The national trend toward improving waterways and other public facilities led South Carolina to create the Board of Public Works in December 1819. The enabling legislation created a five-person board headed by two paid acting commissioners—originally, Abram Blanding and Thomas Baker. Blanding was responsible for the Department of Roads, Rivers and Canals, and Baker for the Department of Public Buildings. The board replaced the office of the civil and military engineer.
The board hired William Jay, one of its members, to develop stock plans for new courthouses and jails. This interest in conformity was, in part, an attempt to control costs. In 1820 the Board of Public Works hired Robert Mills to replace Jay. Mills revised Jay’s plans for buildings under construction and developed plans of his own. Mills denounced the move toward uniformity as not considering local needs and available building materials. He also criticized Jay’s designs for their inconvenient layout and lack of fireproof space for record storage.
With an eye to the future, Mills chastised the General Assembly for selecting low bids without regard to the “permanency” of the product. In addition, he advocated a new system of awarding contracts.
In December 1822 the South Carolina General Assembly abolished the board and divided its responsibilities between its former commissioners. Blanding became the superintendent of public works, and Mills became the superintendent of public buildings. The board effected an enviable record for construction, with at least eleven court-house projects begun or completed during its brief tenure and with several more completed shortly after its abolishment.
Kohn, David, and Bess Glenn. Internal Improvement in South Carolina, 1817–1828. Washington, D.C., 1938.
Waddell, Gene, and Rhodri Windsor Liscombe. Robert Mills’s Courthouses and Jails. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1981.