Robert Mills House – Columbia, South Carolina
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The Robert Mills House, also known as the Ainsley Hall House, is one of Columbia‘s historic crown jewels. It was designed by native South Carolinian Robert Mills, who served as the United States federal architect under seven presidents. In this capacity, Mills designed some of the nation’s most prominent buildings, including the Washington Monument. The Robert Mills House reflects the architect’s preference for the classical revival style, with a large porch dominating the front of the building. Similar to many of his other buildings, the Robert Mills House is a brick structure with a symmetrical exterior and interior.
The home was built on four acres in 1823. Englishman Ainsley Hall, who commissioned the home, died before it was complete. The mansion was then sold to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina and Georgia. The Presbyterian Theological Seminary (now Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta) began holding classes here in 1831. Winthrop University was also founded here in 1886 before relocating to Rock Hill in 1895.
The school, first known as the Winthrop Training School for Teachers, was located in the carriage house, seen below. The carriage house was also used as the seminary chapel. In 1927, the seminary moved to Georgia, and the mansion and surrounding property gradually fell into disrepair. The carriage house was given to Winthrop by the seminary and moved to the Rock Hill campus in 1936. It is now known as the “Little Chapel.”
A major grassroots movement saved the house from demolition in the early 1960s. After extensive restoration, it opened in 1967 as a historic house museum operated by the nonprofit group Historic Columbia. Below is a photo of the Robert Mills House from 1922 when it served as the seminary.
The Robert Mills House is listed in the National Register as Ainsley Hall:
The Ainsley Hall House preserves architecture that is of national importance because of the period it represents, the quality and type of its design, the excellence of its restoration, and the fame of its architect. Its designer, Robert Mills (1781-1855), was a native South Carolina architect and engineer who studied under Hoban and Latrobe and became the first American-trained Federal architect, serving under 7 Presidents. He was the designer of the Washington Monument and was responsible, in great measure, for the national capital’s early trend toward the classical style in its public buildings. Of the few Mills residences remaining in the United States, the Ainsley Hall House is considered one of the superior examples. Since Ainsley Hall, an English-born wealthy merchant in Columbia, died before the house was completed and it was never occupied or completely finished as a residence, it is more closely associated with the architect. The house was occupied for many years by the Columbia Theological Seminary. Winthrop, the South Carolina College for Women, was founded in the house in 1886. It became the home of the Columbia Bible College from late 1920s to 1962. Built in 1823 in the center of an entire city block of four acres, the Classical Revival style brick mansion is two-storied on an elevated basement. The front façade has an Ionic-temple portico with four massive columns rising from a raised brick arcade. The rear, or garden, entrance has a seven-bay arched porch. Three outbuildings have been reconstructed.
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Robert Mills House Info
Address: 1616 Blanding Street, Columbia, SC 29201
GPS Coordinates: 34.01001,-81.02972
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