Historical Houses and Buildings Walk, Columbia

Historical Houses and Buildings Walk (Self Guided), Columbia

Columbia is a city rich in history and architectural heritage, boasting an array of old-time buildings that offer a window into its storied past. From grand antebellum mansions and elegant townhouses to significant public edifices and modest residences, each of these structures tells a unique story, reflecting the diverse cultural, social, and economic tapestry of the city.

Among such, the imposing Babcock Building stands out as a landmark of neoclassical design, originally built in the 1820s to house the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum, later known as the State Hospital.

The Modjeska Monteith Simkins House holds significant cultural importance, named after the civil rights activist who lived there. This modest yet historically profound residence serves as a reminder of the struggles and triumphs of the African American community in Columbia.

Adjacent to it, the Mann-Simons Cottage, a small but quaint structure, provides a glimpse into the daily life of a free African American family before the Civil War. Its preservation underscores the city's efforts to honor its diverse heritage.

The Seibels House, dating back to the antebellum period, exemplifies the elegance of Southern architecture. Its stately presence and well-preserved interiors offer visitors a glimpse into the lifestyle of Columbia's elite families during the 19th century.

The Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, another antebellum gem, showcases Greek Revival architecture and lush, landscaped gardens. It serves as both a historical landmark and a venue for cultural events and weddings, preserving its grandeur for future generations to enjoy.

The Doctor Matilda Evans House honors the legacy of the first licensed African American female physician in South Carolina, showcasing her pioneering achievements in medicine and community service.

Lastly, the Chappelle Administration Building, part of Allen University, is a testament to the historical significance of education in the African American community, embodying resilience and progress in Columbia.

Exploring these and other well-preserved historical buildings provides a profound understanding of the city's cultural evolution and its commitment to preserving its rich heritage. Whether you're a Columbia resident or a visitor, you may equally wish to take a step back in time and experience the stories woven into the very fabric of these remarkable landmarks.
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Historical Houses and Buildings Walk Map

Guide Name: Historical Houses and Buildings Walk
Guide Location: USA » Columbia (See other walking tours in Columbia)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: jenny
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Babcock Building, South Carolina Lunatic Asylum
  • Modjeska Monteith Simkins House
  • Mann-Simons Cottage
  • Seibels House
  • Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens
  • Robert Mills House
  • Township Auditorium
  • Woodrow Wilson Family Home
  • Dr. Matilda Evans House
  • Chappelle Administration Building
Babcock Building, South Carolina Lunatic Asylum

1) Babcock Building, South Carolina Lunatic Asylum

The Babcock Building is a significant historical structure that highlights the evolution of mental health treatment in the United States. In 1821, South Carolina became the second state to allocate funds for the treatment of mental illness and the education of the deaf and dumb, approving the construction of the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum. Designed by architect Robert Mills, construction of the Mills Building began in 1822, and the asylum admitted its first patient in 1828. However, the need for additional space due to a growing population led to the construction of the Babcock Building almost thirty years later.

The Babcock Building's initial design was created by George E. Walker, but only the south wing was completed at first. Subsequent architectural contributions included Gustavus T. Berg for the north wing and Samuel Sloan for the central building, which connected both wings. The construction process faced numerous delays, resulting in a protracted four-phase development that spanned nearly three decades. By 1885, the Babcock Building finally began accepting patients, marking a significant expansion in the asylum’s capacity.

Architecturally, the Babcock Building is notable for its Italian Renaissance Revival style, featuring a four-story central structure with a prominent cupola, flanked by north and south wings designated for male and female patients, respectively. The building was adorned with wood floors and trim, enhancing its aesthetic appeal. The central structure housed operating rooms on the second floor, residential spaces for the Supervisor and some doctors on the third and fourth floors, and dining halls for patients. Originally, each ward floor contained individual patient rooms, although renovations beginning in 1915 altered some of these layouts.

The historical importance of the Babcock Building was recognized in 1981 when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Despite its later abandonment in the 1990s, the Babcock Building remains a significant landmark, reflecting both the architectural heritage and the evolving approaches to mental health care in the United States.
Modjeska Monteith Simkins House

2) Modjeska Monteith Simkins House

The Modjeska Monteith Simkins House is a significant landmark in the history of the civil rights movement. This modest, 1½-story wooden frame house features an L-shaped plan, side-gabled roof, and a shed-roof front porch. Retaining its original wooden weatherboard siding, the house stands as a testament to its historical integrity. Initially constructed on clay brick piers, the foundation's open spaces were later filled in with brick, and the original windows remain intact. Behind the main house, there is a one-story, three-room building of similar construction, likely used as a guest house for visiting civil rights workers, further highlighting the property's historical importance.

While there is an oral tradition suggesting that the house predates the Civil War, it is more likely that the house was built around 1900. The Simkins family moved into the house in 1932, and it became the lifelong home of Modjeska Monteith Simkins, a prominent social activist from a young age. Throughout her career, Simkins collaborated with notable civil rights leaders and NAACP lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall, who often stayed at her home. Her tireless efforts in education, public health, and human rights advocacy earned her the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian honor, before her passing in 1992.

Today, the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House serves as more than a historical monument; it is an active meeting space for those dedicated to improving the lives of underrepresented citizens in the community. This ongoing use reflects Simkins' enduring legacy of activism and community engagement. The house not only commemorates her significant contributions to the civil rights movement but also continues to inspire and facilitate contemporary social justice efforts.
Mann-Simons Cottage

3) Mann-Simons Cottage

The Mann-Simons Cottage holds a rich and evolving history that mirrors the experiences of its owners over nearly two centuries. Originally built as a modest one-room house around 1825 or 1830, the cottage stands at the corner of Marion and Richland streets. Over time, it expanded to meet the changing needs and tastes of its residents, reflecting broader social and cultural shifts.

Celia Mann, a native of Charleston born into slavery in 1799, is a pivotal figure in the cottage's history. Although the details of her emancipation remain unknown, family lore recounts that she walked from Charleston to Columbia, where she worked as a midwife. Records indicate that Mann was associated with the property as early as 1844. Her resilience and determination are emblematic of the struggles and achievements of free Black individuals in the antebellum South.

Mann's legacy continued through her family. She had four daughters, but she bequeathed the majority of her property, including the cottage, to her youngest daughter, Agnes Jackson. Agnes and her family resided there until her death in 1907. Subsequent owners included Charles Simons and his wife Amanda Green Simons. The cottage eventually came into the possession of their niece, Bernice Robinson Connors, who sold it to the Columbia Housing Authority in 1970.

A grassroots movement in 1970 played a crucial role in preserving the Mann-Simons Cottage as a historic site. Thanks to these efforts, the cottage opened as a house museum in 1978. Today, it stands as a testament to the African American experience in the 19th and early 20th centuries, offering visitors a glimpse into the life and legacy of Celia Mann and her descendants.
Seibels House

4) Seibels House

The Hale-Elmore-Seibels House, more commonly known as the Seibels House, stands as a historic landmark in Columbia. The exact date of its construction remains uncertain due to the loss of records during the burning of the city by Union soldiers under General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1865. However, a beam in the basement purportedly inscribed with "1796" suggests that it may be the oldest building in Columbia. Despite the ambiguities surrounding its early history, the Seibels House has long been recognized for its architectural and historical significance.

The Seibels House is now the headquarters of the Historic Columbia Foundation. This organization is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Columbia's rich historical and cultural heritage. The house itself is open to the public as a museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the architectural styles and living conditions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Seibels House is not only notable for its historical and architectural value but also for its beautifully restored gardens. These gardens, which have been revitalized to reflect the styles and plantings of the period, provide a picturesque setting for various events, including wedding receptions and other social gatherings. The meticulous restoration of the garden highlights the importance of landscape design in historical preservation and offers a serene and aesthetically pleasing environment for visitors and event attendees alike.
Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens

5) Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens

The Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, an architectural and historical gem in Columbia, was originally built in 1818 by the affluent merchant Ainsley Hall. Hall later sold the mansion to Wade Hampton I, a distinguished figure in South Carolina's political and business spheres. The mansion subsequently came into the possession of James Henry Hammond, another prosperous businessman, who further enhanced its grandeur.

Today, the meticulously restored mansion serves as both a museum and an event space, offering visitors a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the antebellum South. The mansion's interior is a showcase of elegance, featuring original hardwood floors, intricate hand-carved moldings, and exquisite period furnishings. The collection of art and decorative objects within the mansion reflects the refined tastes and styles of the era, providing a rich visual and historical experience for those who tour the property.

The surrounding gardens of the Hampton-Preston Mansion are equally remarkable, spanning over four acres and divided into several distinct sections, each with its own unique charm. Visitors can stroll through the formal gardens, which boast manicured hedges, decorative fountains, and ornate ironwork. The gardens also feature a serene lake, a historic summerhouse, and an array of rare and exotic plants, making it a botanical treasure trove.

Throughout the year, the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens hosts a variety of events and programs designed to celebrate and educate the public about its historical and cultural significance. From guided tours and educational programs to garden concerts and holiday festivities, the site remains a vibrant part of Columbia's community life. It is also a sought-after venue for weddings and special events, offering a picturesque setting steeped in history.
Robert Mills House

6) Robert Mills House

The Robert Mills House is a testament to early 19th-century Classical Revival architecture, designed by the renowned architect Robert Mills. Originally known as the Ainsley Hall House, the mansion was intended to be an elegant townhome for Ainsley and Sarah Hall when construction began in 1823. However, the building never fulfilled this initial purpose. Instead, it served as the campus for various religious schools, including a Presbyterian theological seminary and Columbia Bible College, before falling into disuse.

By 1960, the Robert Mills House faced abandonment and was threatened with demolition, prompting a significant preservation effort. Historic preservation advocates rallied to save the architectural masterpiece, leading to the formation of Historic Columbia. Thanks to their efforts, the house was restored and transformed into a historic house museum. Today, it showcases period rooms and focus galleries that highlight decorative arts from the late 18th through the mid-19th centuries, offering visitors a glimpse into the past.

The gardens of the Robert Mills House add another layer of historical and botanical interest. Designed in a historically appropriate English Formal style, the gardens uniquely incorporate plant species native to the Eastern United States. Visitors can enjoy a variety of landscapes, from open, naturalistic spaces with large canopy trees to the meticulously maintained clipped hedges of formal parterres. The combination of historical design and native flora makes the gardens a notable feature of the site.
Township Auditorium

7) Township Auditorium

The Columbia Township Auditorium is a historic and architecturally significant venue in Columbia. Constructed in 1930, this three-story brick building showcases the Georgian Revival style, prominently featuring a Doric order columned portico. Recognized for its historical and cultural value, the auditorium was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Its enduring legacy and contribution to the community were further solidified with a comprehensive renovation and modernization in 2009, which garnered national awards for historic preservation and renovation excellence.

Designed with versatility in mind, the Township Auditorium was originally built in 1929 with a seating capacity of 3,000. One of its most notable features was a convertible floor that could be adapted for various uses, including seating for audiences, a dance floor, or an exhibit chamber. The innovative design ensured optimal visibility from any vantage point, with two “distinct visual centers” that allowed for unobstructed views of both the main stage and the center of the main floor, whether from the ground level or the balconies.

The design of the Township Auditorium also reflected the social dynamics of its time, particularly in terms of racial segregation. For its first forty years, the auditorium maintained segregated seating arrangements. White patrons typically entered through the front entrance and occupied the main floor, while black patrons accessed the venue through a side entrance and were seated in the balconies. This arrangement was reversed only when the performers were African American, illustrating the venue's complex role in the cultural and social landscape of Columbia.
Woodrow Wilson Family Home

8) Woodrow Wilson Family Home

The Woodrow Wilson Family Home is a beautifully preserved Victorian-era residence that once belonged to the family of the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. The home originally belonged to his parents, Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson and Jeannie Woodrow Wilson, and it is filled with art, furniture, photographs, and other artifacts from the 1850s to the 1870s. The property also features a meticulously designed garden; the back garden, used for growing fruits and vegetables, and the front yard, adorned with flowers, were both laid out by Jeannie Woodrow Wilson, reflecting the domestic life of the period.

Today, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home is more than just a historic residence; it houses the Museum of the Reconstruction Era, the only museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. This museum is housed in South Carolina's only remaining presidential site, making it a unique landmark in American history. The Museum of the Reconstruction Era offers a comprehensive interpretation of Columbia’s late 19th-century history, aiming to correct the many misconceptions about the Reconstruction period that have persisted over time.

By focusing on this transformative period, the museum helps visitors understand the challenges and advancements that shaped the modern United States. The museum's goal is to dispel prevalent myths and provide a nuanced view of Reconstruction, emphasizing its importance in American history. Visitors can explore the preserved Victorian home, appreciate the period artifacts, and engage with the thoughtfully curated exhibits that shed light on an often-overlooked chapter of American history.
Dr. Matilda Evans House

9) Dr. Matilda Evans House

The Dr. Matilda Evans House, built around 1915, stands as a testament to the remarkable achievements of Dr. Matilda A. Evans, a pioneering physician and public health advocate in Columbia, South Carolina. Dr. Evans, who resided in this home from 1928 until her death in 1935, holds the distinction of being the first licensed female physician in South Carolina, irrespective of race. Her career was marked by numerous groundbreaking accomplishments, including the ownership and operation of Columbia’s first black hospital.

Dr. Evans made significant contributions to healthcare with the establishment of two hospitals in Columbia: Taylor Lane Hospital, which operated from 1901 to 1911, and St. Luke’s Hospital and Evans’ Sanitorium, from 1914 to 1918. These institutions not only provided much-needed medical care to the African American community but also served as training grounds for black nurses and physicians at a time when such opportunities were scarce. Her hospitals were vital in improving healthcare access and quality for black residents in Columbia.

Beyond her medical practice, Dr. Evans was a fervent advocate for public health and community welfare. She operated Lindenwood Park, the only public recreational facility for black children in the area, offering a safe and enjoyable space for youth to gather and play. Recognizing the broader needs of her community, she also founded the Negro Health Association of South Carolina, an organization dedicated to improving health outcomes and education for African Americans.

In 1930, Dr. Evans further cemented her legacy by establishing Columbia's first free health clinic for African American children. This clinic was a groundbreaking initiative that saw 3,800 patients in its first three months alone, underscoring the dire need for accessible healthcare services.
Chappelle Administration Building

10) Chappelle Administration Building

The Chappelle Administration Building is a historic and architecturally significant structure located on the campus of Allen University. The building stands out not only for its striking design but also for the historical importance of its construction process, earning it a National Historic Landmark designation in 1976.

Designed by John Anderson Lankford, known as the "dean of black architects," the Chappelle Administration Building exemplifies Lankford's architectural prowess. Allen University, established as the oldest historically black college in South Carolina, has played a pivotal role in shaping the community's educational and cultural landscape. The Chappelle Building, positioned at the northwestern corner of the campus block bounded by Taylor, Harden, Pine, and Hampton Streets, serves as a prominent symbol of the university's enduring legacy.

Architecturally, the Chappelle Administration Building is a 3½-story masonry structure constructed from red brick with stone trim. It features a slate roof adorned with five gabled dormers and a reproduction of its original cupola, which was destroyed by lightning in 1974. The main facade, spanning fourteen bays in width, is distinguished by a three-arched single-story porch that extends across the middle six bays, topped by a low balustrade. A pedimented entrance on the second floor leads to the upper level of the porch. The windows on the lower levels are accentuated by stone keystones, with decorative garland panels positioned between the second and third floors.

The Chappelle Administration Building's architectural design and historical significance make it a cornerstone of Allen University's campus and a testament to the contributions of African American architects and educational institutions in the United States.

Walking Tours in Columbia, South Carolina

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Creating your own self-guided walk in Columbia is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
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Columbia, the capital and largest city of South Carolina is a treasure trove of historical significance, cultural wealth, and Southern charm. The city's history is marked by its role in the American Civil War. This historical backdrop sets the stage for Columbia’s many landmarks and educational institutions that speak volumes of its resilience and cultural evolution.

In May 1540, a...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles