Columbia, Sumter Street, USC
Columbia, SC, 900 block of Sumter Street. McKissick Library on The Horseshoe, University of South Carolina. Photo taken 2004.
The university began at this location in 1801. The original campus, laid out on six city blocks in a horseshoe pattern including a central green, was submitted by an architectural student studying at the time under Thomas Jefferson. Robert Mills was a native of South Carolina but submitted his winning design using an assumed name believing he would not be taken seriously both as a native of the state and as only a student himself at the time.
The winning plan submitted by Mills included monumental buildings or pavilions connected by covered breezeways. Although his plan was greatly modified by the trustees, all of whom were Princeton alumni, the site plan presented by Mills was generally followed. It would be decades before most of the university's original classroom buildings, faculty houses and student residences were completed according to that site plan. The university's first trustees also abandoned the pavilions and breezeways since they were predisposed to favoring buildings that resembled the academic models they knew from their alma mater not far from Philadelphia.
It would be left to Jefferson years later to use the ideas for pavilions and breezeways first advanced by his talented student from South Carolina. After 1820, Mr. Jefferson's university took shape in Charlottesville. It marked the last of the Southern states to establish a flagship university for its citizens, long after North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Jefferson's famous design, similar to the one first advanced for the University of South Carolina, was finally executed in all its academic glory. But it was his Rotunda at the head of the University of Virginia's Lawn that crowned his achievement. Jefferson's plan for the University of Virginia eventually became the model for the quintessential American academic community. As if to imitate UVA's famous Lawn and Jefferson's Rotunda, domed libraries in various configurations today are the landmarks which distinguish the great universities in the United States from Boston to Berkeley.
In the late 1930's, almost as a belated acknowledgement of the debt the University of South Carolina owed to Mr. Jefferson's student, the McKissick Library with its dome was constructed at the head of The Horseshoe as a Federally funded WPA project. The original campus design begun in 1801 was finally completed in 1940. The University of South Carolina's main campus in Columbia now has many different libraries in response to its academic and research needs but the McKissick is still the one that people know by its central location and defining dome. The McKissick is still part of the university's library system, now as a museum and repository for the university's historic collections including news films and the Baruch silver. Columbia, SC. Photo taken on 21 August 2004.
Photo and text posted: 1 February 2008
Revised: 9 October 2010
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