Bairds open family home for concert
By Stephan Drew, Editor
Imagine you’ve been transported back in time approximately 130 years. It’s not difficult as you drive through the gates and up the drive to Japonica Hall, located at 548 Main Street in Society Hill. The mansion, designed in the Beaux-Arts style and completed in 1897, was named for the Camellia Japonica planted on its grounds by former owner Major James Jonathan Lucas. It was built to replace an earlier structure, the home of Dr. Thomas Smith, which burned in 1892.
Japonica Hall will be the site of the Fall Concert Community Fundraiser on Saturday, October 15th from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. In addition to musical entertainment, barbeque and drink will also be served. The concert is being held to raise money which will help beautify the streets of Society Hill, one of Mrs. Baird’s main causes.
The overall effect of the house is quite impressive. The red brick mansion has a rusticated first floor with brick pillars on the second floor delineating each bay of the structure. Large single plate glass windows and solid wood doors lend to its
Two and a half stories over a full basement, the home is owned by Dick and Diane Baird of Society Hill. Baird is the great-great-great grandson of former S.C. Governor David R. Williams and shared a bit of the house’s history. “My grandfather was Andrew Tazewell Baird, Jr.,” Baird stated, “He lived in this home from the time he was 2 years old.” The Bairds also displayed a treasure trove of letters, historical documents and the original floor plans of the home. The couple was able to give a very lengthy history of the house and illustrated some of its more interesting points.
“There are 55 steps from the front yard to the attic. The windows and doors are original but, we put a new metal roof on last year,” Baird stated.
Inside the front entrance hall, there are several different styles of furniture as well as a gilt chandelier. Surrounded by a Louis XV-style sofa, Chippendale and Duncan Phyfe-style chairs, the heart pine dstaircase is 6 feet wide, rising to the second floor. There is also a Gothic example of a deacon’s bench in the front Hall. In the arch under the staircase, you can see a smaller staircase, presumably used by servants long ago. Mrs. Baird explained that, “The small stairs also have nicely carved bannisters and spindles. Usually, you don’t see that in a servants’ staircase but, this one is probably like that because it can be seen from the front hall.”
When asked how they find all the appropriate furnishings for such a house, Mr. Baird stated, “I found a lot of things on Craigslist.” Mrs. Baird announced, “Whenever I need something, I go shopping in the attic!”
Japonica Hall was designed by noted architect Charles Coker Wilson who was responsible for the South Carolina Statehouse. Wilson’s partner, William Augustus Edwards of Darlington helped in the design. The house is one of Wilson’s earliest building’s still standing and may be his first residential design in the entire state.
Baird stated the house contains between 6,500 and 7,000 square feet of living space plus the basement. It has 12 foot ceilings and approximately 16 rooms. The exterior walls are 18 inches thick and interior walls are 13 inches thick and are reinforced with steel rods. Many of the rooms still have their original mantles and the windows and outside doorways have granite sills.
It is well worth a visit, if you’re in or near the area. Owners Dick and Diane Baird admit that they love having visitors to their home and hope they can plan more events so that those who are interested in local history will be able to see it.
Don’t forget the Fall Concert Community Fundraiser on Saturday, October 15th. Come on out and support the beautification efforts of Society Hill.