Historic Structures

Lunatic Asylum - Mills Building, Columbia South Carolina

Date added: October 21, 2015 Categories: South Carolina Hospital

It is known from hospital records that Robert Mils built the center section and the first portions of the flanking wings in 1825-1&27. The next portion of the wing to the east was added in 1838 end the next portion of the wing to the west, in 1842. These both were from Mills1 plan and probably were designed by him. The end portions of the flanking wings were requested to be constructed in 1848. However, since the records have been lost, it is not known whether they were built then or by whom. All evidence points to the likelihood that these were done by Samuel Sloan. It is certain that these end portions were erected prior to 1860.

The original structure was enclosed with brick wall on four sides forming exercise areas. An engraving made by E. DeVillers, a Columbia artist, about 1860 shows this wall with the center portion lower and topped by iron fence. In this wall were a wide carriage gate in the center and two small gates to the right and left of it. Around 1875 the campus was enlarged and the wall on the north and east sides removed. While the record is not positively clear, there is reason to believe that these gates were reset in the extended wall on Calhoun Street, to form a campus entrance at the end of Piekens Street. There is evidence of the joining of the old and later brickwork immediately to the west of one of the smaller gates. The extended wall, running several blocks on Calhoun Street, enclosed the larger campus on which Samuel Sloan built the Main (administration) building and the Taylor building. This main building is noted by Sloan as the "Center" building and was built in 1883. The record shows Sloan working at the hospital as early as 1853 and mentions work on the "old" (Mills) building but is not specific as to the work done.

The Asylum was among the first authorized, and was the third completed mental hospital in America built with public funds. The original appropriation for building and grounds was $30,000.00. The appropriation read, - to be erected of brick and stone, covered with slate or tile '. Investigation further reported that, '-to complete the same on a plan creditable to the State—-will cost $37,281.00 with an additional $9,219.00 to build a brick wall surrounding the lot, pipes for the water, and necessary outbuildings'. The corner stone was laid in July, 1822, and the building was ready for patients in 1827. The first patient was admitted December 12, 1828. The corner stone is no longer in evidence, and my assumption is that it was covered up with the wing and additions. As finished and furnished, the building was reported 'imposing in externals, very spacious and proof against fire it is large enough to_accommcdate 120 patients and the total cost approaches $100,000.00. At the time of construction, Mills was State Architect, 1820-1827. The South Carolina Year Book, 1908, quotes Mills as writing, 'the "building combines elegancy with permanency, economy and security from fire - the facade represents a center and two wings, with a cupola for ventilating the upper stories. The entrance of the center building is under a grand portico of six massive Greek Doric columns, four feet in diameter, elevated on an open arcade and rising the entire height of the wing buildings; the whole surmounted with a pediment '. The roof garden has been hailed as the first in America. Mills' ingenuity and humanitarianism are shown in more than one feature of the design. Beatrice St. Julien Ravenel in her excellent book 'The Architects of Charleston, quotes the Charleston Courier - February 21, 1824, as follows, ' Not the smallest appearance of a prison is manifest in the building. Security is agreeably disguised under appearances familiar to the eye in every private house. The iron bars take the similitude of sashes; the hinges and locks of the doors are all secret; so that every temptation is put out ox" the way to make an escape '. Here then is one of the first examples of the new thought in regard to those unfortunate people who were mentally ill. Care and treatment for recovery and humane therapy become more important than maximum jail-like security.

Robert Mills also built Ainsley Hall - now known and the Robert Mills House.