Lexington County museum offers many surprises

From The Aiken Standard

Many times, driving to and from Columbia on Interstate 20, I have noticed the highway sign
for the Lexington County Museum and made a mental note that I really had to pay a visit one day
to see what that particular historical repository had to offer. Two weeks past, I made good on
that resolution and discovered that the museum is not just a single entity but a whole complex
of historical structures on six-and-a-half acres situated in downtown Lexington.

Some of the more than 30 buildings and other structures featured on a walking tour of the
complex are original to that site, including the impressive John Fox House; but most of
the constructions were moved from other locations in the area, starting in the 1970s.
The result is an impressive historical park through which visitors can meander at their
own pace as part of a self-guided audio tour or take advantage of the trained guides.
I did the latter.

The guided tours begin at the Hazelius House, the former residence of the headmaster
of the Lutheran Theological Seminary located in Lexington from the 1820s to 1855.
Originally a four-room cottage, the building was expanded during the residency of
Dr. Ernest Hazelius, who wrote a history of the Lutherans in America spanning the
years 1685 to 1842 and served as headmaster until his death in 1853. Today’s visitor
will find a structure frozen in time: four front doors leading off a porch that runs
the front of the house, each leading to a separate front room: a parlor, a dining room,
a master bedroom, and an office. The back rooms were reserved for guests, including,
later in the century, Charles Tillman, who is said to have jotted down the words to
“My Old Time Religion” in the house after hearing the spiritual sung at a local
camp meeting.

The museum site is bisected by Fox Street. On the side of the property where the guided
tours begin, there is the Hazelius House and four other buildings, including an
1820 post office, an 1815 schoolhouse and two very early residences. One is the oldest
documented house in Lexington; the Laurence Corley Log House dates from 1772. It was
the residence of a Revolutionary War veteran and his family, whose descendants still
commandeer the site as the focus of Corley family reunions. Featuring one large utilitarian
space on the ground floor with a sleeping loft above, the cabin was constructed of logs,
left without chinking or caulking to provide ventilation.

Across Fox Street is the John Fox House, the largest structure in the complex. Once the
home of one of Lexington’s most prosperous families in the middle of the 19th-century,
this two-story building features six rooms on the first floor and four on the second.
Built around 1832, the house was purchased 10 years later by John Fox, a member of the
state legislature, as his town house; he also owned a plantation on Old Chapin Road about
three miles outside of Lexington.

An 1860 census indicates that Fox owned 52 slaves, 15 of whom worked as house servants.
Indeed, the two one-room structures currently attached to the back of the house were once
used as slave quarters; each is 12 by 14 feet wide, and each would have accommodated four
to seven people. Today’s visitor will find one of these structures interpreted as a slave
cabin and the other as a kitchen.

The Fox House was the scene of considerable drama in February of 1865 when Northern troops
led by Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, who was that same month to command the losing side in
the Battle of Aiken, paid a visit. The Yankees were searching, according to Fox himself,
“every chest trunk, box, drawer, closet and every conceivable place” for valuables.
“Myself and family were left so bare,” wrote Fox after that home invasion, “that it was
the greatest difficulty we could change our clothing of the most common kind, and were left
very bare of bed furniture, shoes and hats; I had none left except that I had on.”

The side of the complex fronted by the Fox House also contains a large assemblage of
outbuildings constructed for various utilitarian purposes, including a potato house,
smokehouse, forge, cotton gin and winter and summer dairies. The most interesting is
probably the pigeonaire, built in 1857 in Newberry County. Octagonal in shape, the
pigeon house features 112 access holes; it would have accommodated 55 breeding pairs.
Pigeons were a popular food source in the South since they require relatively little care
and grow to “edible size” in about 28 days. The pigeonaire protected the birds from local
predators and also made it possible to collect more easily the droppings, which were used
for fertilizer.

Well worth a visit, the Lexington County Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. The last guided tour generally begins one hour
before closing each day. For more information, visit the museum on the web at
http://www.lex-co.sc.gov/museum or call 803-359-8369. Those driving from Aiken should take I-20
east toward Columbia, exit the interstate onto Highway 378, and follow the signs; the
museum will eventually be on the left. My final advice is to wear comfortable shoes since
most of the property is unpaved.

A recipient of the Governor’s Award in the Humanities,
Dr. Tom Mack holds the G.L. Toole Chair at USC Aiken.
More information on the fascinating history of this
region can be found in his books “Circling the Savannah”
and “Hidden History of Aiken County.

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