Christmas at Kensington

Here’s another quick reminder that the Fantasy of Lights 2012 will open at 6 p.m. on December 1.  Following a brief program featuring a performance by the Kingsbury Elementary Knights Choir, Mayor McElveen and Colonel Clay Hall of the 20th Fighter Wing will say a few remarks and then flip the switch—and what a great “ahhh” moment that always is, as the gardens come alive with a display of twinkling holiday imagery created by more than one million lights! 

As I’ve stated before (several times, I know), the community calendar is just about bursting with holiday-themed events as we head into the Christmas season.  December 1 is also the opening of “Christmas at Kensington,” the annual holiday open house at Kensington Mansion in Eastover.  Now why, you might ask, would there be something in Sumter’s tourism blog about something that’s happening in Eastover?  Actually, there is a reason.  Although Kensington is not geographically located in Sumter County, this is the place with the closest family and community ties to the grand old home.

In any discussion or study of Sumter County history, Singleton is a name that comes up time and again.  One of the oldest families in America, the first Singletons arrived inVanBuren Virginia from the Isle of Wight before 1700.  By the late 18th century, they were well-established in Sumter District, having earned distinction by service in the American Revolution and the colonial General Assembly.  They were among the founding members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Pinewood.  And as owners of a half-dozen Sumter area plantations (including part of what is now Poinsett State Park, along with notable racehorse interests, the Singletons were extremely prosperous.  Among their descendants was Angelica Singleton Van Buren, acting First Lady during the Van Buren administration.  Singleton’s Graveyard in Wedgefield, containing the tomb of Governor George McDuffie (a Singleton in-law) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Today, the Singleton name is still greatly respected within the community. 

Kensington was built by Colonel Matthew Richard Singleton (1817-1854) in lower Richland County, across the Wateree River from the Singleton family seat in Sumter County.  Designed by Charleston architects Edward C. Jones and Francis D. Lee, the Kensington-MansionItalianate Revival structure contains 12,000 square feet of floor space and was situated on a 4,000-acre plantation.  It was home to generations of Singletons for more than 50 years before being sold to the Hamer family in 1910.

By the mid-twentieth century, Kensington had been sold and resold several times.  Eventually, the house fell into disrepair, even being used as a storage building for some time.  Local citizens worked together to have it placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, but no one had the means to restore it until it was acquired by International Paper in 1981.  Today, Kensington Mansion is fully restored and houses the Scarborough-Hamer Collection of Decorative Arts.  For more than 20 years, the home has been decorated for the holidays and ready to greet visitors with Victorian grandeur.

 The Christmas Open House will be held December 1, 2012, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  Carriage rides, period music and refreshments will be featured.  Tickets are available at the door for $6 each (for adults) and $3 for children.  Guided tours will continue on weekends through January 12, 2013.  For more info, please check Kensington’s website here, or follow it on Facebook.  Kensington Mansion is located at 4101 McCords Ferry Road (Highway 601) in Eastover.

This is a great event for families, and would be a wonderful treat for guests.  Just make sure to be back at Swan Lake by six o’clock!

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