North Augusta, SC (WJBF)- Some of the most interesting stories in history involve structures that only partially or no longer exist.
As a self proclaimed history geek, I sometimes can’t help but wonder what a town would be like if things had happened differently. That’s why the Hampton Terrace Hotel in North Augusta has always fascinated me.
It was a monster of a building that dwarfed everything around it and was THE luxury vacation destination for Northerners trying to escape harsh winters.
Sadly, it burned to the ground more than 100 years ago.
“The Hampton Terrace Hotel is one of North Augusta’s hidden gems, literally hidden, because all that’s left of it is a smokestack,” said Lauren Virgo, executive director at the Aiken County Historical Museum.
The Hampton Terrace Hotel was built by brothers Walter and James U. Jackson in 1903. It had 5 floors and 300 rooms, easily accommodating up to 500 guests. Virgo said guests at the hotel enjoyed the luxury of the time.
“It also had dining rooms, it had the Palm Room, which was this gorgeous Asian influenced room that people could just sit and read the newspaper for the day. And they also had tea rooms nearby that they could go to. A golf course. Tennis courts. This was really the luxury lifestyle, when you would just travel from place to place and enjoy the entertainments of that area,” she explained.
Some famous guests of the Hampton Terrace hotel included JD Rockefeller and President William Howard Taft. Elizabeth Baker Custer, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer’s wife, was also believed to be a guest of the hotel.
Milledge Murray is a longtime resident of North Augusta and a local historian. He said the hotel was very expensive to build and furnish, costing the Jackson brothers around $700,000.
“In today’s dollars it would have cost around something like 15-16 million dollars to do it,” he said.
Murray said one activity people did that was considered luxury was something we take for granted today.
“They even had cars where people could go out and drive cars out, so I think that was pretty special.”
Tragically, on New Years Eve in 1916 the Hotel caught fire and the entire main building burned to the ground. Miraculously, there were no casualties, but no one really knows how the fire started.
“There is the belief that the night watchman was doing his rounds and he caught a fire started in one of the wings, and it’s believed it was based on some of the work that was going on. Some of the wiring and that they left some greasy rags maybe nearby. And unfortunately in an all wooden hotel, it went up very quickly in a matter of hours,” said Virgo.
Murray said that firefighters from Augusta came up the hill to try to put the fire out, but they were unable to help because of low water pressure and equipment differences. Their hoses didn’t fit the fire hydrants in North Augusta.
“One of the reasons they were not able to do that is because they did not have what is called common water couplings. If you’re going to stop a fire, you’ve got to put a lot of water on it,” Murray explained.
According to Virgo, some quick thinking chamber maids were able to save a few things from the hotel. Many of those items are in museums or private collections.
“And so as it progressed, they were able to grab things from other parts of the building and toss them out the windows, toss them out the doors. And so as a result, some furniture was saved, I’m some silverware was saved and our Hampton Portrait,” she said.
That portrait of Wade Hampton is currently hanging in the Aiken County Historical Museum. It is still in tact though you can see both smoke and heat damage.
Some may wonder why there was a painting of Hampton in the hotel.
“They had a competition through the local paper to name this new hotel. And so many names were thrown out there, like the Buena Vista Hotel. Of course we have Buena Vista Avenue in North Augusta. But the one that really stuck was Wade Hampton III wo was governor of South Carolina previously. So, they named it after him, in his honor. So it was the Hampton Terrace Hotel,” Virgo explained.
Murray believes that keeping the stories about the Hampton Terrace Hotel alive is important.
“We in North Augusta want to do everything that we can to preserve that memory because it’s a part of our history. It’s a part of the history of the origin of North Augusta, as well as today. People want to know. They’re really interested in this hotel,” he said.
Over the years other buildings that were part of the hotel estate, most recently Seven Gables, also burned down, leaving many to wonder if there is something supernatural involved.
“No curse that we know of. Although it does seem like that, but unfortunately a lot of the construction methods at the time lent itself more to burning down,” said Virgo.
There are still some structures standing that were part of the Hampton Terrace Hotel, such as the Carriage House and what was formerly the medical building but is now privately owned.
North Augusta, that’s just part of your Hometown History.
Photojournalist: Mark Gaskins.
Aiken County Historical Museum
North Augusta Arts and Heritage Center