The State Museum (Columbia, SC)

While we missed visiting several Columbia attractions during our recent visit, I did have the opportunity to visit the State Museum, located on Gervais St.

Along with the Confederate Museum and the Cotton Mill Exchange Store, the State Museum is housed in the old Columbia Mill building near the new Vista area.

Floors once filled with the whirl of machinery and the footsteps of men, women, and children, now contain displays designed to teach the history of South Carolina, from the beginning of time.

We started our trip at the Lipscomb Art Gallery, located on the first floor. After viewing a variety of tiles and masks created by the renowned Carolinian, we went to the second floor, which covers prehistoric South Carolina, along with the varied habitats in the state. I was amused to see a picture of Looking Glass Falls, located in North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest, hanging on the wall beside posters of other SC outdoor habitats. That faux aside, we did learn a bit about the region, especially the sandhills, which we've yet to explore.

From there, we walked up a wide, open staircase to the Science and Technology displays. South Carolina and technology? Yes! Greenville native, Charles Townes, patented the laser. A former resident of South Carolina walked on the moon. South Carolinian, Kary Mullis, worked with DNA sequencing. Several individuals from SC have won Nobel prizes. Quite an eye-opener.

We also viewed displays on the modes of transportation throughout the years, including a recovered dugout canoe.

If I have an opportunity to visit the State Museum again, I'll start on the fourth floor, which, we soon discovered, covers the cultural history of South Carolina. The first three floors are informative, but the motherlode of information on the history of South Carolina, from native tribes to the time of the automobile, is what I wanted to see.

Without signage to direct us--not counting the map we received at the ticket counter, which we failed to consult--we made the mistake of starting our journey on the wrong side of the building. So we didn't get the scope of the displays until we neared the end. Still, we had a good dose of SC history in the eight permanent displays and three changing galleries located on the fourth floor. Here, I learned the original Carolinas charter issued by England's King Charles II stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean. That the original Lord Proprietors included Craven, Hyde, Monck, Albemarle, Berkeley, Carteret, and Anthony Ashley Cooper. All names of towns, counties, and rivers Carolinians are familiar with.

To view the permanent displays in order, start with the Native American exhibit. From there, move on to Exploration & Settlement, the Revolutionary War, Plantation Life, the Civil War, Rural Life, Mill Life, and Automobiles.

Before we left, we spent a fair amount of time in the Cotton Mill Exchange Gift Store, which carries a nice selection of books along with clothing and merchandise.

The State Museum is a trip worth taking while in Columbia, but make sure you have plenty of time to thoroughly view the exhibits, watch short videos, and to let the kids play on the hands-on displays. It can easily turn into a day-long event, but operating hours are from 10:00 - 5:00, Tuesdays through Saturday (Mondays as well during the summer), and 1:00 - 5:00 on Sundays. The museum is closed on major holidays.

For more information on the State Museum, go to

To learn more about the Carolinas original charter, go to


Julie said...

This sounds great. I especially like the section about technology and Nobel Prize winners.

I'd also love to go to the art museum to see the tiles and masks. Do they have basket exhibits? I am amazed at the beauty of the ones I have seen in South Carolina. I'll go check out your links now. Thanks so much!

Kimberli said...

Ouch. Another late reply. Sorry about that, Julie. My mind was on the Cali trip.

I don't recall seeing baskets. It was mainly masks and tiles, though he did have a few newspaper collages in there as well. Overall, it turned into a surprisingly interesting afternoon.

SC State Museum - Jennifer Thrailkill, Membership Manager said...

Glad to see you had such a great time at the museum! Currently, the masks in the Courtright exhibit are some of my favorite objects on display. They look as if they might open their mouths and start speaking at any moment! I wonder what they would say?

I so enjoyed reading about your experience at the museum. And, yes, you could spend all day in there and still not see everything! I hope you will visit again soon. We have quite a few exciting things coming up over the summer and early Fall.

Kimberli said...

Thanks, Jennifer. I enjoyed my visit. You have a lot of great exhibits, and housing the museum in the old mill really adds to the ambience. If we have another chance to go, we'll give ourselves more time, and start on the top floor.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell Mr. Blackwell that the '08 Blue Ridge attendee who insists nutria do live along NC's coastal plans says hello.