The Wilkins House has long stood as a historic landmark in Greenville, and now, after being saved from demolition in 2013 and transferred from its original location on Augusta Street to 105 Mills Avenue in 2014, the home’s two-and-a half-year restoration is officially complete. And thanks to a preservation easement that dictates the building can never be moved again or torn down, the Wilkins House’s legacy is permanently secure.
The home was originally constructed in 1878 for William T. Wilkins, a Spartanburg native who opened hardware stores in Union and Greenville that helped supply the region’s booming textile industry. His wife, Harriet Dawkins Cleveland, made the house a recognized site in town, often hosting extravagant parties and events for charitable organizations. After Cleveland’s death in 1930, the Wilkins House was leased to a funeral home until 1990, when it then became an antique shop and wedding venue. But in 2013, the home was planned for demolition when a developer bought the property to build a nursing home and assisted living center.
When word spread that the historic landmark was in danger of being lost, Kelly Odom of the Greenville County Historic Commission and other community members began to look for a solution to save the home. The organization connected with Michael Bedenbaugh, executive director of The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, and, with the help of city officials, got in touch with Neil Wilson, owner of RealtyLink.
Wilson had purchased the Wilkins House with the goal to preserve and restore it, but first it had to be moved to a new property, an undertaking that came with a $700,000 price tag. Wilson agreed that if half the funds were raised, he would match. More than 250 donors raised $300,000, which Wilson decided was enough to proceed. In September 2014, the 800-ton home was moved two blocks to its new location on Mills Avenue.
The restoration included plaster repair, removal of 30 layers of paint in the interior and exterior, and brick repair, says Kyle Campbell, owner of Preservation South. The house’s Venetian Gothic architecture contributed to certain “character-defining features,” including a side porch, balcony, and chimney, which were recreated based on historic photos. One of the most painstaking endeavors involved refurbishing four original combination gas-electric crystal chandeliers. Additionally, one of the original over-mantle mirrors, provided by descendants of the Wilkins family, was reconditioned and put back in the house.
“We’ve got the house as close to how it originally looked — especially on the exterior — as possible,” Campbell says. “We hope it continues to be a landmark for years to come.”
“This effort is a true testament that Greenville cares about its past and recognizes its importance in shaping its future,” Odom adds. “It also shows that historic preservation does not hinder development but can enhance it.”
During a donor reception held at the home April 6, The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation introduced the newly established Bill and Woo Thomason Endangered Places Fund for Greenville County, which will engage the community in the effort to “help save buildings when they become endangered or at risk of being lost,” Bedenbaugh says.
The Trust’s next to project is to ensure the long-term protection of the Fountain Fox Beattie House, which was sold back into private residence for $600,000 earlier this year.