A Brief History of Wales Garden

What is today the Wales Garden neighborhood was part of the Stark plantation until after the Civil War. Today the boundaries of the Wales Garden neighborhood community are Saluda Avenue, Wheat Street, Barnwell Street, Myrtle Court and Wateree Avenue, Enoree Avenue, the east side of Pickens Street, Heyward Street, Waccamaw Avenue and Congaree Avenue.

Approximately 80 acres of this property were deeded to the City Development Company (CDC) in June 1912. The board of the CDC included prominent citizens, such as Edwin Wales Robertson, who gave his name to the development. 

To plan the development of the area, the CDC contacted the Olmsted Brothers, successors of Frederic Law Olmsted, famous for planning Central Park in New York. One issue was the nearby Rocky Branch, contaminated and “in the hot weather very bad smelling”. In heavy rains, the area was subject to severe flooding. The construction of culverts solved the problem for Wales Garden. Interestingly, it also allowed Five Points , an area that had been “virtually a swamp” to become Columbia’s first real shopping center. 

Conveniently, Edwin Wales Robertson was president of the Columbia Electric Street Railway, Light & Power Company; railway tracks were laid into Wales Garden in 1915, extending up Saluda Avenue as far as Heyward Street. Trolley service remained a useful mode of transportation in Columbia until 1936 when streetcars were replaced by buses.

The CDC wished to maintain the character of the subdivision as they had intended it. For this purpose, the deeds had restrictions or covenants, such as no apartment house, no front fences, copings, retaining walls, or billboards, etc.

The first two lots were sold on December 1915. Wales Garden quickly became a popular area, and there was what a long time resident called a “siege of people who wanted to build” in the area. The number of households jumped from 75 in 1930 to 234 in 1950. Nearly three quarters of the residents were engaged in white-collar activities, including salespersons, probably brought on by the growth of Five Points. 

The key feature of development in the subdivision during the fifties and sixties was not new construction, but rather the removal of buildings. In the aftermath of the development of the Five Points commercial area, there was some concern for the threat of commercial encroachment. 

This concern was, and still is, more focused on the north end of Wales Garden because of both its physical separation from the main area of the neighborhood and its proximity to Five Points. The northern end is distinguished by a dominance of multi-unit apartments. Of these, the duplexes along Saluda Avenue seem most vulnerable to Five Points development. Three of these duplexes were razed in 1961 and 1962.

During the fifties and sixties, the expansion of the University of South Carolina and the end of World War II brought a new type of resident to the area: the older university student. As was common across the country in the post war years, many students, now veterans, chose not to return to dormitory life. From the early fifties and on, an increasing number of students took residence in Wales Garden. This begun a trend that continues today: popularity of Wales Garden among students. The clientele of the neighborhood remained, even in light of the influx of students, essentially middle class and white collar oriented. 

The decade of the 1970s saw Wales Garden continue to expand its role as a support community for the university. Furthermore, the dichotomous character of the Wales Garden area remained. Enrollment at USC gained from 14,600 students in 1968 to 22,755 in 1974; faculty members increased to 1200. The number of students living in rental housing amounted to some 13% of the total number of residents in the subdivision in 1971. The percentage of faculty residing in the area rose to slightly over 5% on the same year.

Previous trends in Wales Garden continued into the early 1980s. The percentage of university professors living in the area rose to around 6% in 1988. The number of university employees and students jumped to over one fifth of Wales Garden residents. 

Today Wales Garden remains an attractive, stable residential community. The large number of joggers and bikers who enjoy Wales Garden each day can attest to the appeal of this neighborhood’s large well kept houses and grounds. The area’s close proximity to the University of South Carolina, the state capitol, and Fort Jackson, the largest Army training base in the US, add to its appeal. The availability of good schools, public and private, and access to shopping in Five Points, enhance the viability of this early twentieth century neighborhood. Perhaps house owner Professor William Price Fox, writer in residence at USC, best summarizes the attractiveness of Wales Garden for today’s resident. Fox claims he moved to Wales Garden in 1977 for the “big trees and dead end streets.” 

Source: The Physical Development of Columbia 1786 1941
Nancy C. Fox – Published by the Central Midlands Regional Planning Council