2018-08-23 / On Second Thought

Research Roundtable: Picturing a Gift Worth 16,000 Words

Submitted by John Sherrer, Historic Columbia, director of cultural resources


A Small Sampling of a Special Gift to Historic Columbia. Historic Columbia Collection, HCF 2019.12.1-17 A Small Sampling of a Special Gift to Historic Columbia. Historic Columbia Collection, HCF 2019.12.1-17 Places of worship, education, government, and business. Streetscapes and glimpses of natural beauty. Buildings long gone and foreign; familiar landmarks that define our cityscape to this day. This is what met my eyes as I pored over seventeen stereoscope slides Historic Columbia recently acquired from a generous donor who discovered them in a trunk stored in a barn. I knew some of the cards well. We already had three examples in our museum collection. From previous research, I knew a few others were held by South Caroliniana Library at USC.

All were representative of the work of William Augustus Reckling, a Columbia photographer who produced them around 1874. In all, Reckling offered 78 stereoscope cards that he marketed under the title of “Popular Series of Southern Views.” With few exceptions all images depicted Columbia as it appeared during the middle of Reconstruction. These tantalizing perspectives of many Richardson (Main) Street buildings and other downtown destinations shows how far the capital city had physically come since the end of the Civil War nine short years earlier.

Among the images included in the recent gift to Historic Columbia are cards showing impressive structures lining Main Street. Of them only the Central Bank (today’s Sylvan’s Building) still stands today; all other five impressive structures were destroyed decades ago for the construction of more modern buildings. Other cards include Trinity Church (today’s Trinity Cathedral) and the South Carolina State House, simply labeled the “state capitol,” and the Baptist Church (today’s First Baptist Church). Three of the cards feature Ebenezer, succinctly referred to as “the Lutheran Church,” but they involve only two unique depictions, as one shows the church’s exterior while there are two copies of its mate, which is of the church’s interior.

Combined with Camille Drie highly popular Birds Eye Map of the City of Columbia, published by in 1872, Reckling’s “Southern Views” grant contemporary audiences an unparalleled way of knowing what some of South Carolina’s capital city looked like more than 140 years ago. When placed in a stereoscope viewer, each card provided a fascinating, three-dimensional world into which its user could step. It is a journey that I invite you to take Tuesday, August 28, where I will spotlight this meaningful gift from the past during Historic Columbia’s Research Roundtable.

Research Roundtable is a new monthly program where Historic Columbia’s team will share their latest research findings and initiatives. This Research Roundtable installment will take place from noon–1 p.m. Tuesday, August 28 at the Seibels House, located at 1601 Richland Street. Space is limited, and registration is required. This event is free for members and $5 for non-members. For more information and to register, visit Historic- Columbia.org, call 803- 252-1770 ext. 23 or email reservations@historiccolumbia.org. Participants are welcome to bring their lunch.

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