Ainsley Hall, a wealthy Columbia merchant, and his wife Sarah, lived here for five years after they had the house built in 1818. Several years after buying the property in 1823, its second owner, Wade Hampton I, updated the Federal style home to more reflect the Greek Revival style. Hampton's third wife, Mary Cantey, supervised the installation of elaborate gardens that came to surround the mansion during the 1830s through 1860s. Following Wade Hampton I's death in 1835, daughter Caroline and son-in-law John Preston further transformed the estate by doubling the house's size between 1848 and 1850. Established as a Union Army headquarters in February 1865, the property survived destruction thanks to the exploits of Sister Bapista Lynch, who implored Sherman to spare the home for use as a temporary convent. In financial ruin, the family sold the estate in 1873. Later, the estate accommodated several institutions including the College for Women (1890-1915), Chicora College (1915-1930), Westerveldt Academy (1931-1935), and Columbia Bible College [overflow housing] (1938-1946). In 1947, the gardens were bulldozed and the four-acre tract was subdivided for various commercial uses. Following a yearlong rehabilitation, the historic mansion opened in 1970 as the centerpiece of the Midlands Tricentennial Exposition Center.
All house tours begin at the top of the hour. The last tour is one hour before closing time. Purchase all house tickets in the Museum Shop on the grounds of the Robert Mills House, 1616 Blanding Street. Admission is free to all children under 6 years old and all Historic Columbia Foundation members.