2008-07-18 / Beauty in the Backyard

Explorers dig in history

By Warner M. Montgomery warner@thecolumbiastar.com

Helena Ferguson (c) explains screening techniques to Explorers (l-r) Steve Shaffer, Nena Powell Rice, Ginnie Newell, and Jim Welsh. Helena Ferguson (c) explains screening techniques to Explorers (l-r) Steve Shaffer, Nena Powell Rice, Ginnie Newell, and Jim Welsh. It was a hot, steamy July day in Columbia. Helena Ferguson led the Explorers through the Hampton- Preston House to her archaeological site on the grounds. As principal investigator for the Hampton- Preston Archaeology Project, Ferguson was searching for evidence of those who once lived and worked on the property.

She told her "students" how Columbia merchant Ansley Hall built the house in 1818, then sold it to Wade Hampton I and his wife, Mary Cantey. They created an extensive garden on the property. When the Hamptons died, the house and gardens went to their daughter, Caroline, and her husband, John Preston.

During the Civil War and Reconstruction, the house was occupied by Union troops, then it passed through several owners until purchased by the Presbyterian College for Women in 1890. It was home to Chicora College from 1915 to 1930.

When Chicora moved to Charlotte to merge with Queens College the entire block was commercialized and included the original Pulliam Motors. During World War II, the Hampton- Preston House was home to a U.S. Army mapping team.

The 1960s saw a revived interest in Columbia's history. The land was purchased by what is now the Historic Columbia Foundation, and restoration of the house and grounds began. Ferguson, a graduate student at USC, is being directed by Dr. Jon Leader, S.C. State Archaeologist and a member of the Explorers Club. They are utilizing new high- tech earth penetrating equipment in a geophysical survey which will guide the actual digging. Ferguson followed up the on- sight expedition with a lecture during the Explorers Club monthly meeting.

On July 31 from 6 pm - 8 pm, Ferguson will update the members of the Historic Columbia Foundation on the progress of the archaeology project. For reservations, members should call 803-252-7742 ext. 29.

Ferguson and members of her team will offer Field Trip Fridays to the public until August 29 each Friday from 10 am - noon at the Hampton- Preston Mansion. Participants will receive an introduction to archaeology and discuss the importance of the project on the grounds of the Hampton- Preston Mansion. They will assist the archaeologists as they dig through the past to uncover the history of the mansion. Costs: $5. This event is recommended for children five and older. For more information, call 803- 252 1770 ext. 33.

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