Most of Mill’s career was spent designing for public spaces: churches, courthouses, clubs, offices and monuments. In Columbia, you have the chance to see a private residence designed by the renowned architect.
The Robert Mills House is preserved in such a way as to highlight the architect’s craft. Mills was unique in that he was the first architect in America to be trained exclusively in the United States. He also was an early proponent of fire safety, building in escape routes from the second floor and choosing materials based on their lack of combustibility.
In the early part of the 20th century, the Mills House and property had fallen into disrepair. Concerned citizens formed the Historic Columbia Foundation in order to preserve this house. They bought the property and have restored it to its antebellum era splendor. Outside, the grounds also have been refurbished in the form of a lovely formal garden, which is not to be missed.
Today, the Robert Mills House is one of seven historic houses owned by the Historic Columbia Foundation. Three of the properties are open for tours, while the others are in the midst of ongoing renovation and restoration work. (It is possible to tour the Woodrow Wilson house, for example, but only by taking a “hard hat” tour.) The foundation also organizes special events around town all year including Happy Hour History tours.
Tours of the Robert Mills House begin at 1616 Blanding St. and are offered Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. All tours begin at the top of the hour and are given by knowledgeable, friendly guides. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, active military and college students, $3 for kids ages 6-17, and free for children 5 and younger.
For a unique look at the house, visit on the evening of Sept. 28 for a special lantern tour of the property. Lantern tours require reservations and the September tour is the last lantern tour until Spring, so it is sure to fill up quickly. Visit www.historiccolumbia.org for more information.