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Old Confederate Printing Plant — Columbia, South Carolina

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Old Confederate Printing Plant

This picture taken in Columbia shows the old Confederate Printing Plant in the downtown Vista area. The building, located on the corner of Huger and Gervais, was built by the Evans and Cogswell Company in 1864 for the purpose of printing Confederate currency during the Civil War.

Confederate Printing Building

Ann Helms of Spartanburg, 2011 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The plant closed the following year, but the building was repurposed in 1893 as the South Carolina Dispensary. Contributor Ann Helms tells us: “In 1893 it was expanded and re-opened as the South Carolina Dispensary, the nation’s first (and last) state-run alcohol distribution center. Known as ‘Ben Tillman’s Baby’, it was conceived by the governor from Edgefield to require all liquor sold in S.C. to be bottled and dispensed by the state and controlled by a state commission appointed by the governor. The rampant graft that followed got the attention of prohibitionists and reformers. Eventually the General Assembly allowed counties to vote whether to remain ‘wet’ or go ‘dry’, and by 1907 the Carey Cothran law basically closed the Dispensary for good. Its bottles are now collector’s items.”

The building you see in the picture has been renovated to house a supermarket. Some have criticized the renovation, but many have hailed it as a positive step in the ongoing revitalization of downtown Columbia’s Vista district.

The Old Confederate Printing Plant is listed in the National Register, which adds the following:

(Evans and Cogswell Company) The Confederate Printing Plant was originally constructed by the firm of Evans and Cogswell for the manufacture of Confederate bonds and other printing purposes. During the Civil War, the printing firm of Evans and Cogswell in Charleston became one of the producers of bonds, certificates of stock and currency for the Confederate government. In 1864, the firm constructed the large building on Gervais Street in Columbia and relocated its business there. In February of 1865, when General W. T. Sherman’s army occupied Columbia, the building’s contents were seized and the plant was burned. After the war, the building was eventually repaired.

The structure was later used as a liquor warehouse for the South Carolina Dispensary System. During the 1930s, the building was used in conjunction with the U.S. Seed Loan Program. It is a large two-story, commercial Greek Revival brick structure which spans the length of an entire city block. Originally it was a one-story structure with a gable roof. The second story was added after the building was burned in 1865. The southern façade is divided into repetitive bays by molded brick pilasters on both levels. A wide molded brick frieze separates the two stories.

Old Confederate Printing Plant Info

Address: 501 Gervais Street, Columbia, SC 29201
GPS Coordinates: 33.997899,-81.044644

Old Confederate Printing Plant Map

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3 Comments about Old Confederate Printing Plant

Paul Armstrong says:
August 17th, 2018 at 8:56 am

Here is some info I have found in researching this building:

– After the building was gutted during the burning of Columbia, it sat as ruins of brick walls until, apparently, the mid-1880s. By 1888, it had been rebuilt as a one-story cotton warehouse. It was used as a cotton warehouse until 1898. (See Drie’s 1872 Bird’s Eye View Map of Columbia and the 1884 & 1888 Sanborn Insurance Maps of Columbia. Note: The 1884 Sanborn Map does not have anything on this building which to me would be a significant omission for an insurance map if indeed the building was being used at that time.)

– From 1893 until 1898, the SC State Dispensary’s main operation was in the old Parker’s Hall/Agricultural Hall building at 1209-1211 Main Street. In an 1897 US Supreme Court ruling, the state lost rights to the building on Main Street and had to look for a new home for the state dispensary. Around March of 1898, the state purchased the building at 501-529 Gervais street from J Caldwell Robertson of the Standard Warehouse Company. The building was remodeled, and a second floor was added. By November 1898, the State Dispensary operations had moved from 1209-1211 Main Street to 501-529 Gervais Street.
References for this bullet:
1. “The Agricultural Hall. What is Said About the Decision”. The State, [Columbia, SC], 13 May 1897, p 5.
2. “The Dispensary to Have a New Home”. The State, [Columbia, SC], 5 Mar 1898, page 8.
3. “Will Build Another Story”. The State, [Columbia, SC], 16 Mar 1898, page 8.
4. “Will Sell the Drays”. The State, [Columbia, SC, 20 Nov 1898, page 12.
5. The March 1888, July 1893, and April 1898 Sanborn Insurance maps all indicate the building had one floor while the August 1904 and subsequent maps indicate a two-story building.

– When the dispensary system ended in 1907, the state rented the building out for warehouse storage until 1912 when it was sold for $125,500 to the Columbia Supply Company. (see “Large Warehouse Sold Yesterday”. The State, Columbia, SC, Nov 5, 1912, page 12.)

Will says:
July 24th, 2014 at 9:34 am

Have you tried contacting someone from the Midlands Coin Club or the South Carolina Numismatic Association? Their websites are http://www.midlandscoinclub.com and http://www.sc-na.org, respectfully. Both also have Facebook fan pages as well where they can be contacted. Hope this helps.

David Zorn says:
August 8th, 2013 at 9:28 pm

I’ve enjoyed the summary of the Old Printing Plant. I am the Adjutant for the Col. Olin M. Dantzler Camp 73 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Do you know of a person who would be willing to speak at a Camp Meeting regarding Confederate Currency??


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