The History A story that needed to be told.

When a house is home to more than one famous person, it’s usually because they shared a bloodline and birthright. That’s not how it happened at Edgewood. Built in Edgefield, SC, in 1829 by a governor for his son, a South Carolina statesman who also served on national and international levels, the Edgewood mansion belonged to pioneering women, Lucy Holcombe Pickens and Eulalie Chafee Salley, during separate periods in history.

Two Women. One House.

The women were not kin and lived a century apart. In addition to being first ladies of the same grand house, they shared a feisty reputation. Both were hardly fragile Southern flowers. Pickens was a heroine of the Confederacy and matriarch of a line of strong women. Her daughter helped finance Red Shirt opposition to Reconstruction, and her granddaughter fought a personal battle that broke early ground for women’s rights. As for Salley, she carved her own niche in a man’s world as one of the nation‘s first female Realtors, creating a company that still exists today, and became a national figure in the women’s suffrage movement.

Today, the plantation house they once owned bears both their names after being twice dismantled and moved from other locations to the USC Aiken campus. The Pickens-Salley House is the oldest building on the campus and easily the most storied.

In the Beginning

The house was originally built in Edgefield by South Carolina Governor Andrew Pickens for his son Francis, who had been married and widowered twice. Alone and grieving, Francis Pickens threw himself into planting crops, practicing law and climbing the political ladder. He served in both houses of the state legislature and later in Congress. In 1856, Pickens was swept away by Lucy Holcombe, a young Texan 27 years younger than he. His romantic gestures and gifts had little effect until President Buchanan appointed Pickens Minister of Russia. He suddenly became more attractive to Holcombe, who had political aspirations of her own and yearned to be married to a foreign diplomat.

Pickens’ service in diplomacy was unremarkable, but his young wife captivated Russian royalty and high society. Lucy was a favorite of Tsar Alexander and his wife, Maria Alexandrovna. In Russia she gave birth to a daughter nicknamed “Douschka.”

In 1860, Francis grew fearful of developments in South Carolina, and the family hurried home to assume their roles on a stage of war. Shortly thereafter, Minister Pickens was elected governor, just three days before South Carolina secedes from the Union. Within five months, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter.

Times were hard on the plantation, but the Edgewood slaves remained loyal. When the war ended, blacks were emancipated, but some, including Lucy’s personal servant and confidante, Lucinda, remained with their masters. Once a wealthy planter who dispensed broad hospitality at Edgewood Plantation, Pickens spent his last years in debt. He had lost almost everything during the war. He died in 1896 and was buried at Willow Brook Cemetery in Edgefield, one of a handful of Confederate leaders never pardoned for their roles in the war. To hold on the Edgewood, Lucy sold some belongings during Reconstruction.

Douchska carried on the family’s Rebel spirit, funding the “Red Shirts” militia, which fought to limit the civil rights of newly freed slaves. She was the purse behind the Hamburg massacre in which several freed slaves and their former owners were killed.

In 1893, Douchska died from a sudden fever. She was only 35.

Her mother Lucy died five years later on August 8, 1899, leaving Edgewood, the family home, to Douschka’s two daughters, one of whom was Lucy Dugas Tillman. She was to become the link between her mother and Eulalie Salley.

A Twisted Tale

The strange twist in history began with Lucy Dugas Tillman’s marriage into a prominent political family. Her husband was the son of a powerful senator who was determined, when the marriage foundered in 1910, that Lucy should not have custody of the children, daughters then 2 and 5. Senator R. Tillman had his son deed the girls to him under an antiquated state law. Lucy took the case to court and lost. The highly publicized case caught the interest of Eulalie Salley, who was already active in championing women’s right to vote. To her the Tillman custody case was another injustice to women.

Salley was at the forefront of a petition movement to get the child-deeding law repealed. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that Lucy Tillman was entitled to keep her children because she never signed the infamous deed.

For years, the women’s connection was no more than a footnote in time. They went on with their separate lives. Of the two, Eulalie Salley was now the one to watch. She was the consummate suffragist, her exploits larger than life. She took boxing lessons to prepare for her role as a prize fighter in a suffrage league theatrical. She dove from a balcony into a tank of water, a stunt for a suffrage league show. She scattered suffrage pamphlets from the air while seated on the wing of a biplane.

And she made money in real estate, brokering million-dollar deals for the wealthy Winter Colonists from the North who wanted seasonal estates in Aiken. And Edgewood, the former home of Lucy Dugas Tillman, whose legal case had captured Salley’s attention years earlier, now caught her Realtor’s eye. In 1929, at the height of the Great Depression, the mansion sat empty, unkept, and vandalized.

Eulalie Salley decided to buy it and rescue the century-old mansion from oblivion. She had Edgewood dismantled board by board and moved to Aiken, where it was reassembled and restored. Under Salley’s ownership, the house became again an exciting center of social activity. Throughout the 1930s and into the mid-’70s it was the backdrop for Salley’s incredibly rich life, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, including the owner of the Hope Diamond. Salley herself always claimed there was an unseen inhabitant of Edgewood as well, the ghost of Lucy Pickens.

After Eulalie Salley died in 1975, the house she so loved again fell into disrepair. It was rescued again by Aiken developer Ronald B. Bolton, who bought it in 1997. He donated it to USC Aiken, and it was moved there in three sections, again to be rebuilt and restored.