This is the second in a series of articles about the historic Olympia Mill Village and how residents are banding together to preserve a permanent residential presence as well as the historic significance of this 120-year-old community. Although our historic Olympia Mill Village is caught up by development that threatens our local history and detracts from the residential and architectural significance of this area, community members and the “We Are Olympia” neighborhood organization are diligently working to meet new challenges as we preserve our history.
Over the past five years we worked with Richland County officials to finalize plans to ensure the community is protected. In 2017 after numerous community meetings for public input and expert analysis, members of Olympia Mill Village helped create a joint vision developed by both the City of Columbia and Richland County’s planning departments. The resulting document, entitled The Capital City Mill District Plan, was voted upon by both county and city councils later that same year. (Search www.richlandcountysc.gov for details.)
The Capital City Mill District is defined by the original mill neighborhoods of Granby, Whaley and Olympia. The district contains five of the original six mills developed in Columbia around the turn of the 20th century and consists of Granby, Olympia, Capital City, Palmetto, and Richland Mills. The study area consisted of approximately 838 acres— 330 acres within the City of Columbia and 508 acres within unincorporated Richland County.
This vision for the Capital City Mill District was developed as a result of public input, asset mapping, and analysis by the project team. Guiding principles supported the vision and further clarified community values of historic preservation and continued residential development. This also inspired goals for the Mill District Action items, which are grouped under the four big ideas seen in the plan:
1. Implement Placemaking Policies and Projects;
2. Manage Trains, Transportation, and Traffic;
3. Unify and Connect the District;
4. Improve Environmental Stewardship.
The stated purpose is to establish a community vision for future development of the area. The plan provides recommendations and implementation strategies to achieve that vision.
However, The Capital City Mill District Plan has not always been utilized for its intended purpose. In the past three years, at least six permits were issued for new and/or remodeling projects in the Olympia area of unincorporated Richland County without regard to the Capital Mill District Plan. The most egregious of which is the 16 bedroom and 16 bath construction on two lots currently underway on Olympia Avenue. If RC Planning, Zoning, and Permitting were to consult the plan when making decisions, the Capital City Mill District Plan would serve its intended purpose.
The Olympia Mill Village, located just outside the Columbia city limits, is unique for a number of reasons. When the Olympia Mill came online in 1900, it was the largest textile mill in the world operating under one roof. It took 1,200 workers to run the mill with 12-hour shifts. A total of 340 mill houses were constructed for workers to rent and live in very close proximity to the mill which enabled them to walk to work.
The historic mill houses were built by W.B. Smith Whaley in the early 1900s. Where other mill villages had only one style of house, Olympia Mill Village had five distinct floor plans. There was a three-room style, a four-room/two-story plan, two styles of six-room houses, and fancier styled houses— built for the bosses and the overseers. The houses were painted pastel shades of yellow, grey, green, and white, and there were classic oak trees planted on every corner.
Our community has been working for many years to preserve this legacy. We appreciate the gigantic task facing Richland County Council as they work through the multitude of individual needs and requests of property owners. We know the interests of both residential and commercial developers must be considered, but we ask that council members hear the voices of locals who strive to protect our local history.
The Olympia Mill Village Museum and Community Place, established in 2018, is preserving our collective memory and the Olympia Linthead Legacy through seasonal events that build community and bring members together. One way we do this is with our “Salute to Veterans” event this past weekend, when 25 friends, old and new, gathered to be honored. The Veterans who were present shared information about their area of service and other visitors recalled service members of the past. Everyone enjoyed an assortment of different kinds of pie with coffee along with much laughter and camaraderie. In addition, the museum frequently provides meeting space for community members to gather and discuss strategies for improving opportunities, safety concerns, and for beautification projects in our neighborhood.
Providing opportunities for remembrance and celebration is part of the mission of the Olympia Mill Village Museum and Community Place, and we are looking to RC Council to help us preserve this unique and historic neighborhood.