Only a handful of Greenville homes remain that predate the mid-19th century, and the Kilgore-Lewis is one of them. Wooden residential buildings from this period are relatively rare because so many have burned down over the years from kitchen fires, lightning, heating stoves, citywide fires and more. For Greenville, the Kilgore-Lewis home is significant for the antebellum period it represents in addition to its own architectural identity.
Josiah Kilgore bought the land at 234 Buncombe St. from George Boyle on May 18, 1838, for $1,200, adjacent to what was then the Greenville Male and Female Academies — now the site of Heritage Green. The two-story home built by Boyle was the location of the wedding of Kilgore’s daughter, Mary Keziah, to John Stokes. After the vows were exchanged, Kilgore gave the home to the happy couple as a wedding gift.
The home has three large rooms upstairs and another three large rooms on the first floor. The wide front façade presents a regal Greek Revival profile with two pairs of massive square columns soaring two stories to support a projecting gabled roof originally covered in copper. The front pediment is accented by an attractive oculus window.
Its original construction consists mostly of heart pine boards that are fastened entirely together with pegs. If you’ve only driven by the front of the house, you may have never noticed that the rear section of the home has a smaller two-story projection coming off the center of the front section.
The home is similar to, though less grand than, John C. Calhoun’s Fort Mill home in Pendleton, South Carolina. Calhoun bought and expanded his home in the 1830s, the same decade that the Kilgore-Lewis was built. The home was there for 35 years before Buncombe Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South (as it was then called) was built on the other side of the house.
Later in the 19th century, the house passed by inheritance to Mrs. Lillian Stokes Lewis and remained in the Lewis family until it became the property of its neighbor, Buncombe Street United Methodist Church. Just as the Greenville Women’s Club had moved the circa-1834 Beattie House to a new location before moving in, such were the circumstances surrounding the move of the Kilgore-Lewis home in 1974. The Greenville Council of Garden Clubs took over the ownership and spearheaded the effort to save the home from demolition, move it to its current location and restore many of the original details.
The home’s Academy Street location adjoins the boundary of Springwood Cemetery, the former land and garden area of Chancellor Waddy Thompson (it is now a nationally certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat). There is a spring in the back of the property that, according to Henry McKoy, was likely the source of the name for Springwood when the spring was located in the woods and used as a water source for Thompson’s home diagonally across the cemetery.
John M. Nolan is owner of Greenville History Tours (greenvillehistorytours.com) and author of “A Guide to Historic Greenville, SC” and “Lost Restaurants of Greenville, S.C.”