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Columbia, SC: Full of History, Culture and Family Fun

Double History: Columbia, South Carolina’s historic Historic District.

Story and Photos by Will A. Davis

The Robert Mills House (Front)

The Robert Mills House (Front)

A lot of people, especially Civil War buffs, are aware that in early 1865 during the last year of the war Columbia, South Carolina suffered a devastating fire that wiped out most of the city.  While the argument still goes on whether or not Union General William Sherman deliberately had his troops set the fire or not , one area of interest is not controversial: All of Columbia didn’t burn including much of the beautiful area now known as Historic Columbia. Many of the homes in the multiple historic districts are antebellum homes which have been restored to the original fabrics both outside and inside the buildings. Diverse and eclectic architectural elements and horticultural delights favor many of these buildings.

Robert Mills House

Rear entry to Robert Mills House

Rear entry to Robert Mills House

In 1961 the Columbia Historic Foundation was created to save the home now known as the Robert Mills House. Mills was a renowned architect who designed the Washington Monument among many important structures. Over the years 113 historic buildings , neighborhoods, and cultural landmarks have been identified in Historic Columbia including 46 in the Robert Mills District East which is a wonderful self guided tour often along tree line streets.

Today one can walk in a sixteen block area of historic Columbia and have an unvarnished perception of the cities history from the early 1800’s right up to and including the present day plans for further restoration and preservation work.

Interior period furnishings in Robert Mills House

Interior period furnishings in Robert Mills House


Some of the gardens and the gift shop at Mills House

Some of the gardens and the gift shop at Mills House








The Robert Mills House was completed in 1825 from a design by Robert Mills, a well known Charleston as well as a nationally famous architect, for a home for wealthy English merchant Ainsley Hall and his South Carolina born wife Sarah.

Display of some of the tools and foods of the kitchen at Robert Mills House and Gardens

Display of some of the tools and foods of the kitchen at Robert Mills House and Gardens


One of the mansion’s uses later in it’s history would be as the centerpiece of the Columbia Theological Seminary.






The Hampton -Preston Mansion and the Woodrow Wilson Family home

We highly recommend touring these house museums, with guided and independent tours and wonderful gardens at the aforementioned Robert Mills House as well as the Hampton -Preston Mansion and the Woodrow Wilson Family home.

The Wilson Home was the house where the 28-th president spent his teenage years and is South Carolina’s only presidential site. All three properties are within a easy five minute walk of one another. Not only have these homes been restored but all have gardens which have been beautifully and accurately redeveloped and add an extra element to your visit.ColumbiaSC Trip  4-2015 045

The Hampton-Preston Mansion directly opposite the Mills House on Blanding St. is another early nineteenth century (1818) home that has been meticulously restored. Both the Mills House and the Hampton-Preston Mansion are wonderfully curated under the direction of Fielding Freed, the Director of Historic House Museums for the Historic Columbia Foundation(HCF). Be sure to visit the HCF website for tons of information regarding all of the historic elements of this wonderful gem of a city that literally rose out of the ashes and to help plan your visit. Changing exhibits, special events and demonstrations are frequently scheduled.

Garden fountain at Hampton-Preston House

Garden fountain at Hampton-Preston House

These are historic buildings with limited access for persons with mobility issues. Please check with the foundation regarding accommodations for special needs. The grounds, street sidewalks and gardens are level.





State of South Carolina State Museum

Just a small portion of the giant facade of the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia.

South Carolina State Museum in Columbia:   More fun and information than you ever dreamed!

Story by Mary Gallagher Photos by Will A. Davis

We’ve made several trips to explore the many attractions in Columbia, South Carolina’s state capitol and home to several “hoppin” entertainment districts, a Washington, DC quality Columbia Museum of Art, in spring the unique Quarry Run, a world class zoo, fine dining and of course, the South Carolina State Museum.

South Carolina State Museum

The State Museum is easily a full day excursion on its own especially if you’re a multigenerational family or it’s a bad weather day. Bear in mind in South Carolina that can mean rain, cold or intense heat!

Interior SC State Museum

Massive Interior Spaces at State Museum

Sometimes we think of museums as dreary – stuffy – dark – old places and occasionally they are but wow stand back and put on your magic shoes for a tour of this 1894 textile mills 225,000 square feet of space for every subject and event you can think of.

The lobby and public spaces are stunning with exposed brick walls in open multistoried space. The base of the telescope covers several floors like a piece of contemporary metal sculpture. The building and galleries are a visual delight and available for your private event.

Antique Telescope

Antique telescope

Planetarium and Observatory
Here was our first surprise: Planetarium shows, live streaming of the sun’s surface, solar observing day and night and an antique telescope (works fine). The planetarium and observatory feature many special events. This is the place for your next birthday party 7 to 70!

Lots of special activities here for young and old and staff are available to ask your “starry” questions. 


Antique Telescopes donated to museum

Antique Telescope Display

4D Theater

There wasn’t a warning but I could have used it for our viewing of the Ice Age 4D show. Talk about action! Like the Blue Man Groups original shows bring an umbrella! The floor moved, our seats moved, we were sprayed with a water mist, the good and bad guys practically jumped in our laps. And we got to sit down and rest our feet for 30 minutes.

It takes a while to get used to all the action, the noise and everything moving so fast. A small child near us had trouble in the beginning but she soon got used to it.

For the best experience sit in the middle of the theater, middle row, center screen. 

Gift Shop

Gift Shop carries many unique items


South Carolina Art

In addition to the museums extensive permanent collection you’ll find special and traveling exhibits that change. Clay Rice did Silhouette Cutting, Carolina Makers celebrates nearly 30 South Carolinians who are producing handmade objects for people all over the world. A variety of programs and special events are presented in conjunction with this exhibit and others.

Historic Carriages

Historic Carriages


Multiple State History Exhibits.






Science and Technology

Robotic Bugs

Giant Robotic Bugs

One small facet of many was Bugs a fascinating display of robotic (that means moving!) giant bugs, a live bug zoo, photo opportunities with a black widow spider and ladybug. A little creepy and scary in the beginning but like the little boy in front of us we all got into the exhibit as we learned more. All of a sudden bugs didn’t seem quite so bad.



I haven’t even scraped the surface of a description of what we saw and didn’t get to.


This property is fully accessible. Call regarding special needs to help plan your visit.

Take a day or two and explore Columbia a wonderful city of culture, history, government and great eating options.
South Carolina State Museum
301 Gervais St.
Columbia, SC
Gift Shop and Cafe
Free Auto and Bus Parking
803 898 4921
Admission: Check website for prices including special half price times, combination tickets and more.


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