(Lexington County; 2020 pop. 18,109). Although never home to textile operations, Columbia’s western suburbs were influenced by industrial activity throughout the nineteenth century: the Guignard Brick Works, the Saluda Factory, and the much larger cotton mills of the 1890s, most notably Columbia’s “Duck Mill.” Soon several hundred workers and their families were living in Aretasville, named for Aretas Blood, president of Columbia Mills. Their presence on the west bank of the Congaree River gave birth to stores, shops, and taverns. In December 1894 the growing community, essentially a mill village, was incorporated as the town of Brookland. Since several South Carolina cities of that era referred to their outskirts as Brooklyn or Jersey City (an obvious reference to Manhattan), this probably explains the term: an emerging suburb separated from an older, more established entity by water. In fact, state records initially cited this upstart as Brooklyn. However, since a black settlement on the Wateree River already bore that name, hence the spelling change. Despite a devastating fire in 1905 and annexation bids by Columbia, this community prospered and gradually assumed the more familiar name of New Brookland. This designation, in turn, gave way to West Columbia in 1938, and in 1964 that town became a city.
Governed by a mayor and an eight-member council and possessing a land area of 11.45 square miles, West Columbia is home to several hotels and motels, three hospitals, sixty churches, and fifteen public schools. It is served by three interstates, and some five thousand area residents work for such major manufacturing concerns as Allied-Signal, Michelin Tire, NCR, SMI, Union Switch & Signal, and Fairmont Tamper.
For most of its history, West Columbia spread westward along U.S. Highway 1 and Platt Springs Road and far north of the original mill village. However, in recent decades the old riverfront has garnered renewed interest, largely because of the development of Columbia’s upscale Vista. Ironically, in the early 1900s New Brookland was considered the urban pioneer. Almost from the outset it boasted a park, a school, and a lyceum hall, amenities provided by farsighted industrialists who created what was hailed as “the finest mill village south of New England.” The homes sold to workers in 1947 constitute the heart of the New Brookland Historic District. This twenty-one-block area is filled with three distinct types of structures: an L-shaped overseer’s residence; an eight-room duplex; and four-room, single-family houses. In the 1990s, as restaurants, cafés, and antique shops appeared along Meeting and State Streets, West Columbia’s leaders became aware of the region’s commercial potential. The result was the West Vista Festival, first held in September 1999 in cooperation with the State Museum and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
In a turnabout that would puzzle residents a century ago, New Brookland’s historic past is being analyzed and extolled, thus bridging the Congaree in a manner none could have anticipated. Thanks to the concept of the Vista, two distinct communities are gradually blending into one.
Wilhelm, Jody Bierer. West Columbia, U.S.A. West Columbia, S.C.: J. B. Wilhelm, 1986.