Local History

Local History

Visit Columbia. Discover its stories. A freed woman of color creates a new life for herself and later generations. A future U.S. president grows from boy to man in the turmoil of the post-war South. Planter aristocrats craft their social circle of privilege. An architect reveals his design genius through landmark buildings. A trailblazing activist charts a course for social justice. 

Founded in 1786, Columbia was the United States' first planned city and South Carolina's second capital. Its location at a natural crossroads within the center of the Palmetto State embraced both the geographic barriers of the fall line region and the political interests of lawmakers interested in achieving political parity between Lowcounty elites and growing numbers of backcountry citizens. 

Early impressions of the upstart political, commercial, and educational center differed. In May 1791, George Washington recalled Columbia as an "uncleared wood . . . surrounded by Piney and Sandy land." Three decades later Robert Mills declared it "unsurpassed in beauty by any inland city in the Union." At the onset of the Civil War in 1860, the capital named for Christopher Columbus was one of the premier southern cities, noted for its planter class citizens' fine homes and luxurious gardens

Much of this antebellum grandeur was erased five years later, when large sections of the city burned and the slavery-based society and economy were toppled. Following the Civil War, Columbia, like other southern cities attempted to rebuild physically, socially, and politically during the Reconstruction era. Following the withdrawal of Federal forces, however, much of the pre-war status quo returned. 

Columbia simultaneously aspired to be a "New South" city while ensuring segregation through Jim Crow laws. Columbians embraced new industry, principally textile manufacturing, and improved transportation and technology. Prosperity brought about changes in the city's skyline as "towering" ten- and thirteen-story skyscrapers were erected and early suburbs created. Inexpensive land and good weather promoted the growth of further businesses and the establishment of military installations. Reinvestment in established neighborhoods and continued suburban development during the 21st century have rendered contemporary Columbia a highly diverse, livable city touted for its temperate climate, geography and affordability.