Parts of the Babcock Building, Columbia’s former asylum for the mentally ill, are left with minimal damage by the Saturday morning fire.

Renovations to Columbia’s historic Babcock Building, formerly a part of the South Carolina State Hospital, are moving forward despite setbacks caused by Saturday’s fire.

“We are going into this assessment with the mindset of knowing this is a setback, but we need to find ways to overcome it if at all possible,” Hugh Shytle, president of Clachan Properties, which owns the building, said in a statement.

The former mental asylum was set to become a luxury apartment complex with more than 200 apartments, according to Bob McAlister, president of the public relations firm, McAlister Communications. The estimated completion date is late 2022. With Saturday’s fire, it is uncertain if the completion date will change. 

Robin Waites, executive director of Historic Columbia, believes that Clachan Properties will be able to move forward with its renovation plans.

“It is devastating to have lost the iconic cupola but the majority of the building was not impacted by the fire,” Waites said.

The Babcock Building was constructed in three phases between 1857 and 1885. The centerpiece of the building, the cupola, was the newest part of the structure.

The BullStreet District reconstruction project is making efforts to keep historic elements of Columbia within their new construction, the Babcock Building being one of them. Hughes Development is the corporation over the reconstruction project.

 “I think that Hughes Development has done an admirable job melding new construction with the preservation and reuse of some of the key historic features of the site,” Waites said. “We have long been in conversation with Hughes and come to appreciate their vision for the property even if it did not include the retention of all the historic fabric that we felt was important.”

Waites said she was devastated to hear of the fire. She has supported the rehabilitation of the Babcock Building.

“Over the last 15 years Historic Columbia has worked with the preservation community to encourage the state of South Carolina, the owner of the building until very recently, to protect the building,” Waites said. “In addition, we have worked with the City of Columbia, the current developers of the BullStreet District, and a variety of historic preservation developers to establish workable plans to preserve and rehabilitate the structure.”

Clachan Properties knew the building’s significance to the community when they took on the project.

“Our commitment is not diminished. Our enthusiasm is solid,” Shytle said. 

The severity of damage is still unknown though Shytle is confident that his team skilled in historic preservation can make an accurate assessment. 

“The Babcock fire attacked the hopes and dreams of all of Columbia and the Midlands to preserve an important part of history… we just ask for time to assess the damage and develop a plan,” said Shytle. 

Meanwhile, Columbia police are still investigating the cause of the blaze which erupted in the early morning hours Saturday. Police questioned and cleared eight persons of interest who were seen on CCTV cameras on the property at the time of the fire.


Babcock Building renovations are a part of a bigger plan in the BullStreet District. 

Many parts of Columbia’s former asylum are left untouched by the fire. 

The street sign directs visitors to different areas in the up-and-coming BullStreet District, including the already built Segra Park, home to the Columbia Fireflies.