The President’s House at Winthrop was one of the first suburban homes built along the street-car track on Oakland Avenue in the early 1890s. The original Victorian home with turrets, wood siding, and fish-scale shingles bears no resemblance to the existing Classic Revival, brick veneered estate of today.
W. H. Stewart built his home in 1890 on the corner of Oakland and Aiken (later Stewart Avenue) very close to the street-car track. He owned a large lot, but did not situate the house for privacy, preferring visibility and access to transportation, as was typical in the early suburbs. Stewart had bought the property from the Rock Hill Land and Town Site Company, which three years later donated most of the land for Winthrop’s Campus. In 1893, Stewart sold his one acre lot and house to the school for $3,900. It was occupied in 1895 by D. B. Johnson, Winthrop’s first president, and has continued to be the president’s residence for more than 100 years.
The two and a half story Queen Anne Victorian house was supported on brick pillars had clapboard siding and frame construction. The high mansard roof was pierced by paneled, corbelled internal end chimneys, gabled attic dormers, and a pedimented portico in front. A round, shingled tower with a conical roof rose from the southeast corner, opposite a square tower with set diagonally in the northeast corner. A one story porch, with square wood columns and brackets, around the front and sides had a second story portico over the entrance. The porch had an interesting “stick style” wood railing with repeating fretwork patterns. On the rear was a one story kitchen wing with hipped roof and end chimney for cooking.
Windows were 4/4 sash with shaped wood lintels and shutters on the front and sides. An octagonal bay window, on the south side, was used to light the breakfast room. Another interesting detail was the elaborate gingerbread trim on the portico cornice.
The interior plan was a typical square layout with a central stairway to the second floor and attic in the hall, with two main rooms on either side of the hall on both floors. The interior was completely altered in 1916, and there is little documentation of the original interior details.
Under the care of D. B. Johnson, the bare lot began to flourish with carefully planted trees and shrubs, a vegetable garden in the back yard, and ivy on the porch columns. The acre lot was fenced off from the rest of the campus for privacy. A crude wood garage or shed was in the back, by the driveway.
In 1916-17, an extensive renovation of the house and grounds was made with plans by Hook & Gilchrist, Architects, of Rock Hill and E. S. Draper, landscape Architect, of Charlotte. The house was moved back from the street corner about fifty feet and the wood fence removed, connecting the lot with the front campus lawn. The lawn had been landscaped in 1912 with a front drive, fountain, and walks. Masonry and stone pillars were spaced along the iron fence installed around 1907 on Oakland Avenue. These became models for pillars and gates along the whole campus border in the 1920s.
The house was completely stripped of its Victorian elements. Only the wood frame and flooring were retained. The towers, the octagonal bay, dormers, mansard roof, and porch were removed. A new slate truncated hipped roof was installed with bracketed cornice, hooded attic dormer, and chimneys. The original wood porch was replaced with an open cast stone porch with a low, balustraded masonry parapet, and a rectangular entrance porch with square masonry corner pillars and Doric wood columns. A rectangular arcaded conservatory annex on the south side was added. Windows throughout were replaced with 8/8 sash windows in different configurations. The entire structure was veneered with brick.
The kitchen annex was expanded with an arcaded, enclosed back porch and study. On the second floor, a bedroom addition over the kitchen and study gave the house six bedrooms, instead of the original four, on that floor. A partial basement under the main section for utility and storage was excavated. Interior renovations included rearrangements of the fireplaces, extra bathrooms, central heating and vacuuming, new tile, and new wood trim.
Renovations were completed in 1917 and the house remained basically unaltered until 1959, when the college repaired the damaged materials and renovated electrical and mechanical work. A new masonry garage and arched breezeway connecting it to the house, designed by Baker & Gill of Florence, SC, was added. Landscaping of the concrete drive and planting in the back yard, by Kenneth B. Simmons of Columbia, was done in conjunction with the garage addition. Central air conditioning was added by the college at about the same time (1967).
In 1983 and 1984, extensive renovations were made to the interior of the home by then Winthrop president Phil Lader and his wife Linda Lader. Approximately $150,000 was spent to refurnish the interior including specially ordered upholstery fabrics, oriental rugs, draperies, antiques and furniture. The floors were stripped of dated wall-to-wall carpeting and the hardwood floor was refinished. Also most of the walls and woodwork was painted white, including moldings that were added for architectural detail over mantels and doorways in an effort to lighten up the house that had previously been perceived as being dark and foreboding inside the home.
The residence is of statewide historical significance because it was the home for thirty eight years of David B. Johnson, Winthrop’s founder and an educator/politician of national reputation.
The 1916 President’s House itself shows much of Johnson’s personal taste with its garden, extensive landscaping and “overgrown” appearance and large window areas and porch space for enjoyment of the grounds. As an early historic preservationist, Johnson always used whatever buildings were there, remodeling his own home and continuing to use private residences purchased by the college for the practice home, staff quarters, and utility buildings.
The President’s Residence, as it exists today, is one of the most well maintained and spacious buildings on the campus, through the fine stewardship of Winthrop’s presidents. There is little danger that the building will be neglected or demolished in the future.