Atop Arsenal Hill, amidst grand homes owned by prestigious South Carolinians, stood a large edifice - a forlorn remembrance of war and its aftermath. The building was the only remains of Arsenal Military Academy established in 1842 to train officers for the state's militia. Cadets withdrew from the Academy on February 16, 1865, to fulfill their duties as soldiers in the Civil War. When they returned to Columbia, there was no school. Only the officers' quarters loomed in the distance as they made their trek into the smoldering city.
In 1868, Governor James L. Orr recognized the "commodious building which commands a picturesque view of the Broad and Saluda rivers." He declared that this structure become the home of South Carolina's Chief Executive Officers. Completed some 13 years earlier, the quarters were in dire need of restoration. The South Carolina General Assembly provided needed funds and the faculty dormitory was transformed into a residence for Governor Robert K. Scott, who moved in during 1869. Most all Governors have lived in the Mansion since and have experienced its progress through the years.
By the time Governor Benjamin R. Tillman ended his term in 1894, electric lights illuminated the rooms. By 1897, Governor John Gary Evans, the youngest Governor on record, witnessed the installation of porcelain bathtubs and toilets. In 1907, the General Assembly appropriated $500 for Governor Martin F. Ansel to redecorate the Mansion; thus, beginning an era of entertaining visitors to the state. Since then Mansion doors have opened to many interesting guests including Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gerald R. Ford, and Jimmy Carter visited the Mansion during their administrations, as well as William Howard Taft and Dwight D. Eisenhower, during their campaigns. Former President George W. Bush and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller were also entertained in the Mansion. During the 1976 American Bicentennial celebration many VIPs visited. Among them were Texas Governor John Connally, former California Governor Ronald Reagan, and William F. Buckley, Jr. From the world of entertainment some of the guests were Bob Hope, Martha Raye, Minnie Pearl, and Dizzy Gillespie. Each guest left behind the intangible - an everlasting memory that expanded the Mansion story.
Of the tangibles that grace the Mansion, many are State treasures which interpret its history. Through the generosity of a multitude of citizens, much of the furniture, artwork, and memorabilia have been donated. A repository of valuable accessions reflects the rich heritage all South Carolinians claim. The famed "Frenchman's View of North America" wallpaper by Zuber graces the walls of the Palmetto Dining Room. With the expansion of the room during renovation, more paper than available was needed. Through a donation by the Medical University of South Carolina, more wallpaper was secured and the room was completed. In the State Dining Room, a Shegogue portrait of a "Young Man with Dog and Young Girl with Flowers" looms. The portrait was a gift from the Palmetto Cabinet, the spouses of South Carolina legislators. Adding grandeur to the Large Drawing Room is the Steinway grand piano left by Mrs. James F. Byrnes. Governor Byrnes gave the piano to her as a birthday gift while in office.
Pieces made by South Carolina craftsmen emphasize the skillful talents of our citizens. The State Dining Room of the Mansion features a handsome table and chairs made by Columbia furnituremaker, the late Michael Craig. His design is also visible in the Library where his mantel and bookcases can be seen. Creations of other craftsmen can be found. An 1845 crock made by Edgefield potter T.M. Chandler and a piece of modern Catawba pottery by Cindy Allen represent more than 150 years of craftsmanship in our state.
Through its history, every facet of life has been experienced within the Mansion walls. There was jubilation as one of Governor Benjamin R. Tillman's seven children was born - the only baby to be born in the Mansion. There was sadness upon the death of Governor Joseph Harley, the only Governor to pass away in the Mansion and to lie in state there. Celebration surrounded the weddings of Governor Martin F. Ansel's daughter, two of Governor John G. Richards' daughters, and that of Governor J. Strom Thurmond.
With the arrival of each new First Family came adjustments, not only for the Family, but also modifications to the Mansion. Soon after Governor Ernest F. Hollings and his family including four children moved in, it was evident that more space was needed. In 1959, two upstairs bedrooms were transformed into a nursery and a playroom while a Family Dining Room and guest wing were added downstairs. The day after Governor Donald S. Russell's inauguration, it was discovered that structural work was direly needed. The Russells resided in only half the Mansion for the next six months.
Historically, the Governor's Mansion has undergone numerous remodeling projects. The 1999-2001 renovation was the most extensive to occur. It is a credit to the many Governors and First Ladies who have served the state and shared their valuable ideas. Under the dedicated leadership of the Governor's Mansion Commission, each decision concerning the restoration was carefully deliberated. With the tireless efforts of the Governor's Mansion Foundation, funds were solicited and citizens answered the call. South Carolinians can be proud of the multitude of citizens who have committed themselves to transforming our Governor's Residence into a home abounding with southern elegance. The Palmetto State is now graced by a true Governor's Mansion.