Intersection of Barnwell and Calhoun Streets
South Carolina State Asylum
Originally referred to as the Lunatic Asylum, construction of this complex began shortly after the state General Assembly authorized the hospital’s creation in 1821. The cornerstone for its first building, designed by Robert Mills, was laid in 1822; the structure was completed in 1827. It included many of Mills' innovations for the housing of the mentally ill: spacious, airy corridors and patients' rooms opening on the sunny south side, an ingenious heating system and fireproof construction. The building with the large red dome is the Babcock Building, designed by Samuel Sloan in 1858. Today both buildings are among the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
During the Civil War, the “Asylum,” as it then was known, hosted a variety of visitors, including party-goers, prisoners, and refugees. On April 22, 1864, a barbeque featuring 3,500 pounds of meat was thrown in honor of General Wade Hampton III and his soldiers. The meal was served on tables placed around the institution’s grounds, which served as the backdrop for a fair-like atmosphere in which women sold coffee, cakes, and other desserts under the shadow of bloodstained battle flags. In December 1864, Confederate officers were granted the use of an unoccupied square of land on the Asylum property for a prison, which subsequently became known as “Camp Asylum.” At the time of the siege on Columbia in February 1865, hundreds of dislocated residents sought refuge in at the Asylum, where they received shelter and what meager provisions remained.