When you pass by the one-story house at 1811 Gervais St. — better known as the Alston House — you may not know that there are 150+ years of history behind the door.
The house was built in 1872 for Caroline Alston, who was a prominent Black businesswoman at the time, and her husband, John E. Alston.
The Alston House | Photo via Richland Library from the State Newspaper Archives
The cottage also included an addition on the front that served as her home and a retail grocery store until 1906. Caroline sold dry goods to both Black + white customers and her store was a well-known establishment for 20+ years.
She was a successful businesswoman and was one of just 25 Black business owners operating in the Columbia area in the late 1800s.
Caroline sold the store in 1906 to L.M. Keitt, an African American businessman who continued to operate a grocery store on the site, according to a state Department of Archives and History web entry.
The Alston House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The property was later home to McDuffie’s Antiques for many years.
Today, Jennifer Clyburn Reed, daughter of longtime US Rep. Jim Clyburn, owns the property and has plans to renovate the current structure. She hopes to continue the spirit of entrepreneurship in the next phase of the building and pay tribute to Caroline Alston.
Clyburn Reed expects that restorations will be completed by next year. She might house her nonprofit, Magnolia Blossom SC, in the building upon completion but is open to other ideas on how to utilize the property. Do you have other ideas for this property? Let us know here.
Take a look inside with these images.
Want to know more? This location is on Historic Columbia’s African American Heritage Sites Tour.