#TBT: The Robert Mills House

Under the stars at last year’s Bluegrass, Bidding and BBQ | Image courtesy of Historic Columbia

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

We’re back this week for another #TBT – and this time, we’re bringing together two of our favorite things: bluegrass and America’s OG architect.

For the past 15 years, Historic Columbia’s Palladium Society has hosted its annual Bluegrass, Bidding and BBQ fundraiser on the grounds of the Robert Mills House. After all these years, we’ve gotten pretty good at throwing a party, y’all.

So, to celebrate a milestone anniversary for HC’s signature event, we thought we’d share the story of the home that started it all: The Robert Mills House.

Y’all have probably heard of the Robert Mills Historic District. Named for native Charlestonian and America’s first federal architect, the Robert Mills District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Officially, it’s bounded by Sumter, Calhoun, Barnwell, and Taylor streets. In total there are ~113 historic structures contained in the district, showcasing more than three centuries of diverse residents, architecture, and institutions.

It’s kind of our happy place. (But maybe we’re a little biased.)

Mills himself never lived in the district (we know—it’s confusing), but he did design the classic revival, red brick home at 1616 Blanding St. Now known as the Robert Mills House, the building is one of the only surviving examples of Mills’ residential work. And while his other projects (the Washington Monument and the US Treasury Building) are praised as integral pieces of American architecture, the iconic home that also fronts Taylor St. was almost demolished in 1961.

In 1961, the future of the Robert Mills House was uncertain | Image courtesy Historic Columbia

How did we get here?

The home at 1616 Blanding St. was constructed in 1823 for Ainsley and Sarah Hall. For many years, the home was known as the Ainsley Hall House, but — plot twistHall never actually lived on the property. He died before the project was completed. His wife sold the site to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia, which turned it into the campus for the Columbia Theological Seminary.

The Columbia Theological Seminary operated at the site from 1831-1927. The site was then used as the Westervelt Home, a school for the children of missionaries, from 1930-1937. The same year Westervelt left the property, Columbia Bible College (now known as Columbia International University) moved in and remained there until relocating to north Columbia in 1960.

By that point, the house was more than a little worse for wear. While here, each institution modified its campus to meet changing needs. Buildings came and went while the grounds were used for socializing, sporting events and storage.

This circa-1908 postcard shows the two dormitory buildings constructed at the site during the home’s use as a school | Image courtesy of Historic Columbia

Historic Columbia is Born

In 1961, the house was put up for sale and threatened with demolition. The potential loss of the site spurred a grassroots movement among Soda Citizens. Everyone from architects to educators to artists rallied together. They campaigned door-to-door, distributed flyers, and scraped together every cent of fundraising they could muster in order to rescue Columbia’s tangible link to the legacy of Robert Mills.

Six years later, in 1967, Historic Columbia Foundation opened 1616 Blanding St, as a historic house museum.

You can totally be this happy too – join us | Image courtesy of Historic Columbia

Today, Historic Columbia manages four historic house museums, including the Robert Mills House and Gardens. But we’re not just interested in the history of Columbia and Richland County, we’re looking to the future.

Here’s where you come in:

For the past 15 years, HC’s Palladium Society has hosted its Bluegrass, Bidding and BBQ fundraiser on the grounds of the Mills House. We aim for two things: to raise money to preserve Columbia’s built environment for the benefit of future Soda Citizens and to throw a kickin’ party.

And we’ve had more than 50 years of party-throwin’ practice.

Join us on Thurs., Mar. 21 for a night of live music from Willie Wells & the Blue Ridge Mountain Grass, local BBQ from Bone-In Barbeque, specialty drinks + some of the coolest auction items we’ve ever had (can you say Goat Therapy?). All proceeds will benefit the educational programs and initiatives of Historic Columbia.

Tickets are $30 for Palladium members, $40 for HC members, and $50 for non-members. Not a member yet? We can fix that. Tickets include food, drinks, and a night of fun at the house Columbia came together to save.

Y’all come eat, drink and make history,

Lois from Historic Columbia