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University Libraries - South Caroliniana 175th Anniversary

One of South Carolina's Greatest Cultural Assets

For 175 years, the South Caroliniana Library has stood silent witness to the fortunes and reversals of the state of South Carolina. In the nineteenth century, it housed one of the finest academic libraries in America and withstood the ravages of occupying troops. In the years following the Civil War, it benefited from the stewardship of Richard Greener, one of our nation’s greatest African American leaders.

In 1940, the Library became a repository dedicated to acquiring, preserving and making available a growing collection of historic materials. These treasures are as unique and rare as the building itself and have drawn researchers from far and near to engage in the study of the state, past and present.

The Library holds one of the largest Southern manuscript collections in the United States and one of the most important American history collections. South Carolina’s personal, cultural, and artistic treasures collected here help tell the story of America’s history to current and future generations.

A National Treasure


In 1838, South Carolina College President Robert W. Barnwell recommended the construction of a dedicated academic library.

The college’s board of trustees petitioned the state legislature for $15,000 to construct what became the nation’s first freestanding college library, opening in 1840.

The Influence of Robert Mills

Circa 1900

Robert Mills, the first federal architect, was enlisted to design the South Carolina College library. His original drawings were elaborate, with a $64,000 price tag to match. Mills’ diary indicates he was involved in scaling back the design to stay closer to budget at a final cost of nearly $24,000.

The iconic structure is distinguished by the four white columns and the Reading Room, which is a replica of the room that housed Thomas Jefferson’s personal library in the second Library of Congress.

The most significant renovation of the library added two wings designed by J. Carroll Johnson in 1927. 

The building served as the main university library for 100 years, and today it houses the South Caroliniana Library. Recognized as the most architecturally distinctive building on the Horseshoe, it is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To donate to the Renovation Fund:

Published in 2015.