Historic Columbia: 60 Years in the Making

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By: John Sherrer, Director of Preservation

Sunday, November 14th 2021

World of Women, July 1967

Pictured Above: Historic Columbia Foundation board of trustee member Willodene Lumpkin and docent Genevieve Hellar joined Elizabeth Holton host of WNOK’s World of Women show at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, July 20, 1967, to highlight restoration progress at the Ainsley Hall House.

History is far more than dates, events, and people. But all three of these nonetheless serve as touchstones for memories of the past—and as inspiration for the future. Three generations ago, on November 14, 1961, a group of impassioned citizens officially formed Historic Columbia Foundation. The newly minted eleemosynary corporation’s members shared a common purpose—to raise $450,000 for the purchase of a local landmark slated for demolition.

Pictured above: Early preservationists, in 1964, stand on the steps of the Horry Guignard House, where Historic Columbia Foundation established a temporary administrative office while soliciting donations for what would be a successful campaign to save the Ainsley Hall House from destruction and restore the site for public benefit.

Then known as the Ainsley Hall House, today’s Robert Mills House stood alone, the sole survivor on a city block that formerly featured several 19th-century buildings last used by Columbia Bible College as part of its downtown campus. Though dilapidated, the 135-year-old mansion nonetheless exuded architectural sophistication that simultaneously recalled its designer’s skills while conjuring the preservationists’ perceptions of a more genteel era.

Beginning with that auspicious event six decades ago in which our preservationist forebears gathered to establish Historic Columbia, we will chronicle for the next year our past accomplishments, as we also embrace new opportunities to preserve places and share complex stories from the past that connect us in the present with the hope of inspiring our future.