A History of Columbia, South Carolina

Richland County Court House - Columbia, SC (2008)

Established by the General Assembly in 1786, Columbia replaced Charleston as the seat of government for the Palmetto State. The move accommodated the growing numbers of backcountry residents, who by the late 1700s outnumbered their lowcountry counterparts four to one. The city's name, a popular moniker at the time may stem from a reverence for Christopher Columbus who was credited with founding the New World in 1492. Columbia enjoys the distinction of being the state's first planned city, and only the second planned city in the United States (Savannah, Georgia was the first). Not only the state capital, Columbia is also the county seat for Richland County.

Columbia's original layout consisted of blocks laid out within a two-mile-by-two-mile square grid. Bordered by the Congaree River to its west, the city is situated along the state's geographic fall line, or the point at which the rivers cease to be navigable from the lowcountry. Thanks to this, and the fact that the city rests almost in the middle of the state, Columbia grew into a center for politics, education, commerce, and transportation within the first generation of its existence.

Columbia City Hall - Columbia, SC (2008)

Much of the city's success stemmed from an economy based upon cotton whose international marketability yielded vast sums of wealth, evident in the homes left behind by plantation owners. With the advent of greater technology such as a canal system in the 1820s and then rail service by 1842, Columbia was a modern city boasting a population of about 6,000 by the mid-nineteenth century. A decade later, on the eve of the American Civil War, Columbia was the largest inland town in the two Carolinas. With 8,052 residents it was twice the size of its closest rival of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Columbia's role in the American Civil War has been the subject of numerous books recalling that dark chapter in our nation's history. The Secession Convention convened on December 17, 1860 at the First Baptist Church, a structure that still stands today. In just over four years of bloodshed Columbia's commercial and governmental district, all of its war-related facilities, and many private homes lay in ruins. From this destruction, Columbia rebounded to return to that which its founding fathers intended - a thriving capital city, though its transformation took time physically and psychologically.

Downtown Columbia, South Carolina - circa 1890

Click Here to learn about the "Street Railways" that operated in Columbia from 1882 to 1936.

By the early twentieth century, Columbia became nationally important again as the federal government established Camp Jackson as a basic training facility for the United States Army during World War I. Years later, during World War II, the facility was improved, and enlarged to become Fort Jackson, currently our nation's largest Army basic training facility. Also during World War II, Columbia Army Airbase, today's Columbia Metropolitan Airport, trained numerous bomber pilots for missions oversees. Among them were the famous Doolittle Raiders, commanded by Lt. Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle, who led a daring assault on Japan following that country's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today, Columbia is a New South city whose vitality is based largely upon the diversity of its offerings. Like the attributes that made it popular since its founding, Columbia continues to serve the Palmetto State as a center for education, a seat of government, and a crossroads of commerce and culture.

Columbia was granted a U.S. Post Office on March 20, 1793, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Daniel Constable. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.
Click Here for a detailed account of establishing Columbia as the new state capital.

Columbia Town Plat - From SC State Archives

Click Here to view / download a 1786 map of Columbia, SC.

Click Here to view / download a 1790 map of Columbia, SC.

Click Here to view / download a 1905 map of Columbia, SC.

Click Here to view / download a 2012 map of Columbia, SC. Adobe PDF format, 43 pages. Fairly large.

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