Historic Columbia Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Year Concludes with Birthday Celebration at Robert Mills House
Historic Columbia Foundation caps off its 50th anniversary year with a Birthday Celebration at the Robert Mills House and Gardens on Friday, November 9 at 7 p.m.
This event wraps up the Foundation's year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary, which began in November 2011 with a street fair and family day. HCF's Birthday Celebration on November 9 will feature an antique car display, retro cocktails, wonderful food, music, dancing and a silent auction, all on the grounds of the Robert Mills House and Gardens, the property that started it all.
A Community Comes Together
In 1961, a grand old building sat in disrepair on Blanding Street with the threat of demolition hanging over its roof. Known then as the Ainsley Hall House, the residence-turned-school stood on a prized piece of land bordered by Taylor, Blanding, Pickens and Henderson Streets in the heart of downtown Columbia. A dedicated group of citizens—including members of some of the city's oldest families—came together and created Historic Columbia Foundation with the purpose of saving this endangered property.
The group recognized the house's significance as both a Columbia landmark and as an architectural treasure. In 1823, Columbia residents Ainsley and Sarah Hall hired architect Robert Mills to design a house in the Classical Revival style. Mills, most famous for designing the Washington Monument, planned very few private residences, adding to the building's significance as a historic property.
Hall died before the house was completed, leaving a contested will and his wife to finish the project. Ultimately, she sold it to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia, which established a seminary there in 1831. In 1927, the building became home to the Westerveldt Academy and later the Columbia Bible College, until 1960.
Above photo: Founding HCF member Jennie Dreher accepts a check from Columbia Garden Club President Mrs. John R. Holton in front of the Robert Mills House in 1961.
In 1961 the newly-formed Historic Columbia Foundation began to solicit donations toward its goal to purchase the Ainsley Hall House and save it from destruction. The group found 265 individuals and businesses who each donated $1,000, enabling the Foundation to purchase the property in 1962 and begin the restoration in 1963, which was completed four years later. On April 2, 1967, the house opened to the public as the Robert Mills Historic House and Park.
The Legacy of Preservation
"Today is tomorrow's history," wrote Charles E. Lee, director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, in 1962 as he commented on Historic Columbia Foundation's activism. "Twenty, fifty, a hundred years from now, when Columbia has doubled or tripled in size and hustle-and-bustle, visitors…will be grateful to the men and women of 1962 who had the vision to bequeath them this beautiful and peaceful example of gracious living from the unhurried past."
Above Photo: The Robert Mills House today.
The transformation of the Mills house from derelict building to vibrant museum stands as one of many highlights in Historic Columbia Foundation's five decades of historic preservation efforts throughout Columbia and Richland County. Due to the success of the Mills house project, the Foundation was awarded stewardship of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home in 1966, Hampton-Preston Mansion in 1972 and the Mann-Simons Site in 1978.
By the 1980s, HCF proudly claimed 1,300 members and was growing beyond the bounds of the historic houses, offering tours throughout the city of Columbia and receiving accreditation from the American Association of Museums. The Foundation was gifted Seibels House in 1986 and assumed ownership of The Big Apple in 1993. In 2007, the City of Columbia awarded the Foundation stewardship of the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House.
Through its existence, Historic Columbia Foundation has continued to raise standards for the stewardship of the seven historic properties and more than 6,000 artifacts under its care. By establishing an award-winning website, developing new tours and programs, and making horticultural improvements, capital repairs and interpretive enhancements to its properties, the Foundation has promoted its vitality and relevance in an era of ever-changing expectations for cultural institutions.
"Today, HCF is working toward a vision that will honor the past investment of the dedicated citizens who rallied to save the Robert Mills House in 1961," said HCF Executive Director Robin Waites, "meanwhile harnessing the spirit of contemporary residents of Columbia and Richland County in boldly building upon the previous generation's efforts and vision."
50th Anniversary Birthday Celebration
Historic Columbia Foundation will cap off its 50th anniversary year with a Birthday Celebration at the Robert Mills House and Gardens on Friday, November 9 at 7 p.m. The celebration includes food and retro cocktails, a jazz band and DJ, a vintage fashion exhibit, antique car display, and a silent auction, all on the grounds of the Robert Mills House and Garden. Also, the Robert Mills House will be open for tours during the party.
Tickets to Historic Columbia Foundation's Birthday Celebration are $75 per person or $50 for Palladium Society members. Tickets are on sale now by calling (803) 252-7742 ext. 10 or at http://HCFBirthdayBash.eventbrite.com.
"As we move toward the culmination of our 50th anniversary year, we have a great deal to celebrate," said Michael Edens, president of the Historic Columbia Foundation Board of Trustees. "We invite everyone to join us on the grounds of the Robert Mills House to help us commemorate and revel in the accomplishments of the past 50 years."
Historic Columbia Foundation was founded in 1961 by a group of preservationists determined to save the Ainsley Hall House, known today as the Robert Mills House. More than four decades later, Historic Columbia Foundation manages four historic house museums and their associated artifacts, and tells the stories of people, places and progress in Columbia and Richland County. For more information, please visit http://www.historiccolumbia.org or follow Historic Columbia Foundation on Twitter at @HistColumbia, Facebook and YouTube.