W. H. Stewart, a prosperous farmer from Fort Mill and member of the State House of Representatives from 1886-1890, moved to Rock Hill in 1888 and built the first Victorian townhouse in “Oakland” in 1891, which he donated three years later to Winthrop for the president’s residence. Stewart had some expertise as a builder, and took over as construction superintendent in 1895 to supervise the convicts completing Main Building (Tillman Administration Building). At the same time he began construction of his second home on the corner of Oakland Avenue and Eden Terrace. Stewart occupied the house until his death in 1912, when the acre lot and house were sold to Winthrop for $10,000.
The college immediately began work converting the Stewart house into Winthrop’s new practice home, where seniors would live to gain experience living independently and managing a “typical rural southern home.” Routines included housecleaning, outdoor laundering, poultry raising, beekeeping, cooking, and gardening. Actually, the solidly constructed, spacious Stewart House was far more genteel than a typical rural home of the period.
The practice home had been housed since 1901 in a Victorian cottage, sold with its 2 acre lot to the college by W. J. Cherry, a Winthrop Trustee, for $2,400. The Cherry House was moved from near the Tillman Science Building where it stood until 1939 when Byrnes Auditorium was built. The house was originally moved to where Phelps Hall stands and was moved to Park Avenue Extension where it stood facing Park, on what would be the end lot from York Avenue once plans were laid to build Phelps Hall in 1943. The Cherry House stood at Park Avenue Extension and served as a home to a series of Winthrop Faculty until it was demolished around 1961.
The Stewart House served as the practice home from 1912 to 1939 when some of its functions were taken over by apartments on the top floor of the Thurmond Home Economics Building, which now houses the College of Business Administration. These modern apartments were much more typical of what graduates would encounter in the housing market during their first years on their own.
The Stewart House is a tasteful vernacular adaptation of the classic revival style to southern living. The comfortable two-story townhouse has a square plan with a one story kitchen wing in the rear. The high, truncated hip roof has space under it for a partial attic. With its half-round green clay tile and denticulated cornice, the roof is a prominent feature. Large, pedimented attic gables with circular windows look out towards the streets on the south and west sides. A projecting, classical two story entrance portico, with heavy wood cornice, is supported by pairs of massive wood Corinthian columns. On the first story level, a porch wraps around the front and west side with paneled wood cornice and square wood columns. Above the front entrance, the porch roof is broken by a shallow ornamental balcony with square wood railings. The front entrance itself is a double leaf, octagonally paneled door with transom and moulded corner block frame. Original windows were 4/4 sash. Several windows have been replaced or fitted with new shutters. On the back side is a one story kitchen/utility annex with gable roof of the same green tile.
The interior plan features a transomed entrance foyer and central hall with an interesting double staircase with heavy wood railings and paneled newel post. The back to back fireplace in the living room, with similar paneled wood trim, has been converted on the back side to a dumbwaiter. Wood trim in the halls and rooms is remarkably similar to that in Tillman, with paneled doors, oak wainscoting and moulded, corner block door frames. Original hardwood floors, plastered partition walls, and trim remain basically unaltered.
In 1899, an investigation by the State Legislature on the Superintendent of the State Penitentiary, Col. W. A. Neal, revealed that Mr. Stewart may have used materials appropriated for the Winthrop campus in his own house, and borrowed prison labor to construct it. Several witnesses testified that interior trim, plaster and labor were supplied by Col. Neal for Mr. Stewart. Contemporary investigators are invited to carefully compare the wood trim in the Stewart House with that in Tillman and judge for themselves. Neal was reprimanded in this report and made to reimburse the state for materials and convict labor which he gave to prominent politicians. Stewart, a witness in the investigation, later served in the State Senate (1908-1912).
In 1972, the Stewart House was converted into offices for the Winthrop Alumni Association, which had previously been in the Tillman Administration Building. The Stewart House has also been home the International Center and Winthrop’s Admissions Office, and Visitors Center. Winthrop currently leases the facility to the S.C. Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement.
Several alterations were made during or before the 1972 conversion. Exterior masonry was stuccoed, rotting wood rails on the porch were replaced with iron rails, original exterior doors were replaced, and a lowered acoustical ceiling was installed. Most of these changes detract from the building’s original integrity, but the coat of stucco is a welcome change from the usual red brick. The white walls and green tile rook are especially attractive in the spring and summer, when natural greens in the lawn and trees add to their refreshing effect.
The Stewart House is a locally significant historic site through its association with W. H. Stewart and with the Practice Home program. Stewart was a man integrally involved in getting Winthrop to relocate to Rock Hill. He donated his first home to the college and worked for minimal pay as the superintendent of construction so that the college could open on schedule. Stewart was also a founder and Trustee of the Presbyterian High School which later became the Winthrop Training School. The practice home program was also an integral part of Winthrop life, as it was required of all seniors during the early years. Later, residence was restricted to Home Economics majors.