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Visit the South Carolina State House

This statue of John C Calhoun dominates the second floor lobby
This statue of John C Calhoun dominates the second floor lobby
photo by author

One of the most prominent buildings in Columbia is the South Carolina State House. Located at the intersection of Main and Gervais Streets, it is one of Columbia’s landmarks. The building is actually the third State House, the second in Columbia.

The South Carolina State House is at the intersection of Main & Gervais in downtown Columbia
photo by author

The first one was in Charleston and was built in the 1750s, when the capital was moved to Columbia in 1786, a new State House was built, “quickly and economically” according to a State House brochure. The legislature met in the second State House starting in 1790. Both the Charleston State House and the first Columbia State House were primarily wooden buildings. Fire destroyed both.

Construction on the present State House began in 1855 but the Civil War, and particularly General William T. Sherman’s invasion of Columbia, put a halt to construction. With only exterior walls and the foundation completed, the legislature was forced to meet for two years at the University of South Carolina. Evidence of Sherman’s damage can be easily seen. On the south and southwest walls are six bronze stars marking damage from Union artillery in February of 1865.

Little was done from the mid-1860s to the 1880s other than to make the building functional. Most of the interior was completed between 1885-1895. After the steps, porticos and dome were added, the building was declared complete in 1907. Each column on the front is carved from a single piece of stone and are believed to be the largest monolithic columns used in a public building in the US.

From 1995-1998, the building was closed and completely renovated with extensive work done to the basement and foundation making the State House an earthquake-proof building. During that time the legislature met at the Carolina Plaza building (since demolished)

The second floor interior is in the shape of a cross with the House of Representatives at one end of the building and the Senate Chamber at the other. Dominating the lobby, under the rotunda, is a statue of John C. Calhoun, Vice-President under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson and Senator from South Carolina. It is in the rotunda that former Senator Strom Thurmond and former Governor Carroll Campbell lay in state, Thurmond in 2003 and Campbell in 2005.

The first floor contains the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. A gift shop is located just past the security barrier. The State House is open for tours Monday-Saturday and the first Sunday of every month.

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