From carriage rides to candlelight tours, there’s more behind the bricks walls and wrought iron fences of Historic Columbia’s four downtown properties than many who pass by them every day might realize.
From December to January, the nonprofit foundation dedicated to preserving Columbia and Richland County history is offering a 15% discount to individuals or businesses booking a holiday event at Seibels House and Garden, Robert Mills Carriage House and Garden, the Gardens of the Hampton-Preston Mansion or the Gardens of the Wilson Family Home.
Nonprofits receive a 25% discount on rental rates that range from $250 to $350 an hour depending on the day of the week.
“We get a lot of holiday rentals. We always want more,” said Debbie Giles, Historic Columbia director of administration and finance. “It’s a pretty busy season, but there could always be more awareness.”
The Seibels House, the only property featuring indoor seating and provided tables and chairs, can accommodate up to 80 seated guests, and a private upstairs conference room also is available for rent. Equipment, such as video screens and podiums, is also available, and the house is equipped with Wi-Fi.
“We have four properties. There’s plenty of space for people,” said Historic Columbia rental coordinator Brittany Buckner.
Larger events, such as weddings, require booking at least two weeks in advance, but most business gatherings can be handled with a week’s notice, Buckner said.
Holiday decorating at all four properties began the week before Thanksgiving, as did tours of the Robert Mills House and the Hampton Preston Mansion. The tours run through Dec. 31 and give guests a chance to see historic traditions come to life.
James Quint, Historic Columbia director of education, often invites tour takers at the Robert Mills House to guess what some of the circa-1823 items on display are, such as a medium-sized ceramic bowl beside place settings on the dining room table. While a finger bowl is a popular guess, the object is actually a wine glass rinser, used to clean stemware and palates between courses.
Guests also learn more about the time period in which the Robert Mills House was constructed.
“New Year’s was actually the bigger holiday that was celebrated,” Quint said. “Christmas was a rather small, intimate family affair. You’ll see some things that people will recognize in these spaces. There will be a lot of greenery and things like that. But they are not going to see some more traditional staples that we think about with Christmas today. So there’s going to be no Christmas tree, because that’s not around yet in South Carolina.”
Visitors also find out about food, including desserts and spirits, from the era. A popular wine from Portugal, Madeira, is still made today, Quint said. The sweet wine was said to have its taste improved by its long journey in rolling barrels across the sea to America.
The holiday tours will include live music, singers from the Columbia Choral Society and hot chocolate. Candlelight tours and carriage rides will take place on Dec. 15, and the next morning, guests can enjoy breakfast with a Victorian-era Santa at the Carriage House.
“There are certain events that we do at Historic Columbia that really engage a lot of people that perhaps would not necessarily choose to come here (otherwise),” Quint said. “Maybe history isn’t their thing, and that’s OK. Not everybody loves history. This is an opportunity if they’re in the holiday spirit.”
Shoppers at the Robert Mills gift shop save 20% and receive a free gift when spending $25 or more through Dec. 24.
“It’s a great thing to show clients who want to know something different about Columbia,” said Historic Columbia spokeswoman Katie Alice Walker.