In 1786 the South Carolina General Assembly convened in Charleston to pass legislation for a new capital city, one that would be more convenient for the growing number of residents leaving the coast and settling in the backcountry. The site selected for the new city, one of the first planned cities in the United States, had several advantages. First, it was located nearly in the center of the state and second, it was at the head of navigation on the Congaree River. The name for the new capital came from Christopher Columbus who was riding a crest in popularity for his travels to the West Indies in 1492.

The new capital was a success not just as a seat of government but as a center for education, commerce and transportation. A canal system was in places by the 1820s and rail service arrived in 1842. By the mid-1800s Columbia was the largest inland town in the Carolinas - twice as big as the next most populous town, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Columbia’s role in the Civil War was brief but lasting. America’s first convention to draw up an Ordinance of Secession met here in December 1860 but quickly departed for Charleston when word spread of a smallpox outbreak in town. Union leaders would not forget. After surviving four years of war unscathed, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops arrived in town on February 17, 1865 and with barely six weeks of conflict remaining, destroyed about one-third of the city, including the commercial and governmental district and every house on Main Street, save one. Ironically, one of the buildings to survive was the First Baptist Church where the Secession Convention was held - because Union troops had bad information as to where the actual location of the meeting took place.

Columbia would rebound slowly but steadily - the South Carolina State House would not be completely finished until the early 1900s. With the rise to prominence of the University of South Carolina, established in town in 1801, and the establishment of Fort Jackson, the nation’s largest U.S. Army training facility, in 1917, however, Columbia would emerge again into the nation’s consciousness.

Our walking tour of the capital city will cover much ground and take in the greatest diversity of architecture of any South Carolina town but will begin outside of its two most historic houses where, conveniently, the closest non-metered parking spaces to downtown are located...

Robert Mills House
1616 Blanding Street

Charleston-born Robert Mills was America’s first architect born and trained within the United States. He would be named the nation’s first federal architect and design some of the country’s most prominent buildings, including the Washington Monument. The Robert Mills House, immediately recognized as a classically-inspired Mills design, was built between 1823 and 1825. Mills, however, did not live here. Neither, really did anyone else. It was intended as a fashionable private home for English merchant Ainsley Hall but he died before it was completed and his wife sold the mansion to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia; the Presbyterian Theological Seminary began holding classes in 1831. In 1927, the seminary moved and the property gradually fell into disrepair. A major grassroots movement saved the house from demolition in the early 1960s and after extensive restoration, the Robert Mills House, one of only five National Historic Landmarks within Columbia, opened in 1967 as a historic house museum.

Hampton-Preston Mansion  
1615 Blanding Street

Before Ainsley and Sarah Hall commissioned Robert Mills for the house across the street they lived here, in a glorious mansion constructed in 1818. Wade Hampton, scion of one of South Carolina’s leading families, came to covet the house and he brokered a deal to buy the house for $35,000 and induce the Halls to move across the street (which as we saw, never happened). Money was no concern to Hampton who was said to be the wealtiest planter in the United States. Following decades as a family residence, the Hampton-Preston Mansion had numerous uses including a convent, a college for women, and Union Army headquarters during the Civil War. All of the accompanying outbuildings have since been torn down; in fact the imposing mansion seen today is scarcely half of what the mansion used to be - the back half was torn off as well.


1528 and 1534 Blanding Street

These houses from the 1870s (the circa-1875 Heiss-Meehan-Guignard House at 1534) and 1880s (the circa-1885 Bond House at 1528) were moved to this site as historic infill development for this part of town. 

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
1512 Blanding Street

This congregation formed in 1883 by holding services in private homes. A church building was erected on Barnwell Street before the Episcopalians moved into this Gothic Revival style sanctuary, executed in a cruciform shape, in 1901. The memorial stained glass window above the altar moved with the congregation from Barnwell Street. Beneath the building’s front steps, visible from an inside trapdoor, lies the cornerstone of the Christ Episcopal Church, built in 1858 and destroyed during the Civil War a few years later. it stood one block to the west.


Sims-Stackhouse Mansion
1511 Laurel Street

This formidable mansion once stood in the middle of the block when it was constructed by the Sims family in 1853. IN 1909 banker T.B. Stackhouse purchased the property, sliced the top floors from above the home’s raised basement and plunked them down one parcel to the west. After Stackhouse bequeathed the house to the City of Columbia in 1934 it became the headquarters for the South Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs and it remains so today.

Black House
1521 Laurel Street

After completing his Neoclassical mansion in 1912, Edgar O. Black used the basement to run a one-man bank. He later subdivided much of the house into apartments.

Boozer-Crumpler House
1529 Laurel Street

Dentist and real estate speculator J.W. Boozer built this Neoclassical mansion in 1912 with a quartet of Corinthian columns supporting a dentilled pediment. Lake many larger homes in the area its days as a private home ended in a refurbishing to apartments and commercial uses.


Seibels House
1601 Richland Street at northeast corner of Pickens Street

The Seibels House lays claim to being the oldest remaining building in Columbia, a portion of which is believed to have been built in 1796 (a local historian spotted the date on a hand-hewn basement beam about 75 years ago). It stands on the plantation lands of Thomas Taylor, one of the city’s founding fathers. It carries forward the name of the Seibels family who purchased the property in 1858. Its appearance is a Colonial Revival renovation by architect J. Carroll Johnson in the 1920s.


Davis House
1530 Richland Street

Edmund P. Davis built this Columbia Cottage-style house in the 1880s after the original building had burned in 1868. It received a 1920s updating with dormers and a remodeled front porch. 

Jack Davis House
1526 Richland Street

This 1894 Queen Anne-style house remained in the Davis family for more than a century. As with other Victorian-era houses in the historical district it boasts of decorative scroll-work on the porch brackets and multiple gables. 

Maxcy Gregg House
1518 Richland Street

Native son Maxcy Gregg, a lawyer and veteran of the Mexican-American War, purchased this 1841 house in 1854. Gregg was a major proponent of secession and when South Carolina left the Union in December 1860, Gregg helped organize the 1st South Carolina Volunteers and served as the regiment’s first colonel. During the Civil War, Gregg became a brigadier general but did not survive the war, dying of a gunshot to the spine during the Battle of Fredericksburg. The appearance of the building today dates to the 1880 when it was given a Caribbean flavor with a broad, columned porch and a trio of dormers.

1516 Richland Street

This Neoclassical structure, built about 1912, evokes the grandeur of antebellum mansions with its massive Corinthian columns, decorative swags and dentil moldings. Early 20th century features, such as one-over-one paned windows and a porte-cochere for cars, reveal its true date of construction.

Mann-Simons Cottage
1403 Richland Street

The Mann-Simons Cottage has statewide significance as one of only a few houses South Carolina once owned by free blacks in antebellum days. Constructed around 1850, though some parts were built earlier, the house was owned by Celia Mann. Born a slave in Charleston, she earned or bought her freedom in the 1840s and moved to Columbia, where she worked as a midwife. Her extended family and descendants occupied the house until 1970 when it was sold to the Columbia Housing Authority. 

Ebenezer Lutheran Church
1301 Richland Street

This was the first Lutheran congregation in Columbia. The church dedicated in this square in 1830 was burned by Union troops in 1865. it was rebuilt in 1870, partly through the aid of Northern Lutherans. It was used for a Sunday school after the current church was built in 1931. 

Caldwell-Boylston House
Governor’s Mansion Grounds/800 Richland Street

Built in 1830 by John Caldwell, a prominent merchant and South Carolina Railroad President, the Greek Revival home with stately Doric columns was also occupied by Lucy and Caroline Hampton, nieces of General Wade Hampton. General Daniel H. Chamberlain purchased and resided in the home during his administration in the 1870s. Through personal funding, Governor Chamberlain was responsible for the handsome iron fence that still surrounds a major portion of the grounds. Its longest resident, Sarah Porter Boylston, lived here for over 50 years, becoming known for her extensive horticultural expertise and the lovely parties she hosted in her garden.  

Lace House
Governor’s Mansion Grounds/800 Richland Street

Exquisite ironwork adorning the exterior double piazzas and interior cornices of intricate design earn this home the sobriquet “Lace House.” John Caldwell gave this land next to his house to his daughter as a wedding gift for the house that was built in 1854. In the 1950s, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union bought the house and in 1968 it was purchased by the State. The home is now the official guesthouse for the state of South Carolina.

Governor’s Mansion
800 Richland Street

The only building left standing from the Arsenal Military Academy, established in 1842 to train officers for the state’s militia, after the Civil War was the officers’ quarters. In 1868 Governor James L. Orr recognized the “commodious building which commands a picturesque view of the Broad and Saluda rivers.” He declared that this structure become the home of South Carolina’s Chief Executive Officers. Most all Governors have lived in the Mansion, which has undergone numerous remodeling projects, since.


J. Bratton Davis United States Bankruptcy Courthouse
1100 Laurel Street

Harold Tatum designed this Depression-era project with engaged columns above a rusticated base as a United States Courthouse. it opened on January 1, 1936. It was renamed the J. Bratton Davis United States Bankruptcy Courthouse in 2000.


City Hall
1737 Main Street at the corner of Laurel Street

This is Columbia’s fourth City Hall, one with a distinguished pedigree. It was designed as the United States Courthouse and Post Office by Federal Supervising Architect Alfred B. Mullet in the 1870s. An early example of Renaissance Revival architecture, It was completed in 1876 at a total cost of over $400,000. When the federal judiciary outgrew the building in the 1920s, Mayor L.B. Owens swapped land for a new courthouse for this building.

The Brown Building
1730-1732 Main Street

After James Hagood Sams and Avery Carter teamed up in the early years of the 1900s they were two of the busiest architects in Columbia. Here they turned out a Classical Revival multi-use, three-story masonry building for Charles O. Brown and Brothers Company, a hardware store. Architectural flourishes include pediments, window moldings, pilasters and a bracketed cornice.

Bouchier Building
1722-1724 Main Street

This three-story masonry commercial building, dating to the 1910s, is dominated by a facade of strong, repetitive balustrades and garland motifs of fruits and foliage in off-white terra cotta. In its century of service many different businesses have operated here, including the Sears, Roebuck and Co. Toy Department.

The Tapp’s Building
1644 Main Street at southeast corner of Blanding Street

Save for a few years at the beginning and five years at the end, Tapp’s Department Store was a retail institution on this Columbia corner for the entire 20th century. James L. Tapp began offering his ware for sale on St. Patrick’s Day, 1903. The building dated to the 1880s. In the 1930s it would be greatly enlarged and modified with an Art Moderne flair. That roofline remains evident beneath a 1950s-era stucco. Tapp’s closed its doors in 1995 and the structure has been renovated for mixed use.  

The Lever Building
1613 Main Street

When this building was designed in 1903 as Walter D. Lever’s shoe store and office in 1903 he stuffed it inside and out with classically-inspired motifs, all rendered in stone and terra cotta relief. 

Lorick and Lowrance Mercantile Building
1535-1537 Main Street

Only a segment of the highly ornamented arches that once comprised the multiple storefronts that became a landmark on the Columbia streetscape in 1913. J. Carroll Johnson contributed the Renaissance Revival design.

Canal Dime Savings Bank
1530 Main Street

W.B. Smith Whaley and Gadsden Shand brought the brawny, rough-hewn Richardsonian Romanesque style to Columbia in 1895 for the offices of the Canal Dime Savings Bank. The bank didn’t even make it to the new century. It was followed by three more banks before the Depression finished banking in the building forever. The property survived to become one of the first to benefit from Columbia’s urban renaissance; its neighbor, another Romanesque Revival structure, was not so fortunate. Its replacement, however, took its stylistic nod from its deceased predecessor.  

Kress Building  
1508 Main Street

Edward F. Silbert embraced Egyptian themes for his 1934 Art Deco tour-de-force for Columbia’s newest dime store. Glazed terra cotta tile cast in orange, green and blue Egyptian-themed lotus petals and papyrus reeds adorns the building’s facade. During the Civil Rights protests of the early 1960s, this site gained historic importance as black and white college students rallied against segregation by holding sit-ins at the store’s whites-only lunch counter. Theirs efforts proved successful and Columbia’s downtown stores peacefully integrated their lunch counters to black customers in 1962. 

Columbia Museum of Art
1501 Main Street at northwest corner of Hampton Street

Simplified geometric forms combine to create the Post Modern art museum that opened in 1998. The open plaza on the corner was once the site of “Carolina’s Greatest Store,” as John Mimnaugh billed his store, the city’s first large department emporium, in the 1890s. It lasted until 1930 when the building became yet another department store under the name of Belk’s.  

Sylvan Building
1500 Main Street

When this half-block long structure was constructed in 1871 it was the first large building to be erected after Union troops occupied the city during the War Between the States. The popular Second Empire Victorian style was employed with trademark features such as a mansard roof, heavy quoins, and drip courses over the windows. The first tenant was the Central National Bank. In 1905, two Swedish immigrant brothers, Gustav and Johannes Sylvan, bought the property for their jewelry trade and made changes to make the building more retail-friendly. Columbia has two street clocks made by the famous clockmaker Seth Thomas. Replicas of a clock in the town-square of Bern, Switzerland, the older of the two, stands in front of the Sylvan Building and was installed between 1908 and 1910 as a replacement for an earlier clock. The other clock still stands a block away on the southwest corner of Main Street and Washington Street.

The Palmetto Building
1400 Main Street at northeast corner of Washington Street

The city’s second skyscraper, erected in 1913, still adhered to the classic image of a tall building as an ancinet column. Here two floors of Indiana limestone comprise the base. The shaft is ten floors clad in glazed cream-colored terra cotta. The decorative capital features five floors of intersecting Gothic arches with an ornate over-hanging copper cornice and a stone parapet. Preservationists fought off the wrecker’s ball in the 1980s and the building was saved and rehabilitated as part of a half-billion dollar investment to revitalize downtown Columbia. The Palmetto began greeting hoel guests in 2008.

Barringer Building
1338 Main Street at southeast corner of Washington Street

The National Loan and Exchange Bank provided th eimpetus for South Carolina’s first skyscraper in 1903. It too mimics a classical column with a rusticated limestone base supporting nine stories of masonry while a frieze of brick and stone complete the column’s capital. The structure brought the technological advance of steel framework to Columbia. 

Equitable Arcade Building
1332 Main Street

The Arcade Mall was Columbia’s first indoor shopping center, constructed by a consortium of Columbia investors in 1912. It is an important local example of the Renaissance Revival style of architecture that derives its inspiration from Italy. Originally an open arcade, patterned after those in Italy, the two-story, L-shaped, masonry structure featured reinforced concrete floors and roof and initially the building’s central passage was open to the elements. However, the passage became partially roofed some twenty years after the building’s construction and then fully enclosed by the mid-twentieth century.

Meridian Building
1320 Main Street

This 17-story high-rise, constructed in 2004, integrates the facade of the former Consolidated Building, a 19-th cnetury building redesigned in 1912 by Columbia architect J. Carroll Johnson to reflect the Spanish Gothic style.

First Citizens Bank Building
1230 Main Street

With its emphasis on verticality and distinctive decorative touches this 2006 office building can be said to embrace Art Deco revival.

Brennen Building
1210-1214 Main Street

The property has long carried the name of businessman Michael Brennen who, in December 1864, purchased the land. A fairly typical two-story masonry structure was built here and taking in rent by 1870. sometime after World War I it picked up its cast iron balcony that lent the building its air of the French Victorian age. For many years, until 2002, this was the home of the Capitol Cafe, a popular restaurant for lawmakers and downtown habitués. 

Union Bank
601 New Street at King Street

William Augustus Edwards gave Columbia its third skyscraper in 1914. Again, you can still see the form of a classical column in the high-rise although it once cut a more dramatic figure at its prominent location with a dynamic roofline comprised of nine pairs of Gothic finials punctuated by stepped parapets. 

South Carolina State House
Main and Gervias streets

Sherman left most of Columbia in 1865 in smoldering rubble as he took the capital, but he spared complete demolition of this building, which had been under construction for ten years, because he admired it as a beautiful work of art. Then again, he didn’t revere it so much that he couldn’t leave without taking a few pot shots at the seat of power of the state that had led secession - bronze stars on the south and west facades mark scars made by Sherman’s shells. When Union troops descended upon Columbia the original wooden state house from 1788, by then in serious disrepair, was burned to the ground. John Rudolph Niernsee, a Baltimore native, was shepherding the new statehouse to completion. He would put more than 30 years on the job and it still would not be completely finished for another 20 after his son took over. The symmetrical Classic Revival structure features a raised first floor and imposing temple-like front comprised of a ten-columned portico with pediment. A single piece of granite, each column stands 43 feet in height and weighs 37 tons. Three Confederate monuments are on the grounds; north of the State House is the Monument to Confederate Dead, a tall, white marble shaft surmounted by a figure in Confederate uniform; to the east is Wade Hampton Equestrian, a bronze statue of General Wade Hampton by F.W. Ruckstull, and also Ruckstull’s bronze group, Monument to the Women of the Confederacy. A majestic dogwood is marked in memory of Robert E. Lee.    

South Carolina Supreme Court
1231 Gervais Street

Until 1971 the South Carolina Supreme Court met in a section of the South Carolina State House. Justices didn’t have their own offices and typically met in a common conference room. That year the court moved into a home of its own - the former United States Post Office building

Trinity Episcopal Church
1100 Sumter Street at southeast corner of Gervais Street

In 1812 a group of Columbians incorporated themselves as the first Episcopal parish in the backcountry. With the support of the Protestant Episcopal Society, funds were raised for the construction of a small, wooden cruciform structure on the southeast corner of Gervais and Sumter streets. This church building was dedicated in 1814. The next twenty years saw this promising beginning falter. By 1845 the congregation was large enough to engage the services of Edward Brickell White to design a new church modeled after York Cathedral in England. It was consecrated in 1847 and it survived the burning of Columbia by Union troops in the War Between the States.Under the ancient oaks and magnolias of Trinity’s Churchyard are buried some of South Carolina’s most distinguished sons and daughters: General Wade Hampton, General Peter Horry, and Private Robert Stark (all Revolutionary heroes); Dr. Thomas Cooper, president of the South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) and friend of Thomas Jefferson; General Wade Hampton and numerous others who fought so gallantly for the Lost Cause; Henry Timrod, Poet Laureate of the Confederacy; six governors: Wade Hampton, Richard Irvine Manning, John Lawrence Manning, Richard Irvine Manning, Hugh Smith Thompson, and James F. Byrnes.  


First Presbyterian Church
1324 Marion Street

This was the first congregation organized in Columbia, on June 4, 1795. The church’s forefathers first met in the old State House and later in a simple wooden meeting house on our present grounds.  The sanctuary, built in 1853, boasts a 180-foot church spire that was once the tallest structure in Columbia. The churchyard, allotted as a public burying ground in 1798, was granted to this church in 1813. Among those buried here are United States senators and the parents of President Woodrow Wilson. 

Washington Street United Methodist Church
1401 Washington Street at Marion Street

The congregation formed ten days before Christmas in 1803 when a small number of Methodists determined to build a church on the corner of Washington and Marion streets. The current building, a commanding Gothic Revival design, dates to 1875 and is the fourth church for the Methodists. It replaced a church destroyed by Union troops on February 17-18, 1865.


First Baptist Church
1306 Hampton Street

The first Secession Convention was held here in December 1860, a year after the brick church was built. The business of secession was then moved to Charleston because of a reported smallpox outbreak in Columbia. The pulpit furnishings, slave gallery, and brick-pillared portico are as they were then. The church was spared during the destruction of Columbia by Union troops because they got confused and burned the congregation’s original church on Sumter Street that had been built in 1811. 

Busted Plug Plaza
Taylor Street between Marion and Bull streets

Busted Plug Plaza is the creation of Columbia artist William Edward Johnson. In 1974, he legally changed his name to Blue Sky, and engraved it across his most famous work, Tunnelvision, a Trompe-l’?il mural he painted across the plaza on the rear of the AgFirst Farm Credit Bank a year later. The four-story high fireplug was unveiled in 2001 after 14 months of off-site component fabrication and on-site construction. It weighs 675,000 pounds, designed, for the sake of public safety, to withstand a direct hit from a tornado. In 2000, Sky received the “Order of the Palmetto” - South Carolina’s highest civilian state honor.


Woodrow Wilson Family Home
1705 Hampton Street at Henderson Street

This Victorian Tuscan villa, built by Woodrow Wilson’s parents in 1872, served as home for the future president from the age of 16 through 19. Wilson’s father taught at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary and was Pastor for a few years at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia. Young Woodrow and his parents moved from Columbia in 1875, but his parents later chose Columbia’s First Presbyterian Church yard as their final resting place.