In June of 1893, The State newspaper wrote, “Quite a number of Columbians went out to … enjoy… the excellent barbecue and picnic which took place on the banks of the beautiful pond” at the home and property of Mr. W. D. Dent, principal of Bethel Academy. This was not the first social event hosted by this picturesque terrain, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
The historical property now lies in the hands of Norrie and Edwin Cooper, a couple whose roots in the land are buried deep. Weathering approximately 150 years, this old home was a mere cabin while the Civil War raged throughout the United States and Sherman made his infamous march through Columbia. As many families and generations built additions and implemented improvements, the cabin grew into a spacious farmhouse that is now a beautiful Southern landmark, sitting on four and a half acres. The stately white home, with looming oak trees surrounded by azaleas and a hunter green picket fence, stands on the highpoint of a hill while the terrain slopes down to Forest Lake.
John Hughes Cooper, Edwin’s great uncle, bought the property in 1918. “John Hughes started the beginning of the Coopers owning this property,” says Norrie. “He kept up the home as a part of Lakeview, and many of his friends were allowed to stay here.”
That same year, John Hughes, with the assistance of his many nieces and nephews, tackled the project of managing Lake View Club on what was then known as “Dents Pond.” According to The State in 1909, the founders of Lake View Club put “up on the margin of the pond a bath house sufficiently large to afford accommodations for themselves and their families, and the pond was used by these folks exclusively for fishing and bathing purposes.”
“It was a very popular spot for Columbians to swim prior to Forest Lake Club,” Norrie smiles, pointing across the lake to where the clubhouse used to stand. “Back then they would merely charge people 50 cents to come swim.” This favored club welcomed guests until 1926 when Forest Lake Country Club replaced it.
Presently Edwin is the third generation of the Cooper family residing in the home, a place where he has made memories since birth. “When Edwin was a boy, he would go squirrel hunting at the end of the lake,” Norrie shares. “One time he went and the boat sank; consequently, he lost his gun. A few weeks ago, the lake was down, and he found the gun … 60 years later!”
The massive back yard provided a wonderful area for many activities for Edwin in his youth, including keeping horses for a local camp in the off season. An old brick building with vines crawling up the walls is located at the bottom of the yard near the lake. “That is where the saddles and bridles were kept,” she explains.
A little farther up the hill Norrie gestures towards a gargantuan cypress tree.
“See up there? Those boards are the remains of an old tree house one of Edwin’s brothers built when they were boys,” she says. “That cypress is a real specimen. The trees and particularly the oaks are my favorite part about this yard.”
The trees are integral parts of the terrain that accentuate the land’s beauty while also providing shelter. Looming hardwood scattered throughout the property strengthens the yard’s appealing aesthetics. “John, my son, puts in trees almost every time he comes. He is like Johnny Appleseed or something!” Norrie laughs. “The trees are the major focus of our yard.”
Norrie continues to discuss her appreciation of the land’s past. “Since this whole area has such a rich past,” she says, “it really is more a place of history than a garden. There has been so much to learn so our daughter, Margaret, did the research on this home as she works in the Local History Room at the Richland Count Public Library. Edwin and I are blessed to be a small part of this home’s story. I feel connected with the people who have been here before.”
Through their yard, the Coopers want to show people how to keep something old and simple. “We are trying to preserve the historical value of the home as well as the land, maintaining its original qualities,” she adds. “We love sharing the antiquity of this place with other people.”
Inside the house, Norrie reveals a wooden peg stuck in the wall. “Portions of the house were put together with pegs — that really dates it. I feel like the house and the garden are intertwined. It’s just all old,” she says.
Now the Coopers have merged their interests with the house’s history by cultivating a habitat garden, enticing a plethora of animals. “We have raccoons, possums, plenty of rabbits and an occasional deer,” shares Norrie. “I personally love the red foxes and their kits. I also adore the rabbits, although not everyone in my family is as enthralled with them as I am.”
In order to create and maintain a habitat garden, the focus is not centered on the landscaping but instead on the shelter and food the vegetation provides. “You have to provide water, food and shelter. The food doesn’t have to come from a feeder. We have lots of trees with berries and nuts,” Norrie says. “You need space. It also depends on what you want to attract.”
A personal variable that the Coopers implement into their yard is native shrubs. “We are big on keeping it simple and natural,” Norrie says. “We believe in conservation, and we would like to protect the land.”
Norrie says that she and Edwin were not forced to start from scratch with their habitat garden. “The animals were here before we were. They were our inheritance,” Norrie says. “Since I am not a gardener, I’ve enjoyed learning how to cultivate a wildlife habitat.”
The couple has reaped special benefits from their dedicated toil poured into making the land an inviting terrain. In fact, their yard provides the perfect location for family gatherings. “Our daughters, Margaret and Norrie, had their wedding receptions on the lawn and in the house. One wedding was on New Years Eve. Can you imagine how crazy it was?” smiles Norrie. “We have so many wonderful memories in this yard. It also is a delightful place for Easter egg hunting; our grandchildren always get biddies on Easter as well, and that’s fun.”
The vast grounds are an ideal wonderland for kids to play, hide and build forts. Norrie and Edwin enjoy the constant excitement their grandchildren express while playing in their yard. Norrie points out multiple cherry trees bursting in full bloom clustered in the front yard. “My grandchildren call it fairy land. They shake the limbs and make it snow with flowers.”
The front yard also holds a fertile fruit garden the Coopers nurture. This patch of land contains a fig tree, a banana shrub, a peach tree, herbs and blackberries. “This is the only part of the garden that I do real work in,” shares Norrie. “But I’m really not an inside person. I walk out the door into the yard whenever I can.”
A landscape crew helps with the daunting upkeep of the yard. “The hardest part is the manpower and maintenance,” Norrie tells. “It requires a lot of cutting and mowing. It is important not to let it become overrun by weeds and vines.”
Norrie stresses the importance of adding minimal aspects to a yard, instead allowing nature’s splendor to shine through. Norrie says, “We like to keep it simple and natural.”