Preservation Matters: Columbia, SC | Planning for the Next Fifty Years: Historic Preservation in Columbia & Richland County, 2012-2062

Posted on by

When Historic Columbia Foundation was established in 1961 the world was a different place. While sounding trite, that statement nonetheless rings true, perhaps in no way more so than in the arena of historic preservation.

Consider this. When concerned citizens rallied to prevent the demolition of the Ainsley Hall House, known today as the Robert Mills House, urban renewal was in full swing, transforming large swaths of cities throughout the United States through eminent domain and fight blight programs. The National Register of Historic Places did not exist. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, seen today as one of the field’s leading advocates, had been around for a little over a decade. Perhaps most important, preservationists were largely citizens without formal training in history, architecture, etc. who championed a cause because they could see the inherent value in not erasing the built culture of earlier generations.

Fast forward five decades to the present day. Historic preservation has evolved into an informed and energetic, multidisciplinary engine whose social and economic impact has stood the test of time. Contemporary historic preservationists come in many shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds. The field is no longer populated almost exclusively by the socially prominent or the wealthy. Fifty years of growth has transformed the way in which many people perceive value in the buildings, neighborhoods and landscapes that constitute their communities.

During the course of this journey Columbia and Richland County has matured much like the rest of the nation, meanwhile experiencing its share of victories. Positive growth is plentiful. Today, the City of Columbia’s Planning Department and the Design Development Review Commission oversee activities within fourteen downtown historic districts, ensuring that alterations or new construction within those areas is architecturally sympathetic to the historic fabric of the communities. Since 1975, the University of South Carolina has produced graduates specializing in public history, with historic preservation studies being one of the program’s tracts. Heritage tourism, based on the retention of historic resources that define our culture, is alive and well, generating considerable income for our city and county. Artisan skills, once considered passé in the face of modern construction methods and materials, have become a highly sought-after commodity. Like no other time in our city’s and county’s past can citizens and visitors access historical material and visit important places. The connections they make through such resources are a powerful educational tool, allowing them to better understand the experiences of previous generations.

Technology compounds the impact that historic preservation can have on the day-to-day lives of everyone. The digital age has introduced amazing tools that preservationists wield each day. Global positioning satellites (GPS) allow us to view and measure our world quickly on both the macro and micro levels. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) reveals cultural assets hidden from plain view. Even the most basic software found on average personal computers allows preservation practitioners to compile, study and disseminate information necessary in making the case to save irreplaceable facets of our past. Through social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, professional preservationists and involved citizens are empowered like never before, pushing information to like-minded individuals whose combined efforts often prevent the unnecessary loss of our shared past

Despite laudable growth since the 1960s, local historic preservation has experienced notable losses – large and small. Remains of the Ward One and Wheeler Hill communities exist almost solely in the memories of their former citizens. Architectural jewels such as Heathwood Hall unbelievably fell to the wrecking ball despite calls to save them. Transportation and manufacturing landmarks, including the Vista’s extension railroad trestle and structures once part of the city’s cottonseed oil industries no longer stand. Formerly integral to the character of their surrounding neighborhoods, the Richland County Jail, Booker T. Washington High School and Columbia High School and other public buildings were carted away to landfills.

What will the next fifty years hold for historic preservation in Columbia and Richland County? The answer lies with us now, as it is the citizens of 2012 who must shoulder the responsibility of advocating for what remains and educating contemporary and future stakeholders as to the importance of our individual structures, our neighborhoods and our urban and rural landscapes. While so many things have changed since 1961, the threat to our shared past remains remarkably alive. If not put in check by vocal preservationists, demolition of our remaining resources for construction of cookie-cutter developments will result in a city and county largely indistinguishable from others throughout our region and nation. Appreciating what remains of the past can result in a more informed, visually dynamic and culturally impressive city and county.

Why Historic Columbia Foundation Came to Be  

Today one of five National Historic Landmarks in the capital city, the Robert Mills House stands as a testament to the power of grass-roots preservation activism. Historic Columbia Foundation image

The Broad Reach of Urban Renewal

Fight Blight initiatives within Columbia during the 1950s and 1960s sought to improve areas of downtown deemed dilapidated and troubled. In some cases these efforts resulted in rehabilitated historic buildings. In far more instances entire areas were wiped clean of their structures, such as the section of Ward One razed for construction of the Carolina Coliseum. Courtesy of The State Newspaper

 Felled by the Wrecking Ball

By moving beyond traditional methods of historic preservation to include the safeguarding of potential archaeological sites, cemeteries and landscapes, activists hope to offer current and future citizens greater access to irreplaceable cultural resources. Shown: Heathwood Hall, pre-demolition. Historic Columbia Foundation image

Extending the Concept of Preservation

By moving beyond traditional methods of historic preservation to include the safeguarding of potential archaeological sites, cemeteries and landscapes, activists hope to offer current and future citizens greater access to irreplaceable cultural resources. Historic Columbia Foundation image

 Challenges Even Today

Contemporary activists are involved in two major preservation advocacy efforts. Inclusion of historic structures in plans for the redevelopment of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health Bull Street Campus will result in a unique district within downtown. Meanwhile, citizens interested in finding adaptive use for the circa-1918 Palmetto Compress Warehouse have met major opposition on the part of developers sold on razing the last remaining vestige of the city’s Ward One community and a major component of the city’s skyline. National Register of Historic Places Image, Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Ways to Get Involved:
1. Become a member of Historic Columbia Foundation.
 For as little as $35 (individual), your membership cost helps Historic Columbia Foundation in our local preservation and education efforts. Learn more…

2. Visit our historic house museums and gardens, including the Mann-Simons Site, Hampton-Preston Mansion, Seibels Garden, Robert Mills House & Garden, Woodrow Wilson Family Home (open the first Tuesday of the month for hard hat tours). Learn more…

3. Donate to Historic Columbia Foundation in honor of our 50th Anniversary. In an effort to save the Robert Mills House from demolition 265 visionary individuals, families and businesses each contributed $1,000 (equivalent to a $7,341 gift in 2011!) to Historic Columbia Foundation between 1961 and 1964. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Historic Columbia Foundation, our Board of Trustees invites you to continue the legacy of the 265 founding leaders by being among the first 265 donors to make a contribution to our 2011 – 2012 Anniversary Campaign. Your gift may serve as a memorial or honorarium and may be directed to benefit our special projects, endowment or general operation fund as noticed in 50th Anniversary donation form here.

4. Become a fan of Historic Columbia Foundation and Preservation Matters on Facebook.(Facebook.com/HistoricColumbia andFacebook.com/PreservationMatters)  and/or follow us on Twitter (@histcolumbia). Your likes, comments and retweets help us spread the word about our organization.

5. Volunteer for Historic Columbia Foundation. By volunteering for Historic Columbia Foundation, you meet new people, visit historic sites, and discover the culture and lifestyles of South Carolina’s capital city and Richland County. Spend as little as six hours per month, or volunteer each week with us fulfilling our mission to nurture, support, and protect the historical and cultural heritage of Columbia and its environs through programs of advocacy, education, and preservation. Learn more about becoming a volunteer (and the many volunteer benefits) here.

6. Spread the word about our 50th Anniversary by posting a link to this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and/or your website.

7. Encourage your employer to support Historic Columbia Foundation. Much like the 1,000 visionary donors in 1961, sustaining the efforts of Historic Columbia Foundation for the next 50 years will require donations not only from individuals and families, but also from local businesses. You can learn more about our business partners here. Contact Wendi Spratt in our development office at 803.252.7742 ext. 12 orwspratt@historiccolumbia.org.

Read more →

Historic Columbia Shares Top 10 Local Landmarks in Free Times

Posted on by

In this week’s Free Times, HCF Executive Director Robin Waites shares Historic Columbia’s list of the top 10 local landmarks that are eligible for the City of Columbia’s local landmark designation. Read the full story here, and view our entire list of eligible landmarks below:

1st Church of Christ Scientist  1114 Pickens Street
Adluh Flour Mill  804 Gervais Street
Antique Mall  705 Gervais Street
AP Williams Funeral Home  1808 Washington Street
Arsenal Hill Presbyterian Church  1103 Laurel Street
BB Kirkland Seed and Distributing Co  912 Lady Street
Benson Elementary  226 Bull Street
Berry’s on Main/Manson Building  1600 Main Street
Bull Street Campus Historic Corridor
Carver Theatre  1519 Harden Street
Claussen’s Bakery  2001 Greene Street
Columbia Canal  City of Columbia
Columbia Electric Railway  1337 Assembly Street
Cornwall Tourist Home  1713 Wayne Street
Creason Building  1246 Lady Street
Curtiss-Wright Hangar at Owens Field
Elmore Home  907 Tree Street
Eurytania Building  1728 Main Street
Fire Department Headquarters  1001 Senate Street
Glenwood Hotel  1619 Sumter Street
Greyhound Bus Depot  1220 Blanding Street
Howard’s Department Store  1306 Assembly Street
Lutheran Church of the Ascension  827 Wildwood
McMaster School  1106 Pickens Street
Named apartment buildings:
Boling  930 Laurens Street
Lucille  1321 Blanding Street
Adrian  1419 Bull Street
Bon Air  806 Barnwell Street
Hyland Apartments  1215 Elmwood Avenue
Marlboro Apartments  1116 Blanding Street
Singley Apartments  1600 Greene Street
The Beverly  1525 Bull Street
The Court  828-830 Gregg Street
The Gracelynn  1200 Henderson Street
Wit-Mary Apartments  1018-20 Marion Street
Timothy  2607 Devine Street
North Columbia Fire Station No. 7  2622 North Main Street
Oliver Gospel Mission  1532 Assembly Street
Olympia Armory  511 Granby Lane
Palmetto Compress Building  612 Devine Street
Pine Grove Rosenwald School  937 Piney Woods Road
Powell’s Furniture  1519 Sumter Street
Richard Samuel Roberts House  1717 Wayne Street
SC State Armory  1219 Assembly Street
Veterans Hospital  6439 Garner’s Ferry Road
Wardlaw School  1003 Elmwood Avenue
Waverly Hospital  2200 Hampton Street
Wesely UMC  1725 Gervais Street
Whaley Street Methodist Church  527 Whaley Street
Women’s Club of Columbia  1703 Blossom Street
World War Memorial Building  920 Sumter Street
YMCA  1420 Sumter Street

Read more →

Historic Columbia Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Year Concludes with Birthday Celebration at Robert Mills House

Posted on by

Historic Columbia Foundation caps off its 50th anniversary year with a Birthday Celebration at the Robert Mills House and Gardens on Friday, November 9 at 7 p.m.

This event wraps up the Foundation’s year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary, which began in November 2011 with a street fair and family day. HCF’s Birthday Celebration on November 9 will feature an antique car display, retro cocktails, wonderful food, music, dancing and a silent auction, all on the grounds of the Robert Mills House and Gardens, the property that started itall.

A Community Comes Together
In 1961, a grand old building sat in disrepair on Blanding Street with the threat of demolition hanging over its roof. Known then as the Ainsley Hall House, the residence-turned-school stood on a prized piece of land bordered by Taylor, Blanding, Pickens and Henderson Streets in the heart of downtown Columbia.  A dedicated group of citizens—including members of some of the city’s oldest families—came together and created Historic Columbia Foundation with the purpose of saving this endangered property.

The group recognized the house’s significance as both a Columbia landmark and as an architectural treasure. In 1823, Columbia residents Ainsley and Sarah Hall hired architect Robert Mills to design a house in the Classical Revival style. Mills, most famous for designing the Washington Monument, planned very few private residences, adding to the building’s significance as a historic property.

Mr. Hall died before the house was completed, leaving a contested will and his wife to finish the project. Ultimately, she sold it to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia, which established a seminary there in 1831. In 1927, the building became home to the Westerveldt Academy and later the Columbia Bible College, until 1960.

In 1961 the newly-formed Historic Columbia Foundation began to solicit donations toward its goal to purchase the Ainsley Hall House and save it from destruction. The group found 265 individuals and businesses who each donated $1,000, enabling the Foundation to purchase the property in 1962 and begin the restoration in 1963, which was completed four years later. On April 2, 1967, the house opened to the public as the Robert Mills Historic House and Park.

Founding HCF member Jennie Dreher accepts a check from Columbia Garden Club President Mrs. John R. Holton in front of the Robert Mills House in 1961.

The Legacy of Preservation
“Today is tomorrow’s history,” wrote Charles E. Lee, director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, in 1962 as he commented on Historic Columbia Foundation’s activism. “Twenty, fifty, a hundred years from now, when Columbia has doubled or tripled in size and hustle-and-bustle, visitors…will be grateful to the men and women of 1962 who had the vision to bequeath them this beautiful and peaceful example of gracious living from the unhurried past.”

The transformation of the Mills house from derelict building to vibrant museum stands as one of many highlights in Historic Columbia Foundation’s five decades of historic preservation efforts throughout Columbia and Richland County. Due to the success of the Mills house project, the Foundation was awarded stewardship of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home in 1966, Hampton-Preston Mansion in 1972 and the Mann-Simons Site in 1978.

The Robert Mills House in 1962, known then as the Ainsley Hall House.

By the 1980s, HCF proudly claimed 1,300 members and was growing beyond the bounds of the historic houses, offering tours throughout the city of Columbia and receiving accreditation from the American Association of Museums. The Foundation was gifted Seibels House in 1986 and assumed ownership of The Big Apple in 1993. In 2007, the City of Columbia awarded the Foundation stewardship of the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House.

Through its existence, Historic Columbia Foundation has continued to raise standards for the stewardship of the seven historic properties and more than 6,000 artifacts under its care. By establishing an award-winning website, developing new tours and programs, and making horticultural improvements, capital repairs and interpretive enhancements to its properties, the Foundation has promoted its vitality and relevance in an era of ever-changing expectations for cultural institutions.

“Today, HCF is working toward a vision that will honor the past investment of the dedicated citizens who rallied to save the Robert Mills House in 1961,” said HCF Executive Director Robin Waites, “meanwhile harnessing the spirit of contemporary residents of Columbia and Richland County in boldly building upon the previous generation’s efforts and vision.”

The Robert Mills House today.

50th Anniversary Birthday Celebration
Historic Columbia Foundation will cap off its 50th anniversary year with a Birthday Celebration at the Robert Mills House and Gardens on Friday, November 9 at 7 p.m. The celebration includes food and retro cocktails, a jazz band and DJ, a vintage fashion exhibit, antique car display, and a silent auction, all on the grounds of the Robert Mills House and Garden. Also, the Robert Mills House will be open for tours during the party.

Tickets to Historic Columbia Foundation’s Birthday Celebration are $75 per person or $50 for Palladium Society members. Tickets are on sale now by calling (803) 252-7742 ext. 10 or at http://HCFBirthdayBash.eventbrite.com.

“As we move toward the culmination of our 50th anniversary year, we have a great deal to celebrate,” said Michael Edens, president of the Historic Columbia Foundation Board of Trustees. “We invite everyone to join us on the grounds of the Robert Mills House to help us commemorate and revel in the accomplishments of the past 50 years.”

###

Historic Columbia Foundation was founded in 1961 by a group of preservationists determined to save the Ainsley Hall House, known today as the Robert Mills House.  More than four decades later, Historic Columbia Foundation manages four historic house museums and their associated artifacts, and tells the stories of people, places and progress in Columbia and Richland County. For more information, please visit http://www.historiccolumbia.org.

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/histcolumbia
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/historiccolumbia
Web: http://www.historiccolumbia.org
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/discoverhistory


Read more →

Scarecrows in the Garden Featured on WIS, WLTX and WACH Fox!

Posted on by

For the last five years, Historic Columbia Foundation has offered a FREE Scarecrows in the Garden Exhibit. This year the Hampton-Preston Mansion hosts more than 30 uniquely-crafted scarecrows from area businesses, schools, families and organizations. The family-friendly exhibit has been getting some attention from our local media partners.

On Tuesday, October 2, WIS TV hosted their live 5 -7 am broadcast from the Hampton-Preston Mansion gardens. They highlighted the Hampton-Preston Mansion Garden Rehabilitation project and the free Scarecrows in the Garden Exhibit. Check out the accompanying online article here.

A week later, WLTX News 19 visited the Hampton-Preston Mansion site during one of our Early Adventure Pumpkin Patch programs. Check out the video & article online here.

WACH Fox highlighted some of the Foundation’s fall programs also. Check out the online article here.

About the Exhibit:
The FREE Scarecrows in the Garden Exhibit is open during touring hours, Tuesday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm and Sunday 1 – 5 pm. Take a stroll through our historic Hampton-Preston grounds and garden to view dozens of uniquely-crafted scarecrows from area businesses, schools, families, and organizations. The exhibit showcases ghoulish, historical, and colorful scarecrows for all to enjoy. Find our “Sneaky Steve” scarecrow who is hiding somewhere on the grounds but moves to a new location each week.  Also, enjoy a scavenger hunt and select your favorite scarecrow.

Vote for your favorite scarecrow on Facebook today! Scarecrows in the Garden events are sponsored by Palmetto Parent.

Read more →

50th Birthday Celebration Ticket Giveaway!

Posted on by

Historic Columbia Foundation is giving away two tickets to their upcoming 50th Birthday Celebration (11.9.12), a prize value of $150! One lucky winner and a guest of his or her choice will enjoy this fabulous cocktail party featuring food stations, retro cocktails, music, dancing, a silent auction and antique car display. This event celebrates the Foundation’s 50th Anniversary and will be the event of the season!

Quick Entry Links: Enter via Facebook
Not on Facebook? Enter here instead.

Your 2 tickets are redeemable for the 50th Birthday Celebration taking place at the Robert Mills House and Gardens, 1616 Blanding Street, at 7 p.m. on November 9. Winner will be announced on November 2. Tickets must be picked up at the Seibels House (1601 Richland Street) by 5 p.m. on 11/7/2012 to ensure you can enjoy the retro themed event! Thanks for your entry and good luck!

Don’t want to wait? Buy 50th Birthday Celebration Tickets via Eventbrite here.

Read more →

WIS News 10 Highlights the Future of Columbia's Palmetto Compress Warehouse

Posted on by

WIS News 10 met Historic Columbia Foundation’s Executive Director Robin Waites and Columbia architect Dale Marshall out by the Palmetto Compress Warehouse to talk about the future of this historic site.

Check out the story and video online here.

More about the Palmetto Compress Warehouse: Standing tall as the last remaining building that represents Columbia’s once booming cotton industry, the majestic Palmetto Compress Warehouse is under threat of demolition. This iconic brick structure was built in 1917 and is one of only a handful of buildings of this type and size remaining in the country and is recognized as such by the National Register of Historic Places.

Become a fan of the Save the Palmetto Compress Warehouse on Facebook today.

Read more →

Guided Bus Tour of Downtown Columbia on Sunday, October 14 at 2 pm

Posted on by

Do you know the history and stories of Columbia’s most popular downtown sites? Join Historic Columbia Foundation for the Second Sunday Roll: Heart of Columbia Bus Tour on Sunday, October 14 at 2 p.m. and enjoy informative and entertaining stories about the Palmetto State’s capital.

This tour highlights a variety of significant sites including the Robert Mills Historic District, the State House, the Governor’s Mansion, the University of South Carolina’s Horseshoe (the original campus), multiple historic churches, Historic Columbia Foundation house museums and the Congaree Vista District.

“View Columbia from a different lens as you retrace our shared past,” says Historic Columbia Foundation Executive Director Robin Waites. “This guided bus tour allows riders a more expansive view of Columbia’s history and architecture.”

Join HCF at 2 pm for this guided bus tour highlighting the architecture and history of Columbia’s central core. The cost for this tour is $5 for Historic Columbia Foundation members and $10 for non-members.  Tickets can be purchased by calling 803.252.1770 ext. 24 or by email at reservations@historiccolumbia.org. The tour will meet at the Robert Mills House & Gardens, 1616 Blanding Street.

About Retrace: Connecting Communities Through History:
Historic Columbia Foundation invites you to retrace our shared past through its series of web tours, walking tours, mobile apps and wayside exhibits. Explore six virtual tours of Columbia’s historic neighborhoods (including Old Shandon) by clicking on the “Retrace” icon at http://www.historiccolumbia.org. Self-guided tour brochures are available in the Museum Shop, located at 1616 Blanding Street. Your story could be just around the corner.

About Historic Columbia Foundation:
In November 1961, a small group of individuals intent on saving the Ainsley Hall House from demolition, officially incorporated as the Historic Columbia Foundation. Over the next five decades, the organization, which was founded on the premise of preservation and education, would take on the stewardship of seven historic properties in Richland County. Today, the organization serves as a model for local preservation efforts and interpretation of local history. The 50th anniversary year of Historic Columbia Foundation (which officially began on November 13, 2011) will include a variety of community celebratory events. Visit http://www.historiccolumbia.org for details.

###

Read more →

Historic Hauntings Moonlight Tours Of Elmwood Cemetery Offered Thursday October 11

Posted on by

Columbia’s historic Elmwood Cemetery (circa 1854) has centuries of stories etched in stone on the markers and headstones found within its acres of carefully planned grounds.  Historic Columbia Foundation’s annual guided tours of Elmwood Cemetery come to a close at the special Historic Hauntings Tour event Thursday, October 11. Tours run every 30 minutes from 6 – 8:30 pm.
Different than the regular monthly tours, the Historic Hauntings event includes multiple costumed guides stationed around Elmwood Cemetery for tours, children’s crafts, light snacks and other Halloween related activities.

The cost for tours is $5 for Foundation member adults, $3 for Foundation member youth, $10 general admission adults and $5 general admission children. The capacity for each tour is 25 people and reservations are strongly recommended with walk-up registration available (subject to availability).  HCF is offering online registration/ticket sales at http://cemeterytours.eventbrite.com/.

Notables interred in Elmwood Cemetery include: Rose Marie Stinette, the last person to die by electrocution in the State of South Carolina. Maxcy Gregg (1814-1862) fought in the Mexican War and was commissioned as Brigadier General, CSA in December 1861 and died from mortal wounds suffered at Fredericksburg, VA on December 13 the following year.

High resolution photos are posted on the Foundation’s Flickr account for immediate download.  Direct link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/historiccolumbiafoundation/sets/72157629169850762/ (click on desired photo thumbnail, right-click to select “large” photo size, then click “download large size of this photo”).  Members of the media are encouraged to contact Ashley Tucker at 803.252.7742 ext 16 or atucker@historiccolumbia.org for more information.

About this year’s tours, Sarah Blackwell, Director of Programs, says, “We invite you to come explore historic Elmwood Cemetery, where stories of valor, love lost and lives cut short are etched in stone.”

About Historic Columbia Foundation:
In November 1961, a small group of individuals intent on saving the Ainsley Hall House from demolition, officially incorporated as the Historic Columbia Foundation. Over the next five decades the organization, which was founded on the premise of preservation and education, would take on the stewardship of seven historic properties in Richland County. Today, the organization serves as a model for local preservation efforts and interpretation of local history. The 50th Anniversary year of Historic Columbia Foundation (which officially began on November 13, 2011) will include a variety of community celebratory events. Visit http://www.historiccolumbia.org for details.

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/histcolumbia
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/historiccolumbia
Web: http://www.historiccolumbia.org
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/discoverhistory

###

Read more →

Preservation Matters: Columbia, SC | Seeing Green: The Social, Economic and Environmental Impact of an Expanded Urban Greenway

Posted on by

Recognizing recurring themes, interests and initiatives over the course of long periods of time often proves ironic for professional historians and history enthusiasts alike. Perhaps more important is the realization that something endorsed during a bygone era may nonetheless retains its validity within the realm of contemporary affairs among people generations later.

Such is much the case with a treatise supplied by Boston landscape architect Harlan P. Kelsey in 1905 at the behest of the Columbia, South Carolina Civic League. Kelsey’s analysis of the capital city, intended to offer its politically and socially active leaders a road map to successful city planning and urban development, identified steps as central to transforming the state capital into a beautiful, healthy and economically attractive venue for life in the 20th century.

In his suggestions Kelsey did not reinvent the wheel; rather, he sought to build upon Columbia’s existing infrastructure in ways that would yield both short- and long-term improvements. In essence Kelsey’s concepts amounted to a bank in which citizens could invest their energies and finances in ways that would pay dividends immediately and for decades to come.

Kelsey’s first instruction was to establish a comprehensive plan for improvement to avoid small scale, insular improvement projects that would collectively result in a poor product. As he noted at the time, “quite recently  . . . cities have awakened to the urgent need of a systematic plan . . . for parks, playgrounds and boulevard; for sewer, water, lighting and transportation . . . at the most reasonable cost to their citizens.” Fortunately for Columbia, its original planners saw fit to lay out broad avenues along a grid that, while problematic for its placement over less than flat topography, nonetheless lends itself to establishing “a unique, park like effect, enjoyed by no other city . . . in America.”

Interest in claiming (and in some instances reclaiming) aspects of Columbia for greenways therefore, while not being new, nonetheless is enjoying renewed debate. Discussions have involved creating a pedestrian greenway that will join established parks to one another using existing sidewalks and relatively new paths along the Congaree River and downtown rails to trails paths. Integrated into these prescribed greenways would be portions of the Robert Mills Garden District, an area within downtown Columbia that already offers historic structures and landscapes, historical markers and wayside signage, in addition to sidewalk improvements for physically challenged users. Planners envision additions to this existing infrastructure would include historically-inspired street furniture such as light fixtures and benches. Combined, elements new and old would coalesce into a pedestrian linkage system, befitting of Harlan Kelsey’s concepts of what civic improvements can make urban life both pleasant for residents and visitors alike while also being financially profitable in the long run.

Contemporary supporters of greenway enhancements within the city limits no doubt would agree with Kelsey’s assessment that, “With parks and playgrounds so accessible as to be within easy walking reach, the vitality of every man, woman and child who labors will be increased and potentiality in every way enhanced.” Moreover, they would appreciate his considerations as to how such areas should be financed, as his report covers such methods as issuing bonds, increasing tax levies and appropriations by city and state sources. To fully appreciate how Columbians could, and perhaps should, proceed with planning for the future, it behooves us to look to the past for instruction.Kelsey’s sound ideas of 1905 fortunately remain viable enough meet our 21st century needs, if we are bold enough to pursue them.

You Can Get There From Here: A Roadmap to Greening Columbia | Harlan Kelsey’s suggested approach to ensuring the vitality of the capital city through the construction of parks, gardens and pathways still resonates with citizens today. Contemporary planners concepts include a path winding its way through the Robert Mills Historic District, which offers many of the amenities Kelsey called for in his report—fountains, benches and vistas of notable buildings.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words | A pilot project involving the “skinning” of traffic light control boxes with historic images within certain intersections within the Robert Mills Historic District was executed by the City of Columbia with assistance from Historic Columbia Foundation. Now, formerly unattractive silver monolithic protrusions serve as the basis of eye-catching graphics that help orient passersby.

HCF Walking Tours – Stretch Your Minds While You Stretch Your Legs | Launched in 2009, Historic Columbia Foundation’s Robert Mills Historic District walking tours have been well-received by people who live, work and visit the National Register of Historic Places-listed neighborhood.

History on Every Block | Central to the establishment of successful green spaces and pathways within the Robert Mills Historic District has been the inclusion of wayside interpretive signage that highlights the history of important people, places and events, as well as horticulture.

The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same | Calls for streetscape improvements during the early 20th century mimic those one hundred years later. On the top of planners’ concerns during the City Beautiful movement of the early 1900s, and frequently discussed in contemporary planning is the placement of shade trees of differing varieties to ensure protection against species-specific diseases and the location of conveniences such as sidewalks.

Read more →