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The improvement of Columbia, South Carolina. Report to the civic league, Columbia, South Carolina online

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The Improvement of

Columbia

South Carolina



Report to The Civic League, Columbia
South Carolina, by Kelsey & Guild,
Landscape Architects, Boston, Mass.













COMPLIMENTS OF
HARLAN P. KELSEY



The Improvement of Columbia
South Carolina

REPORT TO THE CIVIC LEAGUE, COLUMBIA
SOUTH CAROLINA, BY KELSEY &f GUILD
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS, BOSTON, MASS.



CONTENTS

PART I. THE DISCUSSION OF A PLAN AND OF VARIOUS DETAILS FOR
THE IMPROVEMENT OF COLUMBIA

PAGH

i. Need o a Comprehensive Plan 7

2. What a Plan Should Be 15

3. A Civic Center or Group Plan 16

4. The Topography of Columbia and Vicinity, and its Chief Landscape

Features as Related to Improvements 20

5. The Acquirement of Land for Park Purposes; Methods of Paying

Therefore and for Improvements 24

6. Composition and Administration of Improvement Commissions ... 26

7. Streets and Street Trees 28

8. Overhead Wires 35

9 Columbia's City Blocks 36

10. A Park System ; Including Squares and Playgrounds, Historic,

Scenic and Other Reservations, and Their Proper Uses ... 40

11. Southern Conditions 43

[2. The General Improvement of Columbia 47

PART II. THE PLAN OUTLINED

i. Suggestions for the Improvement of Boulevards and Streets ... 53

2. The Park System ; Approximate Cost 54

3. Historic, Scenic and Other Reservations 64

4. The Street Trees of Columbia, and Recommended Street Plans . . 70

PART III. TABLES

i. City Park Statistics 83

2. List of Native Trees Suitable for Street Purposes in Columbia,

with Descriptions 85

3. List of Native Trees Observed in and Around Columbia 87












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By Tr»n**>r

SEP : 5 1919



The Improvement of Columbia
South Carolina



To the Officers and Members of The Civic League,
Columbia, South Carolina.

We beg to submit the following report on "The Improvement
of the City of Columbia," prepared at the request of your League.
We did not deem it desirable, at this time, to place too much em-
phasis upon detail, because, in doing so, the main objects sought
might easily be lost sight of. Such detail can best be determined
only after a general scheme of city improvement is finally and
permanently adopted.

We have made a close personal study of the territory in and
around Columbia during the year, and have carefully examined all
available data referring to the city since its foundation.

This report may therefore be considered preliminary, and we
trust the general scheme outlined may be found worthy of adoption.
In any event, we recommend that a Joint Improvement Commission
be created by your city and state, with full power to adopt and
carry out a systematic, well-conceived scheme of improvement that
would not be subject to the passing whims or fancies of even well-
intentioned individuals who might be in temporary municipal or
state authority.

Only in this way can a plan necessarily involving many years
of time for completion be properly initiated and carried out, and
the best permanent results secured. With such a Commission,
working on broad lines and with far-seeing eyes, the greater Colum-
bia will be made into a dignified capital city, worthy of such a
state as South Carolina, and a center which will reflect the best
life and character of its people.

The consideration of a comprehensive plan for the development
and improvement of any city should be based, to an extent, on
the experience of those cities of the world which have advanced
farthest in all that goes to make urban life pleasant and profitable;
for, in a general way, the principles of growth in all cities are simi-
lar, and the lessons of success and failure already recorded else-



6 THE IMPROVEMENT OF COLUMBIA, S. C.

where may be applied with great profit, and be the means of
avoiding, at the outset, expensive mistakes that later may be im-
possible of remedy. However, the life and requirements of the
southern city are, in many ways, so radically different from those of
the city of colder zones, that while the underlying principles of
municipal development and progress may be the same the world
over, their application in the South, and especially in regard to de-
tails, must be very different and designed to meet these special needs.

It is quite probable that this report will be more useful in its
suggestions than in the plan outlined. With study, an outsider,
viewing With unprejudiced eyes, may often be able to perceive
existing conditions that are lost sight of by those in daily contact
with their surroundings, and thus be able to suggest means for
betterment.

While certain suggestions we make may be found inexpedient,
yet, as a whole, we believe them to be logical and quite possible of
carrying out economically and successfully.

Desiring to expedite this report, we secured the services of Mr.
W. W. Ashe, a well-known botanist of Raleigh, who ably as-
sisted in making a survey of the street trees of Columbia, and in
determining the botanical nomenclature of the native trees of
Columbia and vicinity.

We acknowledge with thanks the many courtesies and much
valuable information supplied by many citizens of Columbia, and
especially the kind assistance of Miss Belle Williams and other
members of your League ; Dr. J. W. Babcock, superintendent of
the State Hospital ; Mr. Clark, secretary of the Columbia Chamber
of Commerce ; Mr. E. J. Watson, Commissioner of Agriculture,
Commerce and Immigration of the State of South Carolina; Secre-
tary of State Gantt and many other state, county and city officials.

Acknowledgement is gladly made to Mr. G. A. Parker, of
Hartford, Conn., for valuable suggestions on southern park prob-
lems so freely offered on numerous occasions.

Respectfully submitted,

Kelsey & Guild.
Boston, Mass., October 20, /ooj.




Plan Showing a Suggested System of Inner and Outer Parks and Reservations
and Connecting Roads and Driveways



The Improvement of Columbia
South Carolina



PART I. THE DISCUSSION OF A PLAN AND OF
VARIOUS DETAILS FOR THE IMPROVEMENT
OF COLUMBIA.

1. NEED OF A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN

It is quite recently that cities have awakened to the urgent
need of a systematic plan for future development along lines that
would provide for parks, playgrounds and boulevards ; for sewer,
water, lighting and transportation, and at the most reasonable cost
to their citizens.

Columbia, like Washington, had the remarkable and unusual
privilege of "choosing its own site," and the fortune to have its
plan laid out by those who wisely looked far enough into the future
to provide uniformly broad streets, wide enough for a metropolis,
and capable, under proper treatment, of giving to the entire city a
unique, park-like effect, enjoyed by no other city we recall, at least
in America. It is extremely unfortunate, however, that the plan was
so arbitrary, with apparently little, if any, consideration given to
the topography of the land. Even on a flat plane, the gridiron plan
can never be said to be entirely satisfactory, and with no diagonal
or " ring" (encircling) streets the conditions are still more unfa-
vorable, and become aggravated as the city grows.

Columbia being situated on a broad, undulating plateau, with
sudden breaks in the levels, the wide, right-angled streets often
have unsatisfactory, or almost impossible, grades (as parts of
Assembly, Taylor, Bull, Pickens, and others), or terminate alto-
gether (as Senate, Lady, Washington, Henderson, Barnwell,
Blanding and many others).

Had the engineer but provided diagonal streets, radiating from
the capitol, and taken into consideration the contour of the land, a
much better foundation would have been laid for a convenient and
beautiful capital city of large population.



8 THE IMPROVEMENT OF COLUMBIA, S. C.

Unfortunately, too, as in Washington, the tendency has ever
been to ignore the original street plan on which the city was
founded, for the seeming profit or convenience of the moment ;
and the partial obliteration of some streets, and the narrowing of
others, where entirely unnecessary, has resulted. Further, the
only park within the corporate limits — once a cool, natural forest
of magnificent specimen oaks, pines and other native trees, di-
rectly in the heart of the city, with abundant crystal springs burst-
ing from the hillside, which at one time amply supplied a popula-
tion of thirty thousand * — has disappeared, and a scarred, sun-
burned hole, of doubtful use as a railroad dump, coal chute and
ice factory, shows the sad results of indifference and lack of fore-
sight now bitterly regretted by Columbia's citizens.f

Not only this, but Columbia, with its sudden increase in wealth
and population, caused by the South's general prosperity, and the
centering here of new manufacturing industries, has long since
outgrown the two-mile-square limit of its founders, and serious
problems of street extension, sanitation, water-supply, police and
fire protection, are confronting the "greater city," and cannot
longer be ignored. With the tide of trade and manufacturing
turning south, it takes but little foresight to predict of the future
Columbia a city of vastly increased dimensions, population and
wealth.

Is it not, therefore, the veriest part of wisdom to acknowledge
present conditions, and as far as possible anticipate the needs of
the future, so that expensive mistakes may be avoided and a "city
beautiful" result, rather than a "city of chance," with sore spots
festering within and without narrowed corporate limits!

Had it not been for its original plan, establishing wide streets,
it is plain that Columbia today would be merely the ordinary Amer-
ican city of narrow, tortuous, disconnected streets, so extremely
difficult of treatment that the carrying out of an adequate city plan
would be possible only at enormous expenditure.

* South Carolina Resources.

t Sidney Park.—" Originally these lands were covered with a magnificent growth of immense
oaks, hickories and pines. . . . Natural springs issuing from a valley between the town and
river afford an excellent supply of water, which is raised 120 feet by steam power for use at the
rate of 1,000,000 gallons per day. . . . Columbia is noted for the beauty of its public and pri-
vate grounds, and for its beautiful flower gardens. Sidney Park covers twenty acres, furnishing
attractive promenades." — Smith Carolina Resources.

" The Seaboard Air Line Railroad Company instituted proceedings to condemn Sidney Park
for a railroad station in this city. The City Council made merely formal objection and the em-
paneled jury assessed its value at $30,000, which was paid to the city. . . . As soon as the
Railroad Company obtained possession they at once proceeded to convert the trees into firewood,
the shrubbery into trash, and the park into a big hole in the ground. It is now used as a place of
storage for cars, and for leased industries."— Extract from letter dated December S, 1904.




Sidney Park and Parkway
i. The destruction of Sidney Park. 2. From Seaboard Air Line fill. 3. Locomotive yards.
4. Entrance of Seaboard Air Line Railroad into Columbia. 5. Sidney Parkway. 6. Fringe oi
trees along brook.



REPORT TO THE CIVIC LEAGUE 11

What would now be the cost of widening Main street alone to
its present width had it been built up as a narrow thirty-five or
forty-foot street?

Today American cities are paying millions of dollars for widen-
ing streets and securing park areas, where thousands would have
sufficed, had reasonable foresight been used and a plan made and
adhered to that would have provided for the needs of future growth.

Harrisburg, Pa., for example, a city but little larger than
Columbia, has recently voted $1,090,000 for good streets, water,
sewer and park systems. Careful plans have been prepared by
experts in each line, all working together so that the improvements
are harmonious, and they have proceeded rapidly on these lines
with great success.

Boston * also has already spent millions of dollars for the
extension of boulevards and a park system, and the results of care-
ful planning for the future is better seen here, perhaps, than any-
where else in America.

Louisville, Detroit, Springfield, Mass., Providence, Hartford,
Seattle and many other smaller cities, are carrying out extensive
park and city improvements along carefully considered lines, while
New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Cleve-
land are considering plans involving vast expenditure and many
years' time for completion.

In studying the conditions of growth obtaining in Columbia, we
have been much impressed with the rapid development of the out-
lying suburban districts immediately adjoining the city limits. The
suddenly narrowed streets and utter lack of uniformity of plan and
administration one encounters on reaching the city's boundary
give a warning that, unless soon heeded, disastrous conditions will
result, impossible of remedy, except at a cost almost prohibitive.

The outlying districts need the fire and police protection,
paved streets, water and sewer systems, and the schools of Colum-
bia ; but far more does the city itself need the suburbs, to protect
itself against poor and imperfect sanitation, and polluted air and
water ; and to secure, before too late, available areas for park pur-
poses. Especially is it necessary to control the development of
streets, boulevards and blocks, which, unless laid out somewhat in

♦"Boston has, until very lately, grown in a most accidental and haphazard way. It has cost
the city more to undo the mistakes perpetrated through the short-sightedness o' former genera-
tions than it has to provide for its legitimate growth. It is, therefore, time for it to grow intelli-
gently, and to proceed along carefully considered lines of development. These lines have already
been laid down or are now being laid down, in several important directions, and their extension
in others is thereby made all the more desirable." — Mass. House No. 150 Report of Metropolitan
Park Commission.



12 THE IMPROVEMENT OF COLUMBIA, S. C.

accordance with the broad lines of Columbia's original plan, will
soon hedge in the city with an iron-bound network of narrow,
inconvenient, alley-like streets and roads, totally unfit to become
an integral part of any city.

From an esthetic standpoint, the conditions are even now
intolerable; the broad, shaded streets of the city usually terminat-
ing in what are little more than alleys, or at best, narrow country
roads, often lined with small negro houses, abutting the sidewalks.
As population increases, the streets become inadequate to the de-
mands of traffic, and give little leeway for underground systems of
conduits, and no room for shade trees or park strips. But, per-
haps, the most evil results come from the building up of cheap
residence and tenement districts in a continuous belt around the
present city, lessening valuations and congesting the very popula-
tion that should, at least from a sanitary standpoint, have every
chance for fresh air and breathing space.

Why should Columbia, with its wonderful opportunity of being
noted as the "City of Magnificent Streets," allow itself, through
inaction and lack of foresight, to be "built in" by sporadic growth
and the stupidity of land "improvement" companies, and awaken
too late, only to find much of the evil impossible of correction ?

The suburb of Shandon is a notable exception, broad streets
being here the rule. Some day, Columbia will appreciate the fact
more fully than at present.

Land companies, in their anxiety to use every possible inch of
land for building purposes, continually fail to realize that narrow
streets and twenty-foot lots often defeat the very objects they are
seeking. Such conditions attract the cheaper class of builders only,
and never make attractive residence centers of high land valuation.

So much of the proper future development of Columbia depends
on the actual municipal control of these suburban districts, which
are even now a physical part of the city, that we would urge such
immediate action as may be necessary to accomplish this purpose.

Practically all of the important cities of the United States have
provided, or are now providing, an adequate system of parks, the
best planned being usually connected by boulevards or parkways.

Where in a small town a central "square" is perhaps suf-
ficient, — the citizens being able to reach the country in any di-
rection within a few minutes' walk, — as the built-up area increases,
and the population becomes more dense and congested, the oppor-
tunities of the individual for outdoor recreation decrease.

Columbia is fast becoming a great industrial center, and upon



REPORT TO THE CIVIC LEAGUE 13

the health, happiness and well-being of the laboring classes must
depend no small proportion of its future prosperity. With parks
and playgrounds so accessible as to be within easy walking reach,
the vitality of every man, woman and child who labors will be in-
creased and his potentiality in every way enhanced.

Without these means of recreation and rejuvenation, physical
and moral degeneration must surely mark the city's industrial de-
velopment, with danger of our native-born laborer being forced
out and an undesirable foreign element taking his place. Mr. An-
drew Cowan, Park Commissioner of Louisville, Ky., has very hap-
pily expressed the meaning and value of parks in the following
words: "The use of public parks is to promote the well-being
and happiness of the people, to alleviate the hard conditions of
crowded humanity, to encourage outdoor recreations and intimacy
with Nature, to fill the lungs of tired workers from city factories
and shops with pure and wholesome air, whenever they will or can
afford to spend a day in shady groves, under spreading trees or on
the jeweled meadows. They are havens of sweetness and rest for
mothers and wives and sweethearts ; above all, they are for the
children, for all the people, high and low, rich and poor, without
distinction, with equal rights and privileges for every class. A city
that does not now acknowledge the necessity for public parks, as a
means for promoting the welfare and happiness of its people, and
recognize the substantial advantages that follow the making of a
city attractive and comfortable as a place of residence, is not pro-
gressing, but is already on the wane."

The average city pays too dearly for its park system, not that it
is not worth the cost, but because it might have been acquired
more cheaply had reasonable foresight and imagination and suf-
ficient faith in the future needs and growth of the city been applied by
its citizens.

Before it is realized, suburbs lose their charm and become fully
urbanized, and it is then extremely difficult, except at great cost,
to widen streets and to secure adequate open spaces for play-
grounds and parks, or to place them in the proper localities.

Even at great cost, park systems almost invariably prove to
be extremely valuable investments to the city, looking at the finan-
cial side alone. From the report of the New York Park Commis-
sioners, we find that Central Park, the first large city park in
America, and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, furnish striking ex-
amples. " In 1856, the assessed valuation of the three wards ad-
joining Central Park was $20,429,565. In 1873, it had increased



14 THE IMPROVEMENT OF COLUMBIA, S. C.

to $236,081,515, a gain in seventeen years of $215,651,950. The
natural average increase of three other wards in the city, when all
the wards had been averaged, was $53,000,000, making the earn-
ing capacity of the park for that period $183,081,515. In Brook-
lyn, in 1864, when Prospect Park, with its 515 acres of land was ac-
quired, the assessed valuation of the three neighboring wards was
$19,949,395, and at the end of three years the valuation had risen
38 per cent, or over $7,000,000 — which, by the way, was twice the
cost of the land which had been parked."

W. E. Edgerton, Superintendent of Parks of Albany, New York,
says of the Albany Parks: "The history of Albany is that the
value of the ground contiguous to the parks has not only doubled,
but quadrupled and sextupled. One piece of property was worth
$8,500, and, by the simple expenditure of $4,800 on it, the value of
that property was raised more than forty times in eight years."

In their Eleventh Annual Report, the Park Commissioners of
Boston, in referring to the Back Bay improvements, show an in-
creased valuation in eight years of $11,935,449, with a total in-
crease of revenue from taxes of $280,734.

Mr. W. H. Harmon, secretary of the Chicago Park Depart-
ment, in a letter to the secretary of the New York Park Associa-
tion, says, in reference to the effect of parks upon the value of
adjacent land: "The immediate effect was to double and quad-
ruple property."

Bulletin No. 3, Park Department, American Civic Association,
states : "In Brookline, Mass., a town of thirteen thousand inhabi-
tants, the pecuniary advantage of parks is thus spoken of by the
secretary of the Park Board in that town : ' Beacon street was
widened into a parkway at a cost of $615,000. In six years the in-
crease in assessed values of land on each side of the street, through-
out its entire length, and for an approximate distance of only five
hundred feet from the side line, is $4,330,400, with no allowance
for any increase in personal estate incident thereto. The Beacon
parkway is, therefore, paying for itself long before its most zealous
advocates thought it would, and is a striking proof that well-con-
sidered plans for large public improvements of this kind are profi-
table ventures.' "

These examples of increased valuation, and consequent increase
of revenue, following city improvements, and particularly park ex-
tension, could be multiplied indefinitely. Ruskin says: "You
may have thought that beauty was expensive. You are wrong. It
is ugliness that costs."



REPORT TO THE CIVIC LEAGUE 15



2. WHAT A PLAN SHOULD INCLUDE

A comprehensive plan for the development of a city should
consider well the tendencies of growth, and the physical features
that to an extent must in the future govern such growth.

It must reasonably anticipate the needs of the community as
indicated by the present and future business and social require-
ments, and should, as far as possible, reflect the traditions and
character of its people, while at the same time suggesting the best
in municipal advancement that may with profit be locally applied.
It should especially consider local conditions, for no two cities
are in all ways alike, and be so designed that the individuality of
a community is emphasized.

It should be consistent as a whole, its parts having proper
relation to each other both as to general design and detail, so that
improvements undertaken at any given point may, in the end, har-
moniously adapt themselves to the general scheme.

Such a plan, therefore, involves not only general considera-
tions of city growth,* but must include its main parts governing
the establishment and extension of parks, playgrounds, boulevards
and streets and the location of public buildings and institutions.

Such questions as tree planting, the paving of streets, the loca-
tion of statues, monuments and drinking fountains, the preserva-
tion of historic spots, public lighting, sidewalks, manner of indi-
cating street names, and other like matters must be treated with
more or less detail, and should tend toward cultivating in the
minds of the public a taste and desire for the most highly artistic
and appropriate in the small things that make up so large a part
of a city's attractiveness.

Finally, a plan to be of practical value must be, as carefully as
possible, gauged to the resources of a community. While city
improvements of necessity entail large original cost, no plan can
be considered a good one that requires extravagant expenditure or
imposes a greater burden for construction or maintenance than can
comfortably be sustained. And the most successful plan is one in

*" The wisdom of adopting a general scheme, which maybe modified in detail as occasion
requires, but which will be planned in its general features in advance of urban growth, executed
as rapidly as possible and in harmony with which parks will be constructed, monuments erected,
public buildings located and other structures provided, is evidenced by foreign experience. There
is continuity and harmony in the various improvements, and the work accomplished by each gen-


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