Living Here Guide

June 24, 2012

Columbia: The place for politics

When next you find yourself at Assembly and Gervais, park your car, get out and walk around the State House grounds.

When next you find yourself at Assembly and Gervais, park your car, get out and walk around the State House grounds.

You live here because that building is there.

And it’s here because Charleston, South Carolina’s holy city that lives to sin, and Greenville, South Carolina’s Bible-thumping economic capital that loathes sin, cannot get along.

Charleston, the state’s colonial capital, was founded in 1670, when, according to South-of-Broad Charlestonians, Adam and Eve discovered the next best thing to Eden — the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, which join to form the Atlantic Ocean. With some of their English royal friends, they invested in real estate and opened a bar, conveniently near an Anglican church.

Greenville County was founded about 100 years later by penniless Scots-Irish who had walked down the eastern side of the Appalachians, evicted the Cherokee owners, opened a mill, put the children over age 6 to work, and built a Presbyterian church, which now, as predestined, is evangelical.

The two — Charleston and Greenville — were a marriage made in Hades and, promptly, starting fighting over control of the then-colony, including where its capital should be.

Enter Columbia, founded in 1786 as a compromise between Charlestonians, who couldn’t understand the need for anything beyond Summerville, and the Upstate, which felt Charleston was too far away, too stuck up and — in a threat to godliness — too wet.

In 1790, the Legislature held its first session in Columbia, resulting in an explosion of law firms, lobbyists, state workers and ... well, the things those folks need — restaurants, hotels and hospitals.

Today, Columbia — augmented by USC, opened to allow the Charleston dandies and Upstate hillbillies to comingle, and Fort Jackson, founded before World War I and saved from closure by the Korean War — continues its vital role as South Carolina’s not-Charleston, not-Greenville.

In fact, the city finally is succeeding in uniting the two longtime rivals. Today, Charlestonians and Greenvillians regularly lambast “state government in Columbia” as if it’s some little Washington on the Congaree. In fact, state government remains controlled by the politicians they elect, who say they’re all Republicans but can’t agree on what that means.

But that’s OK. Columbia’s role always has been to be the buffer between aloof superiority and disagreeableness. We remain a little DMZ of sanity.

Read The Buzz weekly in Sunday editions of The State newspaper.

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