Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Celebrate South Carolina with a State House tour

Posted 4/4/2011 4:16:00 PM

As the home of the offices of South Carolina’s governor and lieutenant governor, as well as the state Senate and House of Representatives, the S.C. State House is certainly one of the most important buildings in the state. But it is more than the seat of government; it also is a fascinating architectural gem that celebrates the state’s history and its citizens.

Construction of the current building, which is designated as a National Historic Landmark, started in 1855. The Civil War slowed the work, but the building was spared the torch when Sherman marched through Columbia. You can, however, take note of six spots on the exterior where the building was hit with Union cannon fire; the places where the cannonballs hit are marked by brass stars. The building was finished in 1875 and significant renovations were made in the 1990s.

The State House’s interior is truly stunning with its white and pink marble floors, granite columns and arched ceiling. The wrought iron staircase leading to the second floor elegantly includes the state flower, the yellow jessamine.

But it is the Senate and House chambers where South Carolina’s history has, quite literally, been made. The rooms contain some of the state’s most valuable artifacts. In the Senate chambers, look for the Sword of the State. The original sword, which dated back to 1704, was stolen in 1941 and has yet to be recovered. The current sword was a gift from Lord Halifax, the British Ambassador to the U.S. in the 1950s. Across the way in the House chambers, the State Mace is housed in a glass case to the left of the large, mahogany desk. Each of the original 13 colonies was given a mace by the Crown; South Carolina is the only state still in possession of its original artifact.

The portraits that line the walls of the chamber rooms are one of the most fascinating aspects of the State House. There are senators and congressmen like James F. Byrnes who went on to work in the FDR White House; but there also are ordinary citizens like minister, educator and activist Benjamin Mays, who mentored Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Ann Pamela Cunningham, who spearheaded the movement to restore and preserve George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon.

While you are visiting the State House, make sure to walk around the impressive grounds. Particularly interesting is the African American History Monument depicting 12 scenes from history immortalizing the African-American struggle for freedom, civil rights and equality.

The State House is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To schedule a guided tour, call the Tour Desk at (803) 734-2430. You also can take a self-guided tour at any time using the informative “State House Guide” booklets available inside the lobby. Admission and guided tours are free. Click here for more information.