Since its inception fifty years ago, Historic Columbia Foundation has remained true to its most basic principle – to save architecturally and culturally significant places by educating the public as to their importance. After preventing the destruction of the Robert Mills House the organization grew to further serve the capital city and Richland County as a preservation advocate championing the future or historic structures. Today, Historic Columbia Foundation models historic preservation and public education at the seven historic sites under its stewardship, through public outreach within downtown and county communities alike, and by allying itself with strategic partners dedicated to improving the quality of life for contemporary and future citizens. What follows are stories behind Historic Columbia Foundation’s evolution over five decades into a leader in historic preservation and education.
Awesome, expansive and intriguing are but a few of the adjectives that spring to mind upon touring the South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s Bull Street facility. Bustling with activity for generations, the sprawling 178-acre tract of land today is best characterized largely by silence punctuated by sounds beyond its walls and perimeter roads. What lies ahead for this unique Columbia community remains far from certain. However, designs for its reuse have been vigorously debated for years and the key to the most successful plans will be retaining those aspects of the property of significant cultural and historical value.
The beginnings of what ultimately became a largely self-sufficient city within a city lay in the completion of the Robert Mills-designed South Carolina State Asylum building in 1828. Advanced in design and reflecting enlightened theories of mental health treatment, this landmark structure marked a proud chapter in early state history. Currently accommodating offices for the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, this earliest portion of the venerable campus falls outside the parameter of the tract primed for redevelopment.
Building upon Mills’ design genius further architects and healthcare professionals whose combined efforts resulted in an impressive array of structures diverse in styles and purposes. Among the most significant are several facilities located largely within the westernmost portion of the campus. Holding the distinction of being the largest and oldest is the Babcock Building, whose 300,000-square-feet were developed from 1858 through the early 20th century. The expansive Italian Renaissance style structure consists of a series of multi-level blocks connected one another and a central building, a design reflecting the Kirkbride system of mental health, which called architecture that segregated men from women patients and that removed support buildings from the main facility. Today, the building’s iconic red cupola remains one of Columbia’s most readily identifiable landmarks.
Further buildings of consequence that stand within the shadow of the Babcock Building include a late-1880s laundry; male and female dining halls from the 1910s; a circa-1900 bakery; the circa-1919 Parker Annex; a mattress factory; and the 1920-era LaBorde Building. Each masonry structure features a unique design that would inspire new uses. To the north lie further facilities, including the 1938 Williams Building and the 1939 Ensor Building and the circa-1955 Benet Auditorium and Horger Library and Chapel of Hope, all of which reflect design tastes immediately before and after World War II. Lastly, a handful of 1920s-1930s era bungalows – former homes for department employees, grant instant opportunities for new owners seeking vintage residential settings.
The vitality of any community can be measured by the manner in which it cares for its citizens and for its resources – be they built or natural. With the Department of Mental Health’s Bull Street campus lies an unprecedented opportunity to ensure a sound future for Columbia, provided the necessary steps are taken to retain those aspects of the facility that speak to its history and development.
Ways You Can Help:
1. Share any stories, images, artifacts that you have related to the Bull Street Campus in the comments below or on our Preservation Matters Facebook page.
2. Attend public meetings that provide a forum to voice your interests, concerns about the site.
3. If you have architectural, archaeological or documentary skills or interests, contact us about future volunteer opportunities at the site.
4. Spread the word about the South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s Bull Street Campus by posting a link to this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and/or your website. The direct link is: http://historiccolumbia.org/blog/?p=263
5. 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.
6. 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…
7. Become a fan of Historic Columbia Foundation AND our “Preservation Matters” pages on Facebook. One-click buttons below:
8. 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.
9. 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 or email@example.com.