South Carolina State Hospital, Mills Building

Also known as: South Carolina Lunatic Asylum
2100 Bull St., Columbia, South Carolina


Mills Building, Front Elevation

Photo taken by Michael Miller in August 2014


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Constructed between 1822 and 1827, this is the oldest building in the country to be used continuously as a mental institution and one of the first mental hospitals built with public funds. -- National Historic Landmark statement of significance, November 7, 1973

Designed by native South Carolina architect Robert Mills, the ca. 1827 South Carolina State Hospital Mills Building is considered to be an example of Mills at his best, distinctive in its boldness of conception, its inventive quality, its simplicity and power. It is a structure of national importance in the architectural development of America. It is also the oldest structure in the United States continuously used as a mental hospital. Early additions to the Classical Revival style building (in 1838 and 1842) are associated with Samuel Sloan, another architect of national reputation. The fact that the talents of both men are preserved in one building is unique. Mills was a great exponent of the classic tradition, particularly the Greek Revival, while Sloan was more eclectic. Sloan exhibited his talents in the State Hospital Mills Building in such a way that the structure appears to be the work of one man. Millsís architecture is characterized by his capable and unerring, but sometimes unorthodox, treatment of classic motifs. His use of the high basement and porticos, supported by arcades, his great interest in fire-resistant construction, and his frequent use of round-headed single windows and of flat-headed triple windows are exemplified in the State Hospital. The hospital was among the first authorized, and the third completed, mental hospitals in America built with public funds. The State Hospital design reflects reforms that were far ahead of its day. Fireproofing of the building was also uncommon and an area in which Mills was a leader. The State Hospital continues an existence of beauty and usefulness; an enduring monument to the dedication of the founders and to the master architect, Robert Mills. Listed in the National Register June 5, 1970; Designated a National Historic Landmark November 7, 1973. - SCDAH

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on June 5, 1970
Reference number
Areas of significance
Health/Medicine; Science; Architecture; Social History
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic function
Current functions
Museum; Hospital
Periods of significance
1800-1824; 1825-1849
Significant years
1822; 1827

Update Log 

  • October 20, 2014: Updated by Michael Miller: Added "Alternate Name" & "Description"
  • August 11, 2014: New photos from Michael Miller