# Can a table be formatted so that math mode is in some columns and text is in others by default?

I know that the best answer is to go with either a tabular or array environment depending on which is used most often and change the cell manually when the other environment is needed. This question is more out of curiosity about the capabilities of Latex in this regard more than trying to solve any issue.

If I have a table with four columns and I want only the first column to be in math mode, is there any way to build this into the table properties rather than putting each cell in column 1 in math mode?

yes use the array package then
\begin{tabular}{c >{$}c<{$}}

is a two column table with the first column in text mode and the second in math, the > and < in the preamble are used to insert tokens into each cell of the column, here \$ to start and end math.