Support Us Button Widget
Sponsored Content

The South Carolina State Museum is turning 35 (but its story is much older)

From mill to museum, we’re exploring the history of how SCSM came to be — and how South Carolinians can celebrate its big anniversary.

Sponsored by
Image from The State Newspaper in 1988 depicting the South Carolina State Museum and a sign announcing its upcoming opening

The South Carolina State Museum opened in 1988, but its story goes back much further.

Photo provided by the South Carolina State Museum

Table of Contents

Over the last 35 years, the South Carolina State Museum has welcomed more than 5 million guests, including 50,000+ public school students per year from across SC, and its collection has grown to house over one million objects.

Do you know what the largest artifact at the South Carolina State Museum is, though? The building itself.

Let’s dive into a little history, shall we? (Pro tip: You can hear more fascinating behind-the-scenes stories like this one by subscribing to the museum’s podcast.)

From mill to museum

On April 15, 1894, Columbia Mills Company president Arethas Blood pulled a switch to start the motors in the new Columbia Duck Mill. This event marked the first time a textile mill anywhere in the world was operated completely by electric power.

While it grew to employ ~1,000 workers and operate 24/7 during World War II, the mill eventually closed in 1981. At that same time, a small group of historians, artists, and leaders were working on a plan to create a museum for South Carolina (read: “a State Museum.”)

The start of SCSM

Finn the Megalodon arriving at the museum on a flatbed truck

Finn arrived at his new home on a flatbed truck provided by the SC National Guard.

Photo provided by the South Carolina State Museum

The building was officially donated to the state in December 1981, and the process of transforming a textile mill into a museum began. Iconic objects started to move in, like “Finn the Megalodon,” which (who) was driven to the museum on a giant flatbed truck provided by the SC National Guard.

On SCSM’s opening day, skydivers parachuted in with a giant pair of scissors, which they handed off to Governor Carroll Campbell to cut the ribbon (which was made of duck cloth, the product originally produced at the old mill).

Visitors climbing the stairs at the opening day of the South Carolina State Museum in 1988

The museum officially opened on October 29, 1988.

Photo provided by the South Carolina State Museum

How to celebrate

On Saturday, Nov. 4, SCSM will open a brand new exhibition covering all the above and more, called “The Story of Us.”

The museum will also host an all-day bash full of live music and dance performances, behind-the-scenes tours, and more. The best part? Admission is free.

Looking ahead

To start planning for the next 35 years, the museum is launching the “Reimagine the Experience” project with a goal to renew more than 75,000 sqft of exhibition space to feature more objects from the collection and highlight more South Carolina stories.

Learn more + share your thoughts

More from COLAtoday