Before Fort Jackson became the largest initial entry training center for the U.S. Army, it started out as just a thickly overgrown wild piece of land with potential to become something better.
To celebrate its upcoming 100th birthday, Fort Jackson kicked off a series of centennial lectures Sept. 9 by discussing the beginnings of the military installation. Fort Jackson, back then known as Camp Jackson, started in 1917.
Guest speakers, former Columbia mayor Robert Coble and Fritz Hamer, of the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, spoke about how Columbia played a big part in the development of the Fort and some of the things that occurred during its creation.
Coble said that cities all over the country wanted to have the military site. However, in South Carolina there were five cities that were competing: Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Spartanburg and Aiken.
"The location near Columbia was great from every standpoint. Soil, climate, water, transportation
facilities were all ideal," Coble said, quoting what the Gov. Richard Manning said during the development of the camp.
The person chosen to oversee the development was quartermaster Maj. William Couper. Hamer talked about some of the challenges faced by Couper.
"There was little more than wilderness before him," he said.
"To reach the site he had to drive five miles along a dirt road to the outskirts of the city then he had to follow a much smaller path, little more than a trail to reach the camp's planned location."
Couper also faced other issues once he reached the land.
"The land that would become Camp Jackson was disbursed with swamps and creeks and
small farms. The owners of these had to be compensated in a short amount of time," said Hamer.
There are three more lectures in the centennial series scheduled during the next year. Topics
will center on training at Fort Jackson, integration and the future.
Coble said Fort Jackson still runs as a "critical economic engine" to the success of Columbia.
Edwin Robertson, one of the Columbia-area entrepreneurs to spearhead the establishment of
Camp Jackson, predicted this would happen.
"Robertson said that millions of dollars will be added to the department of wealth in Columbia
in a very few years," said Coble. "A USC study in 2004 found that the total impacted that
Fort Jackson gives to the area is $2.8 billion each year and the economic activity helps support
over 55,000 jobs and 1.9 billion in personal income."
Fort Jackson is responsible for turning about 45,000 civilians into Soldiers every year.