Historic Structures

Ainsley Hall - Robert Mills House, Columbia South Carolina

Date added: October 21, 2015 Categories: South Carolina House Mansion School

The mansion, on the south side of Blanding Street between Pickens and Henderson Streets, was one of Columbia's few early buildings to escape the ravages of the Civil War.

Robert Mills had returned to South Carolina at the invitation of the state government, and received appointment as "Engineer and Architect of the State and a commissioned seat in the Board of Commissioners of Public Works," and soon undertook the building of the important Lunatic Asylum in Columbia, one of the pioneer asylums in the United States. It was while he was in Columbia that his close friend;, Ainsley Hall, commissioned him to design this new house. Hall emigrated from England about 1800, settled in Columbia, and set himself up as a merchant. He prospered, and by the close of the War of 1812 had created a sizable fortune. He apparently made good use of it, for his tombstone is inscribed in part, "Enterprise and perseverence gave him success in trade and combined with enlightened views and a liberal spirit, enabled him to contribute largely to the prosperity of the Town of Columbia while an enlarged but discriminating benevolence rendered the ample fortune his industry had accumulated, the unceasing Source of Relief to the Distressed. ..."

Mills' house is a stylish and substantial brick house of two stories on an elevated basement. The front and rear facades, although quite different are both typical of Mills' work. In front is a handsome, tetrastyle, Ionic portico, raised on a brick arcade. A striking, seven-bay, arcaded porch extends across the rear, referred to in the carpentry agreement as the "South Colonnade." The center bay is slightly wider and emphasizes an unusual entry in the form of a concave recess with two doors separated by a niche in between. A concave ribbed arch head creates a partial dome effect. The windows are also typical of Mills. In front they are set in recessed brick arches on the first floor; while the rear has the popular three-part "Venetian" windows of the period on both floors, enriched with pilaster trim on the first. A straight-forward plan has four rooms to a floor with stylish curved ends to two rooms and the main hall.

The first item of expense for the house is dated April 5, 1823; final payment to the contractors was made between April and June in 1825.

In addition to the main house, a number of outbuildings are mentioned in the carpentry contract-Kitchen, Wood House, Privy, Smoke House, and Carriage House-and also architect's estimates for a frame Gardener's House and for both brick and wooden fencing.

Hall did not live to occupy his new mansion; he, unfortunately, died in August of 1823 while on a vacation in Virginia, leaving his widow to complete its construction. She did, and in 1829 sold the house for $14,000 to the newly formed Presbyterian Seminary. The new Seminary became a Southern religious center, and new buildings were added flanking Ainsley Hall's mansion. Law Hall, to the left of Ainsley Hall Mansion, was built in 1853; and Simons Hall, on the right of Ainsley Hall Mansion, was built in 1854. The architect of neither is known, and both were demolished in 1960. Today, although the outbuildings are gone, the house is substantially in its original state. Remarkably few alterations have been made through the years.

Robert Mills also built Columbia Lunatic Asylum - now known and the Mills Building.