Kensington Mansion escaped Sherman's burn

March 17, 2011 

Several years ago, Sun City resident Shirley Scott showed me an article about Kensington Mansion near Columbia. I was intrigued; so a few weeks later, Scott, Mary Lou Folgers and I headed down the road to Eastover, S.C. to check it out.

We quickly discovered Kensington is in the boonies. Upon leaving the town of St. Mathews, cotton fields suddenly dominated the scenery. It took a little help from OnStar to find the road leading to Kensington Mansion.

Then, there it wasâ€"a mansion gleaming white against the blue sky with its red cooper roof beaming brightly. Kensington Mansion was constructed c. 1854 in the Italianate Revival style. Built by Mathew Singleton, one of the wealthiest landowners in the area, the 12,000-square foot-home has 29 rooms. One of its most outstanding features is the central hall which extends two and a half stories to a glass skylight with a balcony circling the second floor amidst intricate millwork and moldings.

Kensington was placed on the National Historic Register in 1971. When International Paper purchased 4,000 acres in 1981 to build a plant in Eastover, the company also acquired this house, dilapidated and unoccupied for 40 years.

Encouraged by local residents to restore Kensington and fascinated by its rich history, the company began the task of bringing the house back to its original beauty. The restoration took a year to complete.

When it was finished, descendents of families who had owned or lived in Kensington came forward with items to put in the house. Thus, the Scarborough-Hamer Foundation was established. The Foundation has furnished the mansion with Victorian antiques, paintings, silver, and china, as it would have been outfitted during the ante-bellum period.

The Scarborough-Hamer Foundation and International Paper formed a partnership to open Kensington to the public. Tours are offered Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Carl Dubose is resident historian and site manager at the mansion. He is an expert on both the home and the area. To hear his stories about the families whose lives were intertwined with Kensington is to learn the history of the South.

One of Dubose’s most intriguing stories explains why Kensington was not burned along with all the other plantation homes when Sherman’s men came through the area. The story is best heard while standing under the porte-cochere looking out over the cotton fields that were once part of the 5,000 acres owned by the Singleton family, so I will not give it away here.

Kensington is one of South Carolina’s hidden treasures. Both International Paper and the Scarborough-Hamer Foundation are to be commended for their stewardship and I am forever grateful to Shirley Scott for taking me to find it. I never tire of revisiting Kensington again and again. It is that special a place.

Scottie Davis’ next “Weekend Get-Aways on a Tank of Gasâ€

Kensington Mansion 4101 McCords Ferry Road (Highway 601, 6 miles south of Hwy. 378) Eastover, SC 29044 Tel. (803) 353-0456 The mansion closes for the winter, reopening in March. Call or check the website for opening day.

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