Earl Davis, and former Governor Richard I. Manning purchased the Abney property (“a large body of wooded land”) for $48,600 and incorporated it as Forest Hills, Inc. The property was bounded south by Trenholm Road ( now Gervais Street), north by Camden Road (now Forest Drive), west by Manning Avenue, and east by Glenwood Road ( Jennings’Golf Course).
Walker hired landscape architect, planner, and conservationist Harlan P. Kelsey of Boston (who had created a civic plan for the City of Columbia in 1905, the State Hospital grounds, Maxcy Gregg Park, and Heathwood) to design the western half of the land. The plan contained curvilinear streets designed to mirror the topography of the land. Eight little triangular parks were planted in decorative native vegetation. Live oak, magnolia, hickory, cedar, dogwood, and other native trees were planted throughout the area.
The property was subdivided and platted by Tomlinson Engineering Company and named Forest Hills No. 1 (or the “High Hills”) for the New York City’s Forest Hills Gardens. The streets were named for English counties: Cambridge, Canterbury, Devonshire, Sheffield, Sherwood, Stratford, Wellington, Westminster, and Windsor.
The developers exercised control over the property by restrictions in the deeds.
The Benjamin Abney House that predated the Forest Hills development was occupied by Mrs. Ethel F. Williams. The first houses built in Forest Hills were owned by original investors Robert B. Walker (1319 Devonshire Drive) and J. Earl Davis (1331 Westminster Drive). Robert S. Lafaye of the architectural firm of Lafaye & Lafaye and designer of 29 Forest Hills homes designed his own home at 2630 Stratford Road. Other original residents included: C. J. Kimball
( 1407 Cambridge Lane), John W. Lillard (1318 Westminster Drive), Robert E. L. Parman (1412 Westminster Drive), J. W. Pratt ( 1415 Cambridge Lane), George W. Sharpe (1325 Westminster Drive), Joseph J. Marshall (1314 Devonshire Drive), and Professor Robert L. Meriwether (1410 Devonshire Drive).
By 1933, 30 homes had been built; then the Depression hit.
Next week: Forest Hills Phase 2