More than one hundred years ago, the two-story Victorian house at 10 N. 4th Street was home to one of the world’s most famous musicians, John W. “Blind” Boone. In his lifetime, he overcame blindness, poverty and discrimination to become an amazing composer and concert pianist. Boone helped to merge African-American folk music with the European classical tradition, a fusion that opened the way for ragtime, jazz, boogie-woogie and much more.
John Lange Jr. built the Boone home on a lot that was previously owned by John Lange Sr. who was one of Columbia’s earliest successful African American businessmen. The lot overlooked the Flat Branch Creek, which was immortalized in Boone’s composition, “Strains From The Flat Branch.”
An exact date of construction has not been determined; however, it is believed that the home was built between 1888 and 1892. It is comparatively small by today’s standards, measuring 46’ by 45’ and sitting on a lot measuring 71.25’ by 122’. At the time that Boone occupied the house it was sided with wooden weatherboarding and featured a two story front porch that opened on to the second level with a balustrade encircling the second story. A historical photograph taken in the 1890’s reveals that pairs of wooden shutters flanked the windows.
During the 1930’s or 1940’s the house was covered with a layer of stucco, which was covered during the 1970’s with aluminum siding. Two additions were added to the original house, one on the east side during Boone’s lifetime and another on the north side during the 1940’s. The additions and the successive exterior layers not only dramatically altered the original Victorian appearance but also obscured the historical integrity of the house as a whole.
Fortunately, the interior of the house retained much of its original woodwork, including pocket doors, fireplace and an open curving staircase. Today, these elements look much as they would have during Boone’s lifetime.
After Boone’s death in 1927, his widow Eugenia retained ownership until 1929. In 1931, the house became the location of William and Parker Undertakers. One of the partners, Stuart Parker, took over the business in 1943. It was Parker who constructed the north addition, which he used as a funeral chapel. In the 1960’s the south room of the eastern addition was renovated to use as an embalming laboratory. At about the same time, a 1,350 square foot addition constructed of concrete block was added to the east side of the house as a garage for the hearses. Harold Warren, one of Parker’s former employees eventually acquired the home in which he operated Warren Funeral Chapel for more than 30 years.
Preserving the Boone House
In the fall of 1996 Mayor Darwin Hindman asked Debbie Sheals, a local architectural historian to investigate the feasibility of preserving the Boone house. In early March 1997, Sheals, Greg Olson, Wynna Faye Elbert and others formed a group of interested preservationists who became known as the “Blind Boone House Project.” This group prepared and compiled their findings in a report entitled, “J.W. Blind Boone House: Restoration and Adaptive Reuse Options.” The purpose of the report was to assist the project group in their efforts to find an appropriate new use for the building.
The restoration of Boone’s home is a tribute to the residents of Columbia, music lovers everywhere and the African American community. The heritage of this inspirational and talented man who lived and created many of his composition in his home on 4th Street is a vital and important element in the history of our community. Revitalization of the home and the gardens bring a resurgence of community pride in the heritage of yesterday and excitement about the future of Columbia.