Over the last 35 years, the South Carolina State Museum has welcomed more than 5 million guests, including 50,000+ public school students per year from across SC, and its collection has grown to house over one million objects.
Do you know what the largest artifact at the South Carolina State Museum is, though? The building itself.
Let’s dive into a little history, shall we? (Pro tip: You can hear more fascinating behind-the-scenes stories like this one by subscribing to the museum’s podcast.)
From mill to museum
On April 15, 1894, Columbia Mills Company president Arethas Blood pulled a switch to start the motors in the new Columbia Duck Mill. This event marked the first time a textile mill anywhere in the world was operated completely by electric power.
While it grew to employ ~1,000 workers and operate 24/7 during World War II, the mill eventually closed in 1981. At that same time, a small group of historians, artists, and leaders were working on a plan to create a museum for South Carolina (read: “a State Museum.”)
The start of SCSM
The building was officially donated to the state in December 1981, and the process of transforming a textile mill into a museum began. Iconic objects started to move in, like “Finn the Megalodon,” which (who) was driven to the museum on a giant flatbed truck provided by the SC National Guard.
On SCSM’s opening day, skydivers parachuted in with a giant pair of scissors, which they handed off to Governor Carroll Campbell to cut the ribbon (which was made of duck cloth, the product originally produced at the old mill).
How to celebrate
On Saturday, Nov. 4, SCSM will open a brand new exhibition covering all the above and more, called “The Story of Us.”
The museum will also host an all-day bash full of live music and dance performances, behind-the-scenes tours, and more. The best part? Admission is free.
To start planning for the next 35 years, the museum is launching the “Reimagine the Experience” project with a goal to renew more than 75,000 sqft of exhibition space to feature more objects from the collection and highlight more South Carolina stories.