Spartanburg County

1785 –

(811 sq. miles; 2020 pop. 326,205). Spartanburg County is located in the northwestern section of South Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area was originally occupied by the Cherokees, who because of the region’s abundant wildlife, used it as a hunting ground. Probably the first Europeans to pass through were the Spanish. In 1934 a stone that is believed to have been left by the Spanish explorer Juan Pardo in 1567 was unearthed in a field. After the founding of Charleston in 1670, the land that became Spartanburg County remained outside the permissible area of British settlement for almost another century. The signing of a treaty with the Cherokees in 1755 made land grants available to British settlers, and the subsequent defeat of the Cherokees in 1761 made settlement more secure. At about the same time Scots-Irish settlers from Pennsylvania entered the region, settling along the bottomlands of the Tyger, Enoree, and Pacolet Rivers. Neglected by colonial authorities in Charleston and without an organized government of their own, these early settlers endured sporadic Indian attacks and unrestrained lawlessness.

During the Revolutionary War many settlers remained loyal to Britain. They were the recipients of royal land grants and lacked the grievances of coastal planters and merchants. Fighting in the area resembled a civil war between patriots and Loyalists, with each side burning the farms of the other. Members of the Spartan Regiment, organized by Colonel John Thomas, were prominent fighters for the cause of independence. As fighting in the state moved into the backcountry in 1780, the second Battle of Cedar Spring and the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill instilled new life into the patriot cause at a critical time. Still more important was the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781, where American forces defeated an army of British regulars and altered the course of the war in the South.

In 1785 Spartanburg was one of six counties established in the South Carolina interior by the General Assembly. Its name was likely taken from the famed Spartan Regiment. Thomas Williamson, a local resident, donated two acres of land in the middle of the county for the site of Spartanburg’s first courthouse and jail. Spartanburg was designated a district in 1800 and remained so until the state constitution of 1868 changed all districts into counties. A final change came in 1897, when Spartanburg County lost its northeastern corner to the newly created Cherokee County.

Early settlers were mostly farmers with small landholdings who engaged in subsistence agriculture. They raised grains and vegetables. Hogs were the principal livestock and source of meat. Iron making was one of the earliest industrial efforts. The largest ironworks was probably the Wofford/Berwick Iron Works located at present-day Glendale on Lawson’s Fork Creek. The area became part of what later was dubbed the “Old Iron District.”

During the first half of the nineteenth century, short-staple cotton dominated the county’s agricultural life. Although there were some large plantations, most of the cotton producers were small farmers with few or no slaves. The number of slaves rose as the century progressed, however, and by 1850 almost one-third of the county population was African American. During the same half-century the county’s mild summers attracted lowcountry visitors to hotels at Limestone Springs and Glenn Springs. Access to the county was made easier in 1859 with the completion of the Spartanburg and Union Railroad. The antebellum years also saw educational opportunities grow and diversify. In 1849 the Cedar Spring School for the Deaf was founded, with instruction for the blind added in 1855. Higher education for men arrived with the opening of Wofford College in 1854. The Reidville Male and Female High Schools were established in 1857 and 1859, respectively.

No major battles were fought in Spartanburg District during the Civil War, but many of its citizens fought and died in the conflict. In the aftermath of the war, cotton farming and the textile industry came to dominate the economy. In the 1830s Dr. James Bivings had established the Bivingsville Cotton Factory on Lawson’s Fork Creek. D. E. Converse acquired controlling interest in the Bivingsville factory in 1870 and later changed the name of the community to Glendale. Between 1870 and 1900 large mills were built throughout the county, making Spartanburg an important textile center in the state and the nation. Growth in manufacturing was accompanied by a rapid increase in population. In the midst of this expansion, some county leaders lamented the lack of higher education opportunities for women and founded Converse College in 1889.

During World War I, Spartanburg County benefited from the location of an infantry training center at Camp Wadsworth. Following the war, cotton declined as a major crop because of changing market demands, land exhaustion, and the boll weevil. In time peaches replaced cotton as the county’s major cash crop. The textile industry also entered a slump in the 1920s, which was exacerbated by the Great Depression in the 1930s. World War II gave the county another army training base, Camp Croft, and rejuvenated the textile industry. Unfortunately, the boom was not to last, and textile production in Spartanburg experienced a steady decline throughout the remainder of the century. The demise in textiles was offset in part by industrial diversification, beginning with the arrival of the Kohler Company in 1957 and followed by the Milliken Research Center in 1958 and W. R. Grace and Company in 1963. The arrival of several German and Swiss industries soon gave Spartanburg a significant international community.

Expansion was also aided by further educational advances. Three new institutions were founded in the twentieth century: Spartanburg Methodist College in 1911, Spartanburg Technical College in 1963, and the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg in 1967 (which became USC–Upstate in 2004). Cultural and intellectual life revolved around an active Artists’ Guild, the Spartanburg Music Foundation, and a newly organized Arts Center. The Spartanburg County Historical Association was founded in 1958 and established the Regional Museum of Spartanburg County in 1961. The founding of the Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg in 1994 and the Hub City Writers Project in 1995 assured that cultural activity kept pace with economic development.

Foster, Vernon, ed. Spartanburg: Facts, Reminiscences, Folklore. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1998.

Landrum, John B. O. History of Spartanburg County, South Carolina. 1900. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1977.

Racine, Philip N. Seeing Spartanburg: A History in Images. Spartanburg, S.C.: Hub City Writers Project, 1999.

South Carolina. Writers’ Program. A History of Spartanburg County. 1940. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1976.

Willis, Jeffrey R. Spartanburg, South Carolina. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 1999.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Spartanburg County
  • Coverage 1785 –
  • Author
  • Keywords northwestern section of South Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Spartan Regiment, Battle of Cowpens, one of six counties established in the South Carolina interior by the General Assembly, largest ironworks was probably the Wofford/Berwick Iron Works, Spartanburg and Union Railroad, Bivingsville Cotton Factory, Kohler Company, Spartanburg Methodist College in 1911, Spartanburg Technical College in 1963, and the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg in 1967
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 18, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 24, 2022
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