South Carolina State Hospital- Babcock Building


This is the Babcock building at South Carolina State Hospital, formerly known as the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum, as a few remaining documents in the building testify to. Created in the style of the Kirkbride buildings, while not actually being a Kirk itself, the Babcock building’s admin is the second oldest building on the grounds, while its still active Mills building is not only on the National Historic Landmark, but has the honor of being “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,” according to the NHL.

Dome seen from a solarium during a rainstorm.

The Babcock building, the largest on campus includes several smaller outbuildings, among them a disused dining hall which now stores old medical equipment and another outbuilding that leads to the tunnel system beneath the campus. The grounds astonished me, as rarely have I been so far south as South Carolina, especially during the summer, and vegetation not only crept into every crevice and over ever conceivable patch of bare ground, the summer storm that rolled through both when I was in one of the many solariums as well as at 3am during my overnight stay left an amazing impression with me.

Building exterior, just after dawn.

Babcock was built in four different stages between 1857 and 1885 by architects George E. Walker and Samuel Sloan, however the actual construction Walker was able to see durin his lifetime only encompassed the three northern blocks of the south wing. These laid out the structure and style for the rest of the building, and between 1880 and 1882 Gustavus T. Berg built the southern wing to mirror the already-constructed northern one. Considered an exceptional example of Italian Renaissance Revival Design, the Babcock Building joined the Mills Building in the National Register on October 30, 1981.

Dome seen from an outdoor porch, back of building.

Abandoned in mid 90’s, the administration section of the building shows heavy renovation with drop ceilings and wall to wall carpeting, while the female wing is heavily vandalized by graffiti and looks like it had been used for a haunted house sometime in the last decade. The interior of the distinctive red dome has suffered at the hands of vandals and each window is either broken or covered in tagging. The building has unique roll-down metal doors that would help prevent the spread of fires in the wards, but many of these grates were either rusted in place or locked down, which made traversing the building like attempting to weave through a labyrinth.

Heavy solarium windows on an upper floor, secure ward.

Ground level windows in a day room.

Privacy glazing over bathroom windows, showing intricate security screens behind.

I spent two days and a night shooting this building several summers ago and will spend this post focusing on photos of the architectural details of the building; I found myself particularly taken with the variety of windows and doors in the building. I’ll be posting a part two in the next few days which will focus on objects left behind in the structure and giving the building more context.

Solarium windows in the convalescent wards.

Window to an interior room, allowing light from an exterior sun porch.

Ground floor window from one of the last used wards.

The quality of light, between dawn and dusk shifted dramatically and I sought documenting it as best I could. Warm brick cast red light into some rooms while the bright blue summer skies cast their own cooler tint from other angles.

Top floor. A severely damaged roof has allowed organic detritus to fill the room, paint gives way to brick and small plants grow from beneath plaster.

Windows in one of the later-renovated out buildings, currently used to store outdated medical equipment.

The doorways in the structure were as varied as the windows, clear evidence of the gradual construction and frequent additions to the building.

Doorway to the grand stairwell, from the administration building.

Part of the hospital was turned into a haunted house years back, of course only allowing visitors in the more structurally sound section.

A late-renovated main hallway in administration. The drop ceilings were clearly a later addition.

An untouched, difficult to access top floor corridor.

Lower level corridor, leading to dining area and kitchens.

The seclusion doors in particular impressed me in the Babcock building. For a structure that provided so much light and where some corridors looked so bright and cheerful (as the one above) it seemed such stark contrast that some of the corridors were pitch black, and the doors incredibly heavy and metal reinforced. Even the paint scheme was far duller for many.

Seclusion door.

View of interior secure ward.

Reinforced door leading to a porch. Even the glazing contained wire in the glass.

This was one of my last shots on my second day in the building, and without any context (I still haven’t found any) I found the concept of a “hose down room” particularly unsettling. Stay tuned for part 2, further documenting the Babcock Building.

Lower level door.

    • xenya
    • May 26th, 2011

    Wonderful post and gorgeous photos. I look forward to part 2.

    • Bob
    • July 20th, 2011

    I love these photos. I live in Columbia and have always been too worried by the “no trespassing” signs to actually venture inside. Glad you were able to get these, especially with the recent sale of the property!

  1. These are some amazing photographs of the State Hospital. It shows how something so run down and damaged can be beautiful if viewed through the right lens.

    • Susan Kelly
    • August 20th, 2011

    Where can I find part 2? I really enjoyed these pictures. I have lived in the Columbia, SC area all of my life and have always been curious about the State Hospital. Thanks for doing this!

    • PSO
    • September 27th, 2011


    • GraySiCK
    • December 22nd, 2011

    I could have given you a tour! I’ve been inside the buildings tens of times (never been arrested) including daytime, nighttime, alone, and with a friends. Nothing like going in by yourself with a big camera hoping you don’t run into any of Columbia’s friendly homeless looking for a warm shelter.

    Now they plan on tearing the buildings down. It should be a national landmark… Hopefully we can preserve this piece of history through photography

    • Carol Scott
    • February 23rd, 2012

    I am presently reseaching the Asylum for a lost ancester.
    Do you know where the Blind people stayed ?
    Do you know if they plan to restore the place?
    Great photos keep up the great work.

    Carol Scott
    Bedford County Pa. Historical Sociaty

    • Katherine Willis
    • April 28th, 2012

    I am so curious about this building, as I too am researching an aunt that was committed here in the 1950’s and died here in 1962. Her name was Annie Mitchell 1907-1962. If anyone knows where I could possibly find her records?
    Katherine Willis
    Nashville, TN

  2. The majority of the buildings look like they’re still structurally ok. If South Carolina wants to save some of its history they should open the hospital up to Ghost Hunting groups and allow teams for a fee to access the buildings. Some of northern hospitals have done this ( Waverly Hills, Central State, Danvers etc) and have been able to make incredible renovations from the cash flow.

      • KittieDanger
      • June 19th, 2012

      I think you have a great idea! Are there any stories or legends associated w/this place?

    • KittieDanger
    • June 19th, 2012

    I would love to go on a summer adventure there, is there a person or group to contact to gain access & not go to jail? LOL any info is appreciated, you can email me at:

    • Jt bradley
    • September 9th, 2012

    I would like to know how to contact the owner of the grounds and buildings. Of there is any way to contact them please let me know. Thanks

  1. March 28th, 2011

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