Main Street in Columbia has lived a double life. Today, festivals, farmers markets, as well as retail and cultural arts institutions, make Main Street one of the city’s most vibrant districts. But what was Main Street like in the past?
To answer that question, we need to look one block south to Assembly Street, which was designed in the 18th century to be one of Columbia’s major thoroughfares.
Senate and Assembly streets were both built wider than other streets in the city’s grid in order to accommodate retail spaces. It became apparent not long after Columbia began to be developed that nature had other plans, as Assembly and Senate streets, both lower than Richardson (Main) and Gervais, were prone to becoming a muddy quagmire during rainstorms. Business owners packed up their wares and moved to Richardson Street now known as Main Street By the early 1800s, businesses of all kinds populated a busy corridor.
Following the fire of February 1865, which destroyed roughly one third of the center and all of Richardson Street from the State House to Upper Street (today’s Elmwood Avenue), Columbia’s main commercial street was rebuilt.
The buildings that stand today provide a architectural time line of the history of our community since the end of the Civil War. The success of Main Street has ebbed and flowed during Columbia’s history but the area’s recent resurgence gives energy to the most architecturally diverse area in Columbia.
Many of the businesses understand the importance of keeping the historical integrity and character of Main Street intact as this contributes to the liveliness that brings people downtown. Lula Drake, Blue Flour, and the Nick are just three examples of successful preservation and restoration work.
Joggers, dog-walkers, and families can be seen on Main Street in the evenings as more residents move to this area and enjoy the benefits of this pedestrian-friendly corridor. With new restaurants opening on Main Street, residents and visitors have a variety of options for dinner and drinks.
Learn more about this historic district on Dec. 9 by registering for our upcoming Second Sunday Stroll!
This article was originally published in The Columbia Star.