The story of the Wilkins House is a historic house begins with William T. Wilkins (1825–1895), a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina William was a merchant involved primarily in hardware, with businesses from Charleston to New York City prior to the Civil War. Wilkins returned to South Carolina to fight for the Confederacy where he was wounded in battle. Following the war, Wilkins opened two hardware stores in Union and Greenville, South Carolina where he supplied the rapidly growing textile industry. In 1867, Wilkins married Harriet Dawkins Cleveland (1843–1930) of Greenville, a woman of wealth in her own right. Together, they contracted Jacob W. Cagle (1832–1910) to build the Wilkins House in 1876 featuring a blend of Gothic and Italianate elements. In 1878, William and Harriet settled in their new home.
Occupying twenty-three acres, the two-story brick mansion in the Italianate style was one of the stateliest homes on one of the prestigious streets in town, reflecting the Wilkins’ prominence in the business and social life of the community. The elegant interior of the house, decorated in high Victorian style, included large crystal combination chandeliers, bas-relief Lincrusta, and an opulent curved Walnut staircase. A conservatory on the north side was filled with plants and flowers, one of Harriet’s passions as seen in design elements throughout the house.
By the time of his death in 1895, William was “a large stockholder in nearly every manufacturing enterprise in Greenville.” After the death of her husband and only son, Harriet—thereafter always dressed in black—continued to be the grand lady, hosting luxurious dinner parties and serving charitable organizations in the community.
Upon Harriet’s passing in 1930, the house was bequeathed to a nephew who leased it to a funeral home, Jones Mortuary. The funeral home made superficial modifications to the interior and added a 1,200-square-foot chapel. Jones Mortuary closed in 1999, and for ten years the Wilkins House was used for antique and specialty shops and well as a wedding venue. The Wilkins House, once occupying twenty-three acres was now only four-acres, and was sold to a developer who wanted to demolish the house and build a nursing home and assisted living center in its place. Instead, Neil Wilson, a real estate developer bought the house, intending to preserve and restore it. With assistance from members of the Greenville community, the necessary $720,000 to move the house was raised in 2014. The funeral home additions were carefully deconstructed and on September 6, 2014, the 800-ton house was moved two blocks from Augusta Street to Mills Avenue.
Since 2014, the Wilkins House has undergone a meticulous restoration from many craftsmen to bring back the home’s features which make it a unique and lasting monument to Greenville’s Gilded Age.