A corporation that owns the land surrounding a more than 160-year-old plantation mansion located roughly halfway between Columbia and Sumter now says it will repair the aging building.
An International Paper spokesman said Wednesday that the company will repair the Kensington Mansion outside the town of Eastover. The announcement was seen as “wonderful” news by preservationists who were previously told they could no longer offer tours of the plantation and to move out thousands of artifacts being stored there.
“We understand and value the historical significance of the Kensington mansion and we will repair the property,” spokesman Tom Ryan said in an email. “As long standing members of the community, we have been vested in this house for decades. In the short term, we have reached an agreement with the Scarborough-Hamer Foundation Board, to move and store the furniture collection.”
Scarborough-Hamer Foundation is the nonprofit which opened Kensington to public tours and owned a collection of period items housed at the mansion. But International Paper owns the historic plantation itself as part of a 1982 agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers that allows the company to withdraw from the Wateree River for its nearby paper mill.
But the site has been closed for more than a year since a February 2014 ice storm damaged its roof enough that it was considered “unsafe” for tours, according to the Historic Columbia Foundation. Then, in February 2015, Scarborough-Hamer announced that International Paper had ended an agreement to house the foundation’s historic collection. The company did agree to pay the moving and storage costs for a year, but there are no future plans beyond that.
The foundation’s executive director Rickie Good said she was thrilled by Wednesday’s announcement. “This is the first I’ve heard of it, but it is wonderful that they are going to repair the property,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “I think that is a fabulous outcome.”
International Paper has not yet received estimates for repairing the mansion, according to Ryan. But previous testimony from the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation estimated it would cost around $750,000 to repair the roof and plaster molding damaged by leaking water.
Historic Columbia director Robin Waites said her organization had lobbied International Paper hard, insisting the company was not acting in good faith by putting off needed repairs for years. The group filed an online petition with over 1,200 signatures that accused International Paper of violating the 1982 agreement.
“Ours has been kind of an advocacy campaign that’s been focused at International Paper to get them to keep their promises that they made when they got the original permits to operate on that site,” Waites said.
It’s also not clear whether the Scarborough-Hamer Foundation would be able to return to the mansion once repairs are complete. Ryan said a decision on that will be made at a later date, with input from the public. Good said she would need to talk to her board before talking about a path forward. For now, the foundation plans to store its more than 3,000 artifacts in a facility operated by the Columbia Museum of Art, she said.