Columbia is the state capital and South Carolina’s largest city, with a population of more than 450,000. It is a trading, banking, and manufacturing center located in the middle of the state along the Congaree River. It has a strong arts community, its own symphony orchestra and an entertainment district by the river.
The Congaree tribe lived in the area until farms and cotton plantations were established in the eighteenth century. With statehood approaching, tension arose between coastal planters and upcountry farmers concerning the location of the state capital so, in 1786, the South Carolina legislature decided on a compromise. They selected a new site in the center of the state, named it Columbia and met there for the first time in 1790. During the Civil War the city was burned and looted by Union troops. In 1870, future president Woodrow Wilson moved to the capital when his father was appointed a professor in the Presbyterian theological seminary. The Tuscan-style home which he inhabited between the ages of 14 and 17 is preserved. It includes the bed in which he was born in Staunton, Virginia.
Columbia has many other historic buildings such as the Robert Mills Historic House (1823), designed by Robert Mills, who was responsible for the Washington Monument in Washington DC. Right across the road is the rather elegant Classical Revival-style Hampton-Preston Mansion (1818), which served as Union headquarters in the Civil War. It retains family furnishings of the distinguished Hampton family.
The original owner of the Mann-Simons Cottage was former Charleston slave Celia Mann, who walked to Columbia after purchasing her own freedom with money earned as a midwife. It is now a museum of African-American culture. The governor’s mansion has housed a number of state governors since 1868. It was at the city’s First Baptist Church (1859) that the Secession Convention met a few days before deciding to leave the Union, thus putting the state on course for war. The consequences of this action are inscribed on the walls of the 1855 Capitol (known as the State House) where bronze stars denote former pockmarks left by Union cannonballs. Adjacent is a very large Episcopal church. Modeled after England’s York Minster, it was consecrated in 1847. Six governors are buried in its churchyard.
Across Sumter Street from the State House is the Horseshoe, a parklike space surrounded by the stately buildings of the University of South Carolina. Also found in this area is the McKissick Museum, which examines the folklore of America’s southeast through music, art, history, and science, as well as the Confederate Relic Room and Museum, which houses Civil War artifacts.
On the waterfront is the South Carolina State Museum, which has four floors of displays on natural history, human history, art, science, and technology. It is housed in an 1894 textile factory building, which was one of the first electrically powered mills in the world. There is a hands-on discovery center for children. A somewhat more specialized museum is the South Carolina Criminal Justice Hall of Fame, which examines the history of law enforcement in America and honors those who died upholding the law.
Six miles east of town is the Fort Jackson Museum. This garrison, established in 1917, became a facility which trained 500,000 military personnel in World War II. Displays focus on the history of military training. A collection of memorabilia celebrates the life and times of President Andrew Jackson, after whom the fort is named.
The Columbia Museum of Art is South Carolina’s largest fine arts museum. It retains one of the southeast’s strongest collections of Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Botticelli, Monet, and Remington are all represented. Art of a different kind is featured on the wall of the Federal Land Bank Building where artist Blue Sky has created the illusion of a tunnel passing right through the building. The Riverbanks Zoological Park and Garden is considered one of the country’s top 10 zoos, with more than 2,000 animals. Those who like the outdoors may also wish to examine the excellent South Carolina State Botanical Garden on the University of South Carolina Campus. Memorial Park honors 980 South Carolinians who lost their lives in Vietnam.
There are also many attractions in the area around Columbia. To the north of town is Lake Wateree State Park and 20 miles southeast is Congaree Swamp National Monument, which features the oldest and largest trees east of the Mississippi River. Thirty-two miles northeast of Columbia is the Battle of Camden Historic Site, which features reconstructions relating to both a crushing defeat of rebel forces by the British in August 1780, and the 1730s trading post that formed the foundation of Camden, South Carolina’s first inland town. Columbia is serviced by an airport, trains, and buses. Visitors traveling by car can reach it via I-26, I-77, and I-20.