On the fringe of downtown Columbia, the University of South Carolina’s Horseshoe sits in shaded reverence.
The historic focal point of campus has withstood a Civil War attack, hosted visits by presidents and the Pope, and been the site of hundreds of weddings, picnics and ESPN’s “College GameDay.”
Visitors can learn about much of this history during free Horseshoe Tours offered by the South Caroliniana Library. University archivist Elizabeth Cassidy West leads the monthly hourlong tours around the historic campus, sharing tales of significant events and student life that occurred on the Horseshoe.
There’s a tour on Thursday, July 13, with others scheduled monthly through December.
“It’s a lovely area,” West says. “A lot of things happened there. The tour gives people a sense of what they’re walking on and around.”
West began the tours as part of a class, but expanded them to include the community and alumni. She wants people “to understand that history is not a dull subject you suffer through in class.”
USC’s original campus building, Rutledge, has set near the top of the Horseshoe since 1805, across from DeSaussure, built in 1809, and near what is now the President’s House, built in 1810.
If the buildings and trees could talk, they could share two centuries’ worth of tales. But since they can’t, West, co-author of “On the Horseshoe: A Guide to the Historic Campus of the University Carolina,” tells those stories for them.
Here are three examples from the book that may be shared on the tour:
Students being students
Discipline in the 19th century was a constant issue. The students broke rules by drinking, gambling and horse racing and played numerous pranks. They broke so many glass windows that the college levied a glass tax that was paid along with tuition at the beginning of each semester.
Rutledge College originally had wooden steps, and the students often stole the steps and then claimed they didn’t have to go to classes there because they couldn’t get into the building. Other pranks included painting the president’s horse green and turkey-stealing, in which they would steal turkeys from the yards of Columbia residents, pluck them, and return them alive but featherless.
Building the wall
The Horseshoe Wall was constructed in 1835 and 1836 – not to keep people out, but to try to keep students in.
They had a habit of sneaking off campus to visit Columbia’s taverns, which was against the rules. The brick wall was originally around 7 feet high and enclosed the campus on Sumter, Pendleton, Bull, and Greene streets. There was one opening in the middle of the Sumter Street side, but the students just climbed the wall to continue their nocturnal pursuits.
The wall did help save the campus in February 1865 by keeping the flames out during the burning of Columbia. It was also the site of the 1902 Carolina-Clemson Riot.
It looks very different today with lowered sections and openings for driveways.
The South Caroliniana Library was constructed in 1840, making it the oldest separate academic library building in the United States.
College libraries previously had been housed in multipurpose buildings. The building was used as the campus library for 100 years and was converted into a special collections library focusing on South Carolina history and culture after a new main library was completed in 1940.
The only official grave on campus – that of President J. Rion McKissick – is in front of the library. He was one of the most popular presidents in USC history. When he died suddenly in 1944, the students petitioned the Board of Trustees to allow him to be buried on campus.
Lezlie Patterson, Special to Go Columbia
If you go
USC Horseshoe tours
WHEN: Noon-1 p.m. Thursday, July 13. Additional tour set for Thursday, Aug. 10.
WHERE: Meet on the Horseshoe at South Caroliniana Library, 910 Sumter St.