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Dunbar Funeral Home, 1527 Gervais Street: 2006   30 comments

Posted at 5:16 pm in closing

The time came when we, as every family does eventually, needed the services of a funeral home. Obviously it is a sad and painful experience. I can only say that I was impressed by the professionalism of the Dunbar staff as they took care of details I never would have thought of.

I knew they were emphasizing their Devine Street Chapel, but I had not realized that they had actually closed the Gervais Street location until I drove by recently and saw that the main sign was no longer on the property, and that parts of it were looking a bit overgrown.

I was a bit concerned since, despite the memories associated with it, the old house with its attached carraige-house is a Columbia landmark and a bit of stateliness on a more or less characterless commercial artery. It appears though that the house is on the historic register, and will be preserved as the USC Children's Law Center:

Proposed Whaley House Purchase:

Mr. Parham reported that the Childrens Law Center was established by the USC School of Law in 1995 to serve as a training and resource center for family court workers and attorneys who participated in legal proceedings involving children. The Center taught courses at the Law School, provided Continuing Legal Education and legal research for attorneys and judges, trained guardian ad litems and state agency case workers, and performed research-based juvenile justice programs. Currently, the Center provided more than 225 training programs and professional meetings annually to more than 5,000 professionals who protected, served and represented children in family courts. The Center was currently located on the 5th floor of 1600 Hampton Street where it had no on-site training or meeting space.

For that reason, Harry Davis, Director of the Childrens Law Center, with the approval of Dean Jack Pratt and President Sorensen, was seeking approval from the Executive Committee to enter into a Contract of Sale to purchase the property located at 1527 Gervais Street as the new home for the Childrens Law Center. This property was located directly across Gervais Street from the proposed site of the new law school. It consisted of approximately 1.25 acres, and contained 2 structures: the Whaley House (8,012 square feet), and an adjacent Carriage House (5,140 square feet). There were also 70 parking spaces on the property. Mr. Parham stated that the Dunbar Funeral Home had occupied this property for many years and the property was owned by Stewart Enterprises, Inc.


Mr. Whittle asked if the building was on the National Registry of Historic Places, and if so, will it require any special maintenance and upkeep and/or will it limit the usage in the future as to how the property can be used? Mr. Harry Davis, Director of the Children Law Center, responded that the building was on the historic register. The University had several discussions with the Columbia Historic Foundation and discussions with the architects and engineers. And, it was his understanding that the University would not be permitted to alter the exterior of the building without permission of the Columbia Historic Foundation. However, interior renovations could be made as the University might desire. The USC engineer had also looked at the building in a preliminary examination and stated that it appeared to be a sound structure.

I didn't try to peer and take pictures through the windows as I often do out of a feeling of respect. It did seem that lights were still on inside, and the AC unit was running. However, USC doesn't seem to have been in any hurry to make the actual Law Center move, and the lack of maintainence and painting is quite visible on some of the woodwork as well as the lawn being unmown in some areas. I hope they step up to the plate soon.

UPDATE 29 September 2012 -- As mentioned by commenter Matt, some sort of extensive work is being done on the place now:






UPDATE 19 October 2012 -- Apparently the place is being painted yellow. This seems to be a very gradual process where first a section is repaired and made ship-shape and then is painted:





UPDATE 21 June 2022 -- I'm not sure what is going on, but the place is partially boarded up with work apparently being done again. The real estate sign suggests the property could be a cafe:



I see LoopNet has more details:

2,592 sf restaurant/café space for lease in historic building
1,762 sf - interior café space $21.50 NNN
830 sf – porch seating area $12.50 NNN
Owner will deliver the space as a warm vanilla shell.
Delivery date – fall 2022

Also adding map icon and updating tags.

30 Responses to 'Dunbar Funeral Home, 1527 Gervais Street: 2006'

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  1. I've been passing Dunbar for 45 years and always thought the style of this place made for an extra creepy funeral home. Could it look any more like a haunted house out of a campfire story? Still, I'm glad no one's tearing it down.

    I had a neighbor who worked there long ago who had some fascinating stories.


    10 Sep 08 at 5:30 am

  2. There used to be a whole lot of houses on Gervais Street in the early 2oth century. If you look at the "postcard history" books about Columbia you will see that the Dunbar place was one of many.


    10 Sep 08 at 9:46 am

  3. I've passed numerous times in front of it and until this past wk-end, I had not noticed that it wasn't in use anymore. I can only imagine the large amount of maintenance that needs to be done to that house!


    10 Sep 08 at 9:57 am

  4. I couldn't think of a better location to train lawyers than a former funeral home :)


    12 Sep 08 at 8:03 am

  5. Isn't that house the best example of Queen Anne style in Columbia?
    Anyways, I see renovations (exterior cleanup, interior reconfiguration) as probably really expensive.

    Seems to me USC is determined to make it's law school as visible as possible, practicality be damned. This house is a case in point. Great location, great house, not very useful as a classroom.


    12 Sep 08 at 8:09 am

  6. More than likely, it will be used for various meeting rooms, conference rooms, small group rooms, etc... USC has plenty of BIG classrooms, but we are always starving for smaller rooms to use for study groups & small class spaces. Plus this building will be impressive to bring visitors to so it may be used as some kind of an "entry/welcome" building for the law school. I've always loved this building - am glad that it will be preserved (at least somewhat!) and revitalized! As a kid, I always wondered what they used the round, corner "tower" rooms for? I would always picture a coffin sitting in the center of them - kinda weird, but hey - I was a weird kid w/ a HUGE imaginination!

    Lisa B.

    22 Sep 08 at 12:10 pm

  7. Don't know what they used those rooms for. The coffin displays were through the overpass in the carraige house second floor. Viewings/visitations were on the first floor of the main house.


    22 Sep 08 at 12:26 pm

  8. this house was actually the residence of w.b. whaley. whaley as in whaley street and whaley's mill. he also built olympia and granby mills. its a very beautiful house that i grew up admiring. glad to hear that it will still be used.


    25 Feb 09 at 5:14 am

  9. But it was Mr. Whaley that used "child-labor" in his Olympia Mills.. he got children that was orphaned to work the cotton/twine machines there, so if they were killed, he buried them outside the back of the Mills..and I bet they are still there. No wonder that old place is haunted, and you couldnt get me to spend the night in the old funeral home either. Too bad it's falling apart, but as usual, Columbia cant do anything right, yet alone USC. Better take pics. of the old house before it falls apart.


    12 Apr 09 at 6:36 pm

  10. It is a sad and creepy place for me. I've visited many a dearly departed there. One of the local urban legends is that the staff used the siphoned blood to fertilize the bushes surrounding the property. I suppose that is eco-friendly but still adds an aura of creepiness about the place.


    5 May 09 at 3:29 am

  11. Del, can you give me more info on the hauntings at the Granby Mill? This is the first I ever heard of them. Is there confirmation on the child laborers being buried behind it?

    I imagine the old funeral home has some residual spirits around it. Many do. It will be interesting to see if people in the Child Law Center have any unusual experiences after it opens.

    Dennis, can you elaborate on some of your neighbor's stories? You have my curiosity stirred, now.

    Ray Price

    5 May 10 at 3:53 am

  12. This house will forever be known as The Witch House to my sister and me. It used to scare the bejeesus out of us when Mom took us downtown. Freaked us out so badly, that Mom didn't tell us it was a funeral home until we were teenagers.


    5 May 10 at 7:02 am

  13. I recently toured the old house by myself and felt very uncomfortable. the house is pretty empty without any furniture. most of the house is covered in carpetting and i noticed a ton of dead roaches scattered all over the house. Surprisingly the basement is sealed off and was never used as the prep room like they normally do in other funeral homes. The prep room is located in the carriage house and it is quite spacious although it was full of casket stands when i was in it and I did not see the embalming table. on the second floor of the carriage house is the casket showroom and it is connected to the main house by that overpass. All in all, it is quite an impressive house and definitely very creepy walking through it alone since it was pretty dark and smelled odd.


    12 Jul 10 at 4:20 pm

  14. I passed by this place today and was saddened by its state if disrepair. I used to love this house as a child. It reminded me of a dollhouse. When my Father in law had his funeral there, we discovered they had a small museum out in the hallway which I found rather interesting. I'd love to see this place fixed up again. Thanks to all who contributed your notes, I'd never known who originally owned the house nor it being on the historical registry. On the syphoned blood...they were going green before going green was popular! LOL

    Miz T

    9 Aug 11 at 1:26 pm

  15. I WONDER IF IT WOULD BE FOR SALE AND RETURNED TO ITS FORMER GLORY AND USE, I AM IN OKLAHOMA AND WAS THINKING OF A MOVE AND HAVE SOME EXTRA CASH. We owned 24 FH in TEXAS etc. all my life ,and I would like to know competition in area, THANKS TO ALL. If owner needs a chartiable deduction I do allot of deseased for free as indigent, no family left, I have a passion for those in need and would try and help .I also have enough antique regular to funeral to furnish 2 homes this size .

    You May right me


    18 Mar 12 at 11:16 am

  16. Doubtful since it's now owned by the University.


    18 Mar 12 at 2:21 pm

  17. I really wonder is USC will do anything to this old house? or just let it slowly rot and fall apart as it's doing now? Typical Columbia not to be the least bit concerned about an old house or building. I'm sure if they can, they'll have it torn down just like everything else that either Bob Coble or others have had torn down in the name of "progress" over that past 50 or more years. Charleston is MUCH smarter in keeping their historical buildings than Columbia has ever done.

    Saturday's child

    19 Mar 12 at 9:00 am

  18. Speaking of Olympia Mills and Mr. Whaley and the child labor he used, I'm sure that since there were no child labor laws or child protection agencies back in the 1800's, that when any of the kids were "sucked up" into the machinery in the Mill and killed, or if they fell from a platform or something inside the Mill and were killed, that do you honestly think that they would have been taken care of by Mr. Whaley and the others that worked there? I read an article years ago that when these kids were killed, they would just bury them behind the one back then would have thought anything about it or they did it at night time..but over the years people have either forgotten about it or just never knew what went on. If you dont believe me, just look at some of the old pictures inside the Mill and take a look at the kids that worked there.. They wont even look at the Camera, or they're either afraid to show any emotion or anything.. and there's usually some adult watching them..and they dont look to pleasant either. So I tend to believe what I've read about this.

    Saturday's child

    19 Mar 12 at 9:09 am

  19. I heard USC was going to do some lawyer or advocacy thing out of the Whaley House, but that was a while back.


    19 Mar 12 at 9:16 am

  20. By the time USC decides anything on what to do with the Whaley house, it'll be too late I'm afraid. Typical Columbia politics and typical USC. No wonder SC is the way it is.

    Saturday's child

    19 Mar 12 at 10:39 am

  21. I'm doing some research to connect with my family roots. My father, William Elliott Whaley, was the second son of WB Smith Whaley. He was born April 10, 1892, the year the house was built. He grew up in that house. The only story from Dad that I recall about that period was that his father (WB Smith Whaley) owned the first car in Columbia and rolled it over in the circular driveway. I'm planning to visit in October, and I hope to be able to see the house my Dad lived in as a little boy. If anyone has any stories about that house, I would appreciate receiving them. Also, I would appreciate information about how to arrange to visit the house. Thank you......Zach

    Zach Whaley

    2 Sep 12 at 7:45 pm

  22. Don't know how to get permission to go inside, but if you just show up, most likely nobody will hassle you if you walk around the grounds. At least that was my experience.


    2 Sep 12 at 10:21 pm

  23. Something is going on here. There is caution tape and construction fencing around the property.


    24 Sep 12 at 1:27 am

  24. Here is a State story on the work being done on the Whaley House to get it ready for the USC Children's Law Center.


    25 Oct 12 at 2:28 am

  25. The house looks like several additions had been done to it over the years, including the enclosed walkway from the garage to the main house (that's really neat). The exterior stairwell also suggests that it may have been converted to apartments at one time...and the lone gas pump salvaged from an Exxon? No idea.

    Aaron J.

    3 Aug 20 at 1:54 am

  26. The pump would have been for hearses. It may be that that use is untaxed like farm equipment and thus an on-site pump, or it may be just that pulling a hearse into a station is undignified and makes people antsy.


    3 Aug 20 at 1:24 pm

  27. Historic house in downtown Columbia that was once a funeral home to become apartments, cafe
    Read more at:

    Paul Armstrong

    6 Feb 22 at 1:24 pm

  28. This just seems weird, like USC was used to renovate and flip the house somehow.


    6 Feb 22 at 2:25 pm

  29. Folks it looks like this will be home to Knowledge Park (a Rock Hill based coffee shop...


    6 Oct 22 at 4:47 pm

  30. Let's see how long it takes before some odd things start to happen in that house. Mr. Whaley could still be in there, or any of the ones funerals were held for there too. Same goes for Whaley Mills and Olympia Mill...nope, not after knowing about all that were killed in both Mills in the 1890's or 1900's when they were still being used. I'm sure that a good 95% of more have zero clue as to what any of these buildings were or who lived and died in them. Not that they care...and that's why the History of Columbia is slowly fading away. Charleston may have it's problems, but at least they embrace their history...Columbia not so much.


    6 Oct 22 at 4:57 pm

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