(Columbia). Atop one of Columbia’s highest points rests the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion, seat of the state’s executive power and home to its first family. At 16,300 square feet, the two-story stucco building is best described as a grand home that fuses a reverence for the past with modern conveniences.
Until 1869 South Carolina never furnished its executive officer with a residence. Governors used their private homes to serve as the seat of the state’s executive office. However, amid the backdrop of a postwar housing shortage, Governor James L. Orr interrupted this tradition. Hoping to secure permanent accommodations for the executive office on a modest budget, Orr proposed to use property already owned by the state. The plan approved by the legislature involved transforming the remnants of the Arsenal Military Academy, which by 1865 lay in ruins save for a few dependencies and “two two-story brick tenement dwelling houses” constructed in 1856 as officers’ quarters. Bounded by Richland, Lincoln, Laurel, and Gadsden Streets, the parcel of land and the duplex proved a logical, if not fitting, setting for what would become home to the state’s chief executive. Within the year the structure was renovated and Orr’s successor, Robert K. Scott, occupied it. However, three successive governors chose to live at their private residences, and it was not until 1879, when William D. Simpson became governor, that the property permanently became the state’s official Governor’s Mansion.
For the next 125 years the mansion grew to better accommodate the needs of each administration. Rooms were modified, added, or removed. New household conveniences were installed as technology improved. As styles changed, first families purchased new furnishings when possible. The grounds were landscaped. Improvements eventually included purchasing two neighboring antebellum homes—the Lace House in 1968 and the Caldwell-Boyleston Mansion in 1978—to offer more space for state functions and administrative offices. All three buildings became physically and visually connected in 1986 when the 800 block of Richland Street was closed to create the Governor’s Green, a plaza featuring a large fountain.
Despite these improvements, by 1999 the former military quarters had been “extended, manipulated, retrofitted, and abused” to the point that a major overhaul was required. Renovation of the building occurred during the next two years with every aspect of the property upgraded including plumbing, wiring, and structural and aesthetic work. New construction added five thousand additional square feet. The building’s interior featured a comprehensive selection of South Carolina antiques and fine art. Following its $2.5 million renovation, the Governor’s Mansion struck a sympathetic balance of old and new—updated, yet maintaining the historical identity that has made the property a statewide cultural landmark. See plates 24 and 25.
Edwards, Ann D., et al. The Governor’s Mansion of the Palmetto State. Columbia: State Printing, 1978.
Robertson, Lynn, and John Sherrer. The Governor’s Mansion of South Carolina, 1855–2001. Columbia, S.C.: Governor’s Mansion Foundation, 2002.