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Spartanburg

1789 –

(Spartanburg County; 2020 pop. 37,317). The town of Spartanburg was incorporated in 1831, its name originating from a local Revolutionary War regiment: the Spartan Rifles. Its placement was determined in 1789 by the action of Spartanburg County officials, who chose a location for a jail and courthouse on Williamson’s plantation in the center of the county. The town was built around an open rectangle of land, which became known as Morgan Square after a statue of Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan was erected in 1881.

During the antebellum years, the village of Spartanburg was the commercial center of an overwhelmingly agricultural district in which cotton and corn were the major crops. In 1860 the population of the village stood at about 2,000 in a district with a population of about 26,919, about one-third of whom were African American slaves. The city grew rapidly in the post–Civil War period. A bequest from the Methodist minister Benjamin Wofford led to the opening of Wofford College in 1854. Spartanburg became the terminus of the city’s first railroad, the Spartanburg and Union, in 1859. In the succeeding decades several railroads, including the Charleston and Western Carolina, the Southern, and the Piedmont and Northern, made stops in Spartanburg and gave residents rail access to all points of the compass.

The city’s commercial and financial role expanded further following a flurry of cotton mill building. The first mill in the city limits was Spartan Mills, built in 1888. By 1909 there were nine mills in or near the city of Spartanburg. The city’s growing prosperity was evident in the elegant Victorian homes lining Magnolia, Main, and Pine Streets. Morgan Square was paved and electric street lamps were added by 1890. Several new banks spurred investment, and the Home Water Supply Company opened in 1888, supplying water to fifty hydrants in the city. Other improvements included a street railway system that connected all major parts of the city and many of the outlying mill villages, as well as the construction of two skyscrapers: the Chapman Building in 1912 and the Montgomery Building in 1923. In addition, in 1889 Converse College was founded, adding a second institution of higher learning to the city. A third followed in 1911 with the founding of the Textile Industrial Institute, which later became Spartanburg Methodist College. However, such progress was marked by increasing tensions between the middle-class citizens of the city and the working-class residents of surrounding mill villages. Social and economic strains grew as mill hands came to resent interference in their lives from urban “do-gooders.” This friction led mill village voters to support politicians such as Cole Blease, who spouted racism and denounced progressive efforts to reform labor conditions and public health.

In 1917 the War Department built Camp Wadsworth on the edge of the city. The famed Twenty-seventh Division, made up mostly of white New York soldiers, trained at the camp. Despite protests from the city’s Chamber of Commerce, the Department of the Army sent the Fifteenth Negro Infantry and the 330th (African American) Labor Battalion to the camp, where they trained in spite of minor racial incidents. Between the wars, Spartanburg remained the legal, financial, and commercial center of the county but was severely impacted by the Depression of the 1930s. With native sons such as Governor Ibra Blackwood, Governor and U.S. Senator Olin D. Johnston, and U.S. Senator James F. Byrnes cast in leading roles in state and national politics, Spartanburg acquired enviable political prestige during the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1928 the first plane bringing mail to South Carolina made its stop in Spartanburg, and in 1930 the first commercial radio station in the state, WSPA, went on the air. But the decade of the 1930s was mostly one of trial. In 1934 Spartanburg was the center of one of the largest strikes in the history of the textile industry. The organized-labor movement never recovered from the disastrous attempt to unionize southern mill hands. In 1940 the War Department decided to locate another army training camp, Camp Croft, just outside the city. Its positive impact on the local economy and its role in spreading the city’s name across the nation were even greater than that of Camp Wadsworth during World War I.

After World War II, the city Chamber of Commerce, working in conjunction with state officials, endeavored to diversify the area’s industry beyond its dependence on textiles. Although the effort was considered a success, most new plants and businesses located outside the city limits. During the last half of the twentieth century, opposition to annexation severely limited the growth of the city and reduced its tax base. In 1950 county schools were divided into seven districts, with the city comprising District 7. Spartanburg peacefully integrated its schools in 1970 due to cooperation between black and white communities. However, town planners could do little to prevent the growth of suburbs and the subsequent movement of retail businesses from the city’s downtown to suburban shopping malls. The city of Spartanburg continued as the area’s primary legal and financial center at the same time that it lost its commercial prosperity. Since the late 1960s several attempts have been made to revitalize the downtown, all of which failed. Hopes rested on a 1991 decision by Spartan Food Corporation to locate its headquarters in a new skyscraper in downtown Spartanburg. The effects from the completion of that project had yet to be fully realized by the turn of the twenty-first century.

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

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Spartanburg
  • Coverage 1789 –
  • Author
  • Keywords ts name originating from a local Revolutionary War regiment: the Spartan Rifles, Morgan Square after a statue of Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan, grew rapidly in the post–Civil War period, Spartan Mills, Camp Wadsworth, first plane bringing mail to South Carolina made its stop in Spartanburg, and in 1930 the first commercial radio station in the state, WSPA, went on the air,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 6, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 24, 2022
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