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#TBT: Historical Heights on Main Street

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#TBT: Barringer Building

This is part of our #TBT series in collaboration with Historic Columbia.

This week, we’re excited to share a little bit of back story on a reader-submitted photo in the #ColaYearbookChallenge.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 11.14.05 AM

Barringer Building at 1338 Main St. | Photo submitted by @wilsonkiblersc

Today, the red brick building at the corner of Main and Washington streets downtown might look a little stubby compared to the other buildings on the block. But, believe it or not, the Barringer Building is heralded as South Carolina’s first skyscraper.

For comparison, here’s a shot of Main Street in 1911, just eight years after the Barringer was completed:


Image is public domain via the Postcards of the Midlands Collection, Richland Library.

When measured against the other one- and two-story structures of the time, the Barringer Building towered over the heart of South Carolina’s capital city.

The building’s original name wasn’t Barringer. It was the National Loan and Exchange Bank. The Barringer Corporation purchased the site later and occupied it from 1953 until 1974.

And what you might not be able to see from the outside is that this building is a high-tech feat. When it was completed in 1903, cities had only begun their slow climb skyward. Underneath its brick + limestone façade, the structure represents advancements in late-19th and early-20th-century building technology. In particular, the site features a steel framework which allowed the building to soar higher than its 1300 block counterparts. The site also featured high-pressure water pipes + elevators.

(Fun fact – advertisements in the 19-teens advertised elevators as a way to make a speedy exit in the event of a fire. Yeah... not so much, gang.)

In 2006, the office building underwent renovations and now operates as apartments under the auspices of Capitol Places.

The Athenaeum in flames

It shouldn’t surprise you that Main Street looked very different before the Civil War. The Burning of Columbia in February 1865 decimated Richardson (now Main) Street.

The Barringer wasn’t the first building to stand on this spot. Originally, there was a two-story brick building on the site. Between 1857 and 1865, the Columbia Athenaeum operated from the upper floor of that original two-story building. Politician, public speaker, and South Carolina College president William Campbell Preston donated thousands of his own books to establish the library for this private “club.” Members included elite businessmen, politicians, and planters – all of whom were white males. The Athenaeum featured a reading room and lecture + exhibit hall.

Like many of the buildings on Main Street, the Athenaeum was destroyed by fire in 1865.

Want to know more of Main Street’s secrets?

Believe us, there is plenty to tell.

Join Historic Columbia for a Soda City Stroll walking tour of Main Street. Beginning April 6, Historic Columbia will offer guided tours at 11 a.m. + 1 p.m. departing from Boyd Plaza (1600 block) every Saturday. Tickets are available on site (just look for the yellow Historic Columbia flag).

We’ll see y’all on Main,

– Lois from Historic Columbia


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