York Culture & Heritage Museums for McCelvey Center
Woodburn Plantation (C.1830) is one of two historic properties owned and interpreted by the Pendleton Historic Foundation (PHF) in Pendleton SC. The foundation is a small nonprofit that has owned both properties since their restoration as house museums in the 1960's. PHF operates and maintains both homes based on donations and the tireless work of dedicated volunteers, and more than a few weddings held on the grounds every year. House museums have like theirs have struggled with cutbacks in school tours and drops in visitor ship in recent years resulting in tighter budgets and the need to take a hard look at their interpretation in order to find a new and broader audience. The organization had known for same time that advances in research and preservation technology indicate that antebellum home's like Woodburn were never actually painted snow white with black shutters in the 19th century but the sheer size of the house and a need to limit annual expenses meant that the home could only be repainted one fac;:ade per year over an eight year rotation with the foundations other property Ashtabula. This stark financial reality meant that it was impossible to rehabilitate the entire exterior at one time without considerable financial investment PHF just could not make.
However, in the spring of 2020 a severe thunderstorm caused a large white oak near the main house at Woodburn fllantation to break in half and fall into the west fac;:ade of the building. The impact of the tree damaged the roof and the columns on the corner of the porch. The resulting insurance claim would cover the repairs and the cost of partially repainting the building, but this literal windfall was also an opportunity to do more. The board of the Historic Pendleton Foundation was faced with a choice, partially repaint in the non-historic titanium white applied to the building in the 1960's restoration or take this opportunity to make the site more historically accurate for visitors. The PHF board, led by project manager Rick Owens decided to commission a paint analysis of the building to determine the color scheme of the building in the mid-19th century when the Greek Revival double porches were constructed giving the building its current appearance. The analysis, completed by Preservation South, uncovered a straw body color with cream trim and chrome green shutters. Research shoed scheme was popularized during the "picturesque movement" by designers like Andrew Jackson Downing and would have complimented all of the carpenter gothic outbuildings built on the site around the same time. Based on these results the board chose to pair the insurance funds with a withdrawal from the endowment and take a chance that visitors (and brides) would be excited to experience Woodburn the way, it was meant to be seen.
PHF hired 1st Class Construction to undertake the paint prep and application, as well as repair all the actual damage from the tree's impact while the site was closed to visitors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Years of good and not so good paint jobs had developed a thick layer of alligatoring on much of the building that was painstakingly sanded down. Like many historic homes with extensive porches moisture damage and decay to porch columns and railings was common. As these deteriorated elements were removed they revealed even more serious damage to the internal structural elements of a few of the large square columns on the Greek revival fac;:ade of the building. To repair these the porches needed to be supported temporarily and porch sections removed to replace the internal timbers and the sills where the water had been rotting them for years without being seen. Once the extensive prep work was completed the home was painstaking primed and painted by hand with a brush in order to maximize the life of the paint job. The rough rubble stone foundation was originally stuccoed and likely scored to mimic ashlar blocks in the 19th century but none of that stucco has survived and the stone work had been painted titanium white like the rest of the building for decades. Based on research into period schemes it is likely that the stone foundation would have been a brownstone color to harmonize with the paint scheme uncovered. Re-stuccoing the foundation was not an option with the budget the project had so the decision was made to paint the foundation in a brownstone color to address the existing non historic white paint and evoke the look the foundation would have had in the period of interpretation.
While the visitation restrictions brought on by COVID-19 have kept visitor ship low the completed project has garnered significant attention through PHF's newsletters and social media presence with visitors looking forward to coming to experience and learn about Woodburn for the first time or come back to experience it in a new light. This project is a good example of a small preservation non profit taking two major set backs (a huge tree falling on their historic building and a global pandemic) and turning them into a long awaited opportunity to reinterpret their sight for the future.