Front porch history on display at Stateburg home

Christmas at The Ruins offers rare glimpse into historic, restored home

By Kayla Robins
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 12/8/17

Toots Harper sat on the back porch of her historic Stateburg home with her family, as they often did, especially in August. It was 1945. She noticed something different about the sky.

"The lights, something in the sky was brighter. And we kept …

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Front porch history on display at Stateburg home

Christmas at The Ruins offers rare glimpse into historic, restored home

Garland S. Hart, pastor of Eatonton Presbyterian Church in Eatonton, Georgia, plays the fife during Christmas at The Ruins on Dec. 2.
Garland S. Hart, pastor of Eatonton Presbyterian Church in Eatonton, Georgia, plays the fife during Christmas at The Ruins on Dec. 2.
MICAH GREEN / THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

Toots Harper sat on the back porch of her historic Stateburg home with her family, as they often did, especially in August. It was 1945. She noticed something different about the sky.

"The lights, something in the sky was brighter. And we kept watching, and it got brighter and brighter. And the war (World War II) was over, and we didn't know it," said the 90-year-old Harper, a direct descendant of the DeVeaux family, who also lived at the home, and a former resident of the house called The Ruins.

The current owners of the 9,000-square-foot house, Rett and Pat Summerville, bought it from Harper in 1985 and have been restoring it since. They have opened it to the public once each December for the past four years for Christmas at The Ruins to share its history and beauty with others.

"And Daddy went and turned on the radio, and Shaw Air Force Base had brought the lights up again because they were all out during the way," Harper said. "And I still get chills knowing that, that the war was over."

Harper, who watched Shaw grow from a cotton field to the force it is today, going to dances on the base every Thursday, sat on Dec. 2 in the library and told stories from her childhood as an estimated 1,000 people toured through the home and along the grounds.

Rett Summerville said about 45 to 50 volunteers, dressed in period attire from the 1700s to paint a picture of when the home was built in 1784 by American Revolution war hero John Mayrant, helped give tours, serve refreshments and even blast a cannon.

"I'm just fascinated by the architecture and how solid the building is," he said. "They did some good work back in those days."

More than a dozen artists set up booths on the grounds, from paintings and pottery to jewelry and period-style items.

The Summervilles have spent decades trying to locate original pieces of furniture and other items from the house and bring them home and restoring it by using all-natural materials, from the molding to the wooden pegs used in the floors.

"I like just being able to know the history of the building," Rett Summerville said.

He may not have been there to witness the signal of the end of World War II, but Summerville has some stories of his own from the house.

His mother was reading "Gone With the Wind" when she was pregnant with him, he said, and she liked Rhett Butler so much she named him after the fictional character.

"And she always dreamed of living in a Southern plantation," he said. "So she came down here to visit me, and I was at the Shaw Air Force Base, and I was busy working so she did some touring of some old homes and came here.

"And she said, 'Well, we gotta buy it.'"

Summerville had just bought a house in Sumter, so his mother bought The Ruins.

"And then 30 days after she had moved down here, she said, 'I can't stay here because it's too many stories to go up and down the flights of stairs' - because she was from California," he said.

Nine months later, he got reassigned, but after renting the house out for 20 years, he came back and has been working to restore it since.

"We open it to the public to share the history and significance of the house," he said. "Because it is a significant house."