- Margaret D.
- Friday, July 15, 2022
Tomatoes, okra, squash, cucumbers, and watermelon. These are my favorite summer vegetables, and they always taste best when I buy them at a local farmers market.
But how did Columbians of the past get these southern food staples? A little research in the Walker Local and Family History Center collections and I’ve discovered a good deal about our farmers markets of the past. Let’s take a look.
Antebellum Market, 1818-1865
Columbia has long been the seat of commerce for the region, and since before the Civil War local farmers came from the surrounding areas to bring their farm products to buyers in town. The first town Market, constructed in 1818, was located under the City Hall on Main Street at Washington Street. The building featured a bell tower, and the ringing of the bell announced the hour, fires, and market days. This same bell was heard clanking to the ground when the City Hall was burned by Union troops at the end of the Civil War.
Reconstruction Market, 1865-1913
After the Confederate forces surrendered, one of the first orders of business of the Reconstruction government was to rebuild a city market. Bricks from the old market were carried one block west and a new, block-long market building was erected in the center of Assembly Street at Washington Street.
Curb Market, 1913-1950
The Reconstruction-era market building was demolished in 1913 but farmers continued to gather in the 1300 block of Assembly Street to sell their goods. This impromptu market was called the Curb Market. In 1926, a city resident provided funds for a horse and dog drinking fountain to be installed at the market to help provide water for the animals. The fountain stood at the spot until 1983.
In the mid-1930s the city built a series of market sheds down the center of Assembly Street south of Washington Street to Senate Street. The Curb Market was a point of pride for Columbians. Market days were held several times a week and everyone went and mingled there. It was a bustling scene. The Curb Market eventually expanded to encompass 10 blocks of the city. It was described in a 1945 guide to the city as one of the "pleasantest places in Columbia."
However, on Nov. 14, 1946 an explosion of ethylene gas used in ripening bananas caused mayhem and killed five people. This accident, known as the Great Banana Explosion, caused the powers-that-be to determine to move the market to the outskirts of town.
State Famers' Market, 1951-2010
In 1951 the market was moved to Bluff Road and contained 5 sheds and ample parking. It was rebranded as the State Farmers' Market and designed to serve the wholesale market. This market was no longer within walking distance or an easy bus ride for most residents of the city.
In 1971 the S.C. Department of Agriculture took over the State Farmers Market and improvements were made to the facilities. However, in 2010, the S.C. State Farmers Market was relocated to West Columbia, leaving Columbians with one less option for finding local veggies in town.
Soda City, 2012 - present
In 2012 the Soda City Market, a lively and social market event held Saturdays on Main Street, was launched and has steadily grown in popularity. Soda City is reminiscent of the old Curb Market days, serving as a community meeting place for city dwellers and visitors alike.
I hope Columbians will continue to get their supply of fresh fruits and local vegetables. It’s worth the effort. And they taste delicious!