(Columbia). A National Historic Landmark, Columbia’s Robert Mills House is most noted for its association with the first American-trained architect and the first federal architect of the United States. Of further significance is the building’s role as a regionally important religious institution and as an example of the grassroots historic preservation movement of the 1960s.
Originally intended as a private home for the Columbia merchant Ainsley Hall, the three-story mansion ultimately would serve solely in a public capacity. Equally ironic is that the building’s namesake, the Charlestonian Robert Mills, was an architect best known for public works, such as courthouses and jails, throughout South Carolina, rather than private structures. Architecturally, the Robert Mills House exemplifies early nineteenth-century classical revival design and reflects Mills’s association with Thomas Jefferson, James Hoban, Charles Bulfinch, and Benjamin Latrobe. During the building’s construction in 1823, however, Ainsley Hall died prematurely, leaving behind an ill-managed estate, which spawned years of legal suits that eventually resulted in the property’s liquidation in 1829. Purchased by the Presbyterian Synod, the building and its four-acre tract became the Columbia Theological Seminary, an institution that prepared religious leaders from 1830 until 1927.
Following a seven-year campaign for its restoration, the Robert Mills House opened to the public in 1967 as a historic house museum showcasing the neoclassical architecture and decorative arts of the early nineteenth century. Since 1967 the house has been chiefly operated by the Historic Columbia Foundation.
Doescher, Kirsten L. “A Home for a Seminary: The Columbia Theological Seminary and the Hall’s House.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 2001.
Lipscomb, Terry W. “The Legacy of Ainsley Hall.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 99 (April 1998): 158–79.
Marsh, Blanche. Robert Mills: Architect in South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1970.