The Congaree people were the first known inhabitants of what is now Columbia. In 1540, Hernando de Soto was the first European to come to Columbia. However, the city was not settled until many years later, when the South Carolina General Assembly created the city in 1786. The area was selected as the state’s capital, although some legislators originally wanted to call the city Washington. Columbia was one of the first planned cities in the nation.
The State Legislature first met in Columbia at the end of the 18th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, Columbia was incorporated as a village before achieving city status in 1854.
When first designed, Columbia was divided into 400 blocks across a 2-mile square. Each block was further divided into half-acre plots and sold. There were rules put in place for the houses that were to be built on these plots of land. During the beginning of the 19th century, the city began to grow, with its population closing in on 1,000 residents.
It was also during the beginning of the 19th century that the University of South Carolina was founded, to provide Upcountry and Lowcountry South Carolinians with educational opportunities without having to leave the country.
It was around 1816 when the population grew to over 1,000, and there were about 250 homes in the town. As the 19th century progressed, Columbia received its city charter, a police force, and a railroad, which contributed to further population growth. Around the mid-1850s, the city’s economy revolved around the cotton industry and because of that, thousands of slaves lived in Columbia.
During the Civil War, much of the city was destroyed by fire. In 1865, the city began to rebuild and experienced a construction boom. The city continued to grow.
During the 20th century, Columbia was taking on a role as a hub for textile manufacturing. Six mills employed thousands of workers in the area. In the early 20th century, paved roads were constructed for the first time on Main Street, and there was another construction boom that included the development of a bank, hotels, and a shopping center. This trend only continued through the 1930s when the city had over 800 retail establishments. It was also during the early 1900s when Camp Jackson was established, which later became Fort Jackson.
During the second half of the 20th century, the city took on historic preservation projects to restore and renovate historic buildings which still stand today. Revitalization continued through the 1990s and 2000s, particularly in the downtown area. New additions include shopping centers, a children’s museum, an arena, art galleries, shops, restaurants and more, as well as a very diverse economy based on government, healthcare, and finance. Columbia is also home to major companies including Michelin, SCANA, Honeywell and Westinghouse Electric.