As one of the first areas that European expeditioners initially made contact within North America, Columbia, South Carolina, enjoys a rich historical background. This city has played an important role in the development of not only the state, but the United States as well.
Columbia’s extraordinarily deep roots in the nation’s history are readily apparent even in the city’s name: The word itself, Columbia, is a tribute to explorer Christopher Columbus, who has been widely credited as the pioneering force behind the original discovery and exploration of North America. An interesting fact is Columbia is the first city in the United States to be named for Columbus, but many don’t know the name Washington was also a strong contender.
A 1540 Spanish expedition was the first recorded instance of developed civilization coming into contact with the area that now comprises the town. It wasn’t until 1786, in tandem with the announcement of the construction of the Santee Canal connecting Columbia to its neighboring larger city of Charleston, that the South Carolina General Assembly officially declared Columbia as the state capital.
Despite its use as a meeting place for the state legislature and the rapid economic and social development that followed the creation of the canal, Columbia did not officially incorporate into a city until 1854. With a population of nearly 1,000 people by the time the 19th century started, Columbia enjoyed a rare status as one of the first truly planned cities in America.
The University of South Carolina is a strong part of Columbia’s history. The foundation of USC can be traced back to December 19, 1801, when South Carolina College was established during the American Revolution as a measure of unity to help promote “the good order and harmony” of the Palmetto State. As part of the southern public college movement initiated by Thomas Jefferson, the institution gained a significant reputation for notable faculty and scholars, a successful curriculum program, and a fast-growing campus via infrastructure and enrollment.
Although the college survived an earthquake in 1811 and a fire in 1855, the ramifications of the state’s withdrawal from the Union in 1860 and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 took a significant toll on the college’s enrollment and infrastructure. After a number of ups and downs and openings and closings, it wasn’t until 1906 that the college was reorganized as the University of South Carolina, later becoming the first state-supported university to earn regional accreditation in 1917.
20th Century Boom
Although a historic city, many of the historic buildings perished due to two-thirds of the city being burned down during the Civil War. However, the 20th century introduced a more flourishing time with textile mills springing up, and by 1930, the city had become known as a hub for trade. The large red brick building that now houses the South Carolina State Museum was once the home of the first textile mill in the U.S. to be 100% run on electricity. In the ’40s, Fort Jackson was officially installed as a permanent Army base, giving the military a permanent presence in the city and bringing about the economic activity required to support such a facility.
As the capital of South Carolina, Columbia is a thriving city and a wonderful place to visit full of historical sites, outdoor adventures, premier restaurants, and more! To learn more about the heritage, check out a museum, take a tour, or stroll the 167-acre Riverfront Park and Columbia Canal to capture the beauty of the area.
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