Columbia was founded in 1786, replacing Charleston as the state capital. The first State House here, built in 1789, was a small wooden building just W. of this site. Construction on this State House, designed by John R. Niernsee, began in 1855; exterior walls were almost complete when work was suspended in 1863 during the Civil War. In February 1865 Union troops burned the old State House, shelled this unfinished building, and raised the United States flag over it.
Niernsee supervised postwar repairs and new work until his death in 1885. His partner J. Crawford Nielson succeeded him, followed by Niernsee's son Frank. In 1901 the General Assembly hired Frank P. Milburn, but often clashed with him over workmanship and his design for the present dome, a radical departure from J.R. Niernsee's original design. He was replaced by Charles C. Wilson in 1903. A major renovation by the firm of Stevens and Wilkinson was completed in August 1998.