Why we’re proud to call Columbia home

June 25, 2014 

Azaleas in bloom on the University of South Carolina campus in springtime.

TIM DOMINICK — Tim Dominick/tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

We’re education focused. The University of South Carolina’s gracious Horseshoe anchors a higher education community that include two historically black campuses, Benedict College and Allen University, a private women’s college, Columbia College, and a host of smaller learning environments, including the Columbia campus of Erskine Seminary and Midlands Technical College.

Nature shows off in April. Our beautiful spring gardens aren’t hidden away behind private walls and gates, either. On display for all to enjoy are fragrant magnolias, hot-pink azaleas and daffodils, bobbing in the freshening breeze. For more exotic flora and unconventional garden art, visit the botanical gardens at Riverbanks Zoo – and breathe deep.

And speaking of nature... We are home to the awe-inspring Congaree National Park, which has the largest remnant of old-growth floodplain forest in the United States.

Spectacular skies. Bomb Island, also known as Doolittle and Lunch Island, is home to one of the largest purple martin sanctuaries in the world. The birds roost there from spring to fall. Prime viewing times are dawn and dusk. Many boaters anchor nearby to watch.

We keep the nation rolling... From the tires that go on your car to the huge industrial tires that keep construction equipment moving, South Carolina produces them all and is the nation’s largest tire exporter. Most of them are made around Columbia and the Midlands, which boasts Michelin, Continental and Bridgestone plants.

... And the checks coming. Columbia is the world’s leader in insurance technology and processing. BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina alone processes about 1 billion claims a year and cuts checks amounting to about $1 billion a day in health care payments. The Capital City also is home to the top two supplemental insurance providers, Unum’s Colonial Life and Aflac, whose group insurance headquarters is here.

We’re a military town — and proud of it. When the U.S. Army wants to turn young recruits into dedicated soldiers, more often than not it turns to Columbia’s Fort Jackson. The nation’s largest training base churns out 45,000 new soldiers every year. And the military’s influence can be seen throughout the city, from families streaming in weekly for graduation ceremonies to soldiers in fatigues dining in local restaurants. Fort Jackson, along with nearby McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover and Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, contribute billions in economic impact each year in the Midlands.

A sense of history. Take a walk down Columbia’s Main Street to learn about the civil rights history of the 1960s, when hundreds of black students protested segregation at lunch counters and in other public places. There are now seven historic markers on Main Street and two at other locations that commemorate the struggle and remind people how ordinary citizens can institute great change simply by making their voices heard.

Distinctive schools. Among public school districts, some of the best in the state are here (Lexington 1, Lexington-Richland 5), along with award-winning magnet programs (Richland 2) and the unique Challenger Learning Center (Richland 1), named for the late astronaut and S.C. native Ron McNair. And there are distinctive private options, among them Heathwood Hall Episcopal School (tops for environmental education progams) and Hammond School. Charter schools, such as Provost Academy, also are emerging as options.

Beauty in our buildings. Downtown Columbia claims the largest collection of mid-century modern architecture in the state. Clemson-educated architects came here after World War II, imprinting the city with high-rise buildings that, in many cases, have remained unaltered. Since the 1950s are gaining in respect and nostalgia, some are suggesting the city needs to find a way to showcase its retro skyline. You dig?

THE band. Music fans remain loyal to Hootie & the Blowfish, a college band that hit it big in the 1980s and ‘90s. That’s Darius Rucker, who’s gone country; Jim “Soni” Sonefeld, who’s gone Christian; Mark Bryan, who’s invested in radio; and Dean Felber, in wine. The band has a ceremonial street sign in Five Points, their original stomping grounds.

We endure. The S.C. State House is a testament to the power of the human imagination. The various buildings that housed the legislature between 1790 and today survived fire, deterioriation, a changing cast of architects and Civil War. The building that now stands bears the marks of shelling by Union Gen. William T. Sherman but was finally completed in 1903 and underwent extensive renovation in the mid-1990s.

We’re No. 1. Bleacher Report named South Carolina as the top state for college football, noting USC and Clemson are “regularly among the top teams in the country.” Don’t we know it.

Carolyn Click, Dawn Hinshaw, Kristy Eppley Rupon

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