Take an Architectural Tour of SC by Starting with Robert Mills' Designs

By:Page Ivey

Date:3/17/2016

Architect Robert Mills designed one of the world's most recognizable structures — the Washington Monument.

Mills, the first architect born and trained in the US, was a South Carolinian, born in Charleston in 1781. He is known for popularizing the Greek Revival style in the US, and many of the buildings he designed around the state stand today, including courthouses, churches and jails—and even a fireproof building in Charleston.

Here's a look at five of our favorite Robert Mills-designed buildings in South Carolina.

The Robert Mills House, 1616 Blanding St., Columbia

The Robert Mills House in the state’s capital city is one of the few private residences Mills ever designed. He was hired in 1823 by Columbia merchant Ainsley Hall and his wife, Sarah, to design the Classical Revival townhouse, but Ainsley died before the house was finished, and Sarah sold the mansion. In the years since, it's been a Presbyterian seminary and a Bible college and is now an historic house museum. The brick house has a symmetrical exterior and interior, with a large porch on the building's front.

Of note: A grassroots effort saved the house from demolition in 1961 and the building received an extensive restoration, opening in 1967 as a historic house museum as part of the Historic Columbia Foundation. The house and gardens are open to the public for tours Tuesday through Sunday.

Also: The Robert Mills House is one of just five National Historic Landmarks in Columbia. Its grounds are available for rent.

Bethesda Presbyterian Church, 502 DeKalb St., Camden

Built in 1822, Bethesda Presbyterian is one of the few surviving churches in South Carolina designed by Mills. It sits near the center of downtown Camden.

The church campus includes six buildings, including the Mills-designed sanctuary, a rectangular brick building with a four-columned portico facing the street. The side walls each have five round-arch windows, and the building is considered more classical than some of Mills' later work. The building has undergone many renovations, especially in the late 19th century, but most of these changes were reversed in the 20th century, and the church now more closely resembles Mills' original design.

Of note: The sanctuary is dedicated to the memory of Baron DeKalb, a Continental Army soldier killed in the 1780 Battle of Camden. The Presbyterian Church in Camden was established before the American Revolution, and its first sanctuary was destroyed during that war.

The Fireproof Building (also known as the County Records Building), 100 Meeting St., Charleston

Built in 1822, the County Records Building is believed to be the first fireproof building in the country built specifically to protect documents. The two-story masonry building is set on a tall stone foundation, with brick that has been stuccoed to make it look like stone. It is built in the Palladian style, with Doric porticoes.

While it was originally used to house offices and records, today the building is home to the South Carolina Historical Society. Major renovations to the building were completed in 2002, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

Of note: Mills was an early advocate of making sure buildings included fire-resistant materials.

The Colleton County Courthouse, 101 Hampton St., Walterboro

Walterboro became the seat of Colleton County in 1817, and a courthouse at Jeffries and Hampton streets designed by Robert Mills was completed in 1820. It was included on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of Greek Revival architecture and because of its historical significance. The brick building is stuccoed to represent stone, with four Tuscan columns. Two large wings were added in 1939.

Of note: The first meetings on nullification were held in the building in 1828, when local leaders urged South Carolina’s governor to resist federal tariff laws. It was seen as the beginning of the nullification crisis during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, when South Carolina declared tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and null and void within the state.

Yorkville Jail (also known as the Wilson House and Old Jail), 3 South Congress St., York

The three-story building attributed to Robert Mills was originally designed and built in 1828 as a local jail in York County. The building features classic Mills' characteristics, including brick arches, a semicircular fanlight and attention to proportion and symmetry. It was converted into a private residence in 1853, when it became know as the Wilson House. During Reconstruction, the building again was used as a jail by federal troops, who were stationed in York County for 16 years following the Civil War.

Of note: In the years of Reconstruction, the York area was a stronghold of Ku Klux Klan activity, and the old jail at York held many Klan members. It was referred to locally as the “United States Hotel,” and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Related Content

Discover the Robert Mills House
Explore a piece of South Carolina history at the Robert Mills House in Columbia, South Carolina.
History and Heritage in South Carolina’s Capital
History is everywhere when you know where to look in Columbia, South Carolina.

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