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
The Broad Reach of Urban Renewal
Felled by the Wrecking Ball
Extending the Concept of Preservation
Challenges Even Today
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.