Two Guys Digging through South Carolina History...
When you drive down the streets of Columbia, do you ever think about the history of the city and who came before? It was for this very reason that we did a deep dive into the history of Columbia street names, many of which are original to the founding of Columbia in 1786. Columbia’s streets are historically important, because they are named for significant events, revolutionary/civil war heroes and much more. Many in Columbia go about their daily lives travelling the streets without thinking about their history. We guarantee that the back stories behind some of the street names will surprise and hope this blog sparks an interest to do your own research about Columbia and its rich history.
Columbia is South Carolina’s first planned city and one of the first planned cities in the United States. After the revolutionary war, SC State Senator John Lewis Gervais introduced a bill to create a new state capital in its current location, and to name it Columbia. The bill was approved by the legislature March 22, 1786. John Gabriel Guignard was hired by the city commissioners to survey and develop the town’s new plan. He divided the 2-mile-square area into 20 square city blocks. The four boundary roads and two central thoroughfares were 150 feet wide. All other streets were 100 feet wide. The Commissioners chose wide streets because they were concerned about the spread of fire and disease, particularly malaria, via mosquito. The north-south streets were originally named for officers who fought for South Carolina in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The east-west streets were generally named for important agricultural products of the state’s economy or important citizens at the time.”
Assembly Street – one of the major thoroughfares that ran through the center of Columbia from north to south (the other was Senate Street, east to west). It was named for the legislative General Assembly that first met in Columbia in 1790.
Barnwell – named after John Barnwell, who was a South Carolina native. Barnwell quickly rose in military ranks from Captain to Brigadier General from his time in the American Revolution. He was a captured prisoner in the fall of Charleston in 1780 but later released on a prisoner exchange. After the American Revolution, he served many terms in the South Carolina Senate from 1778 until 1800.
Blanding – originally named Walnut Street, was renamed after Abram Blanding, who was a Massachusetts native. Blanding was persuaded to move to South Carolina by David R. Williams, who later became Governor of South Carolina. Blanding was an important figure in South Carolina’s early works to build state roads and helped build and finance Columbia’s first water works system in 1820.
Blossom – named for the crop cotton blossom, as were many other early street names. Cotton was a prominent commercial crop in early South Carolina especially after Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin.
Bull – named after Revolutionary War Brigadier General Stephen Bull, who was a South Carolina native from the Beaufort District. Many of his family members were Loyalists, only he and a cousin were Patriots. He led the Patriot movement to Savannah, where he forced countless British Loyalists out of the city. After the war, he served in the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate.
Calhoun – originally named as Lumber Street for the numerous trees in Columbia. It was renamed Calhoun in 1911 in honor of John Caldwell Calhoun, who was the seventh Vice-President of the United States from 1825-1832. John Calhoun was a South Carolina native of the Abbeville District and spent many years as political powerhouse earning many political appointments including Secretary of State and Secretary of War.
Catawba – first named Tobacco Street for another top export crop in South Carolina. Later, it was renamed to Catawba after the Native American tribe, who lived in South Carolina. The Catawba tribe was notably known for their North American Pottery.
College – initially named Medium Street for unknown reasons. This street bisected the area that would become the site of South Carolina College and now the University of South Carolina. The street was renamed sometime after 1891.
Devine – formerly spelled Divine and it is believed that the street was named after a resident of the new town of Columbia. In the late 1930s, the city began changing those street signs to the spelling of Devine, we know this from old Columbia City Directories.
Elmwood – originally named Upper Street due to its northern boundary of the city. It was renamed after 1872 for the Elmwood Cemetery which is adjacent to the avenue. Historic Elmwood Cemetery has been in existence since 1854 with initially 200 acres of land. Elmwood cemetery is a listed an National Register of Historic Properties of South Carolina.
Gadsden – named for a Brigadier General Christopher Gadsden of the Revolutionary War, who was a Charleston native. He was a prominent figure in establishing the Charleston Sons of Liberty. He also served as Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina and numerous General Assemblies.
Gervais – named for John Lewis Gervais, from Germany and French Huguenot. He immigrated to Charleston, South Carolina in 1764 and was a key player in introducing the bill to have Columbia become the capital of South Carolina.
Gist – named for Mordecai Gist, a Baltimore, Maryland native. Initially, he was nominated captain of the “Baltimore Independent Company”, one of the earliest patriot companies raised in Maryland in defense of liberty in the American Revolution. He was also chosen as Brigadier General of the Continental Army. He fought valiantly in the Battle of Camden in 1780 along with Major Generals Horatio Gates and Johann de Kalb.
Greene – first named Green Street without the “e” and possibly named for a resident of Columbia. In 1979, the “e” was added for the commander of the Continental Army, Nathaniel/Nathanael Greene. Greene was a Rhode Island native and Commander during several major Revolutionary War battles, including the Battle of Eutaw Springs in present day Orangeburg County. He was also a key figure in the surrender of the British forces at the Battle of Yorktown.
Gregg – first named Winn Street for Richard Winn, who was an officer during the American Revolution and then changed to Gregg Street around 1893 to honor Maxcy Gregg. Gregg was born in Columbia, a state’s right advocate and Confederate General. His recognition to distinction came during the Battle of Second Manassas/Bull Run. During the Battle of Fredericksburg he was mortally wounded and days later died from those wounds.
Hampton – initially named Plain Street after one of the Taylor’s Plantations and changed in 1907 for Wade Hampton, III. Hampton, a Charleston native, was the son and grandson of officers of the American Revolution and War of 1812. Hampton was a Confederate General, who was wounded several times during the American Civil War. After the American Civil War, he served as the 77th Governor of South Carolina, U.S. Senator and U.S. Railroad Commissioner.
Harden – named for William Harden, who was born in Prince William’s Parish which is now modern day Beaufort and Jasper counties. Harden served under Francis Marion in the American Revolution and played a major role in capturing British soldiers at the Battle of Balfour. After the war, he held several political positions including senator of the Beaufort District.
Henderson – named for William Henderson, who was a born in Virginia and served under Thomas Sumter in the American Revolution. He was a captured prisoner in the fall of Charleston in 1780 and then prisoner exchanged a few months later. He again, joined Thomas Sumter’s regiment and rose to the rank of Brigadier General of the South Carolina State Troops after Sumter’s resignation.
Heyward – first named Lower Street due its southern boundary of the original Columbia street plan. In 1931 it was changed to Heyward in honor of Duncan Clinch Heyward, the 88th Governor of South Carolina. Heyward was born in Richland County, South Carolina but his family moved shortly thereafter to Colleton County where he grew up on his family’s rice plantation.
Huger – pronounced “You-gee”, was named for Brigadier General Isaac Huger who was born near the Cooper River, now modern day Berkeley County. He served as an officer in the Cherokee War, and rose to the rank of brigadier general during the American Revolution. He fought under the command of Benjamin Lincoln at the Battle Stono Ferry and was wounded but survived. He also commanded the South Carolina Militia in the Sieges of Savannah and Charleston. After the war, he served several political offices including first federal marshal of South Carolina.
Lady Street- When Columbia was founded in 1786, this street was named to honor Martha Washington who was called “Lady Washington” as the wife of General George Washington. Her husband would go on to become the country’s first president two and a half years later in 1789.
Laurel Street- This original street got its name from the laurel plants that were common on Thomas Taylor’s Plantation in the 18th century before it became the City of Columbia.
Laurens Street- Named for Charleston native Colonel John Laurens who fought bravely in the battles of Brandywine, Monmouth and Germantown. He then served as aide-de-camp for General Washington because he was fluent in French. What you might not know is that John Laurens, who had access to Washington’s Inner Circle - including Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette - was determined to enlist slaves into the Continental Army, to form “black battalions.” In return for their service, they would be offered their personal freedom. The Continental Congress would eventually support the proposal, if the South Carolina and Georgia Assemblies agreed, which they did not.
Lincoln Street- Named for Major General Benjamin Lincoln of Massachusetts, who was present at all three of the major campaigns of the Revolutionary War—Saratoga, Charleston, and Yorktown. A little-known fact is that General Lincoln accepted the sword of surrender from the British at the Battle of Yorktown, which basically ended the Revolutionary War.
Marion Street- Named for Francis Marion. Otherwise known as the “Swamp Fox,” for his ability to quickly strike and then disappear into the South Carolina Swamps without a trace. He fought in the French and Indian War, served in the defense of Charleston in 1776 and served as lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army at the Siege of Savannah in 1779. His military strategy is considered one of the top examples of 18th-century guerilla warfare.
Park Street- Originally named Gates Street, for Horatio Gates, a victorious commander of the Northern Army at Saratoga 1777. Unfortunately, he also suffered one of the worst defeats to the British at Camden in 1780. In 1941, Gates Street changed to Park, because the street led directly to Sidney Park, now Finley Park. What you might not know, is that in the 1930’s, Gates Street was considered one of Columbia’s red-light districts.
Pendleton Street- Named for Henry Pendleton, a Virginian who served as an aid to General Nathanael Greene in the Revolutionary War. He was also an elected Judge of the Courts of Law of South Carolina in 1776. After Charleston fell to British troops, he was captured by the British in 1782 while riding his circuit as a judge. The town of Pendleton, SC was also named after Judge Pendleton.
Pickens Street - Named after the Indian fighter, General Andrew Pickens. He fought in the Cherokee War, the Siege of Ninety-Six and the battles of Cowpens and Eutaw Springs. After the war, Pickens would act as a negotiator between the U.S. and various Indian tribes. Many of the Indians respected him as an honest man and he had great knowledge about their affairs due to both military experience and his business as a trader. Pickens, SC, located on the North Carolina/South Carolina border, is named after Colonel Andrew Pickens.
Pinckney Street- Named for Charleston native, Colonel Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution. Pinckney led a South Carolina regiment which fought in battles in South Carolina and throughout the United States. Near the end of the war, he served in both houses of the SC legislature and was a delegate to the 1790 South Constitutional Convention and was appointed Minister to France in 1796. In 1804 and 1808 he ran for President as a Federalist, but lost to Thomas Jefferson in 1804 and James Madison in 1808.
Pulaski Street- Named in honor of exiled Polish nobleman Casimir Pulaski who became a brigadier general and cavalry commander in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He is known as the “Father of the U.S. Calvary,” because he provided Americans with their first true legion on horseback. Stationed in Charleston, SC, Pulaski became one of the leading commanders in the South. He is best remembered for saving George Washington from capture or death at the Battle of Brandywine. He died in October 1779 from wounds suffered during the Battle of Savannah.
Rice Street - Named for South Carolina’s number one export crop in the eighteenth century. SC was the leading producer of rice in North America for nearly two centuries. Most of Rice Street was converted to a railroad bed in the 1860s by the Columbia, & Augusta Railroad. Only two blocks of Rice Street remain between Bull and Henderson Streets.
Main Street - Originally named for the Revolutionary War hero, Brigadier General Richard Richardson, who had moved to South Carolina from Virginia in the 1730s. Richardson led a successful mission early in the conflict to clean up Tory resistance in upstate South Carolina. Because the street had become the main business district during the first half of the 19th century, it was commonly called “Main Street” by many citizens and on Nov 8, 1892, city council made it official.
Richland Street- Was named after Richland County, which had been designated in 1785. Richland Street is one of the original street names and the Governor’s Mansion is located on the western part of this street.
Senate Street- Named for the South Carolina State Senate. Although this street was initially the primary east-west thoroughfare, that changed in the first half of the 19th Century because of the location of the Congaree Bridge/Gervais Street Bridge, located at the foot of Gervais Street.
Sumter Street - Named for Virginian, Thomas Sumter, who relocated to South Carolina and fought in the early Revolutionary war campaigns before returning to private life in 1778. After the fall of Charleston in 1780, Sumter came out of military retirement to lead a militia who became known for their fierce fighting style. This daring tenacity earned Sumter the nickname, “Carolina Gamecock”. British General Cornwallis described the Gamecock as his "greatest plague" and his impact likely contributed to Cornwallis' decision to abandon the Carolinas for Virginia.
Taylor Street – Was named for the Taylor Family, whose plantations were selected in 1786 as the main site for the city of Columbia. Thomas Taylor was appointed as one of the commissioners who planned the new city and he served as a captain and colonel in Thomas Sumter’s militia. He was also a member of the first and second Provincial Congress. He represented Richland County in both the SC House of Representatives and Senate, was a justice of the peace and county court judge.
Washington Street – This original street was named after future president George Washington who was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. What you might not know, is that in the early 1900’s Washington Street was once paved with wooden blocks to ensure mud free passage for both wagons and pedestrians. Unfortunately, the wood buckled and floated away during heavy rains. The blocks were replaced with asphalt paving in 1925.
Wayne Street - Was named for Pennsylvanian Anthony Wayne, an officer in the Continental Army who rose to the rank of Major General during the Revolutionary War. Toward the end of the war, Wayne led troops in South Carolina and Georgia to help drive out the remaining British forces. Later, General Wayne was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army by President Washington to subdue the Indians in the northwest territory.
Whaley Street – Originally named Indigo Street for South Carolina’s second most important export crop during the eighteenth century. On July 10, 1907 it was renamed in honor of W. B. Smith Whaley who designed and built four textile mills in Columbia: Richland, Granby, Olympia, and Capital City. Whaley’s mills helped establish Columbia as one of the South’s leaders in textile manufacturing.
Williams Street - was named for Maryland native Otho Williams who commanded a Maryland regiment of the Continental Army through much of the southern campaign. Williams led his troops in several engagements against the British including Camden and Eutaw Springs in South Carolina. What you might not know is that Williams strongly recommended against Brig. Gen. Horatio Gates taking the army directly south to challenge the British, but fought dutifully in the terrible defeat at the Battle of Camden after Gates ignored him.
From the founding of Columbia and the 1786 plan of the city, the streets of Columbia have been progressing and advancing throughout its history. The original streets were dirt and mud and in 1908, 16 blocks of Main Street were paved. When summer came and the heat intensified the carriages and carts caused deep impressions in the roads due the material used. After years of exploration and experimentation of different types of materials used for surfacing, the city officials finally discovered the best and safest asphalt material to pave the city streets in 1925.
After reading and learning about the history of the Columbia’s street names, your drive through the center of the capitol city may be a little different. We hope you enjoyed learning about Columbia’s streets name and if you are interested in learning more the history of Columbia and the naming the of the city’s streets, visit our Walker Local and Family History Center or our Digital Collection at https://localhistory.richlandlibrary.com/digital/