Healing Waters and Everlasting Roots The Story of Glenn Springs, South Carolina
Snap. Snap. I take a few photographs of the weed infested boarded-up Presbyterian Church. Won’t be around much longer.
Snap. Snap. The building to its right, the old Cates Store, will die before the church.
Put the camera away, Bill. The grand hotel and spa that once graced this property was reduced to ashes in a 1941 fire. Goodbye, Glenn Springs Historic District.
Few of the next generation will know that George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt and members of the United States Senate once sampled your waters, that your mineral-laden waters were so famous that they were shipped all over America and parts of Europe, and that the now-gone grand hotel and resort spa, with its fancy ballroom, tennis court, tin pan alley billiard, card tables, bathing pool, shooting gallery, chess, croquet, and visits to nearby gold mines and Revolutionary War sites was a destination for so many, not just in the Southeast, but all over the country.
My dad used to say, “I’ve seen this before,” when confronted with a new place but familiar sounding history. Dad, I’ve seen this before. Here’s to you, Glenn Springs, South Carolina.
I make my way through the weeds and kudzu, stumble down a muddy bank, and take my leave of the unincorporated town.
I was so wrong. Six years later, that weed-infested boarded-up church had a wedding and the Cates Store now has a future. No, the men and the women of the Glenn Springs Preservation Society won’t be able to resurrect the grand hotel from its ashes, but as they shared with me, they plan to keep its history alive.
“If we lose the church and the store, our community will lose nearly all our connections to the past. We aren’t going to let that happen.” I looked around our meeting room. There were no signs of deep, “I’ll write that one check” pockets, just ordinary townspeople people—Barbara Eubanks, Linda Powell, Rebecca Bray, Margaret Burnette, Warren Faber Smith and Marion Eubanks to be precise—most of whom have deep roots in the communities, others with simply a love of history and community.
Similar to Saratoga Springs, New York, Glenn Springs became prominent ca. 1835 due to the belief in the restorative properties of mineral-laden water.
In the case of Glenn Springs, in 1825, one John B. Glenn purchased the five hundred acres of land that surrounded the springs for eight hundred dollars. Sensing a business opportunity, he opened an inn for the traveling public and also allowed rich folks to build cabins on the hills surrounding the springs. In 1836, the Glenn Springs Company built a grand hotel that became known for its elegance, gentility and the prominence of its guests. All of that was duly advertised, as was the health benefits of its water.
William A. Law, one time president of the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company of Philadelphia wrote,
"In July 1886, I slowly and painfully got out of my buggy at Glenn Springs, hardly able to walk. Rheumatism made dressing and undressing a painful and tedious job for me, lasting nearly an hour. I could not turn over in bed without severe suffering. I commenced at once to use the water systematically, drinking three glasses before each meal. Under this treatment I steadily improved, and in one month left Glenn’s able to walk with ease and almost entirely relieved."
Travel to the hotel was difficult, particularly for those who traveled great distances. In the late 1800s a narrow railroad was built to service Glenn Springs from nearby Roebuck, but that was discontinued around 1915.
A 1901 article, “Doings at Glenn Springs” promised that this season would “be one of the largest attended and most enjoyable for years.” A visitor described the weekly dance as the “crowning feature of the week’s gaieties.” In 1902, electric lights and electricity were installed.
By the late 1920s, the once-robust business had faded. A local Spartanburg bank rated only 72 of 100 rooms in “fine” condition. Automobiles certainly altered the allure of Glenn Springs, as did the Great Depression. When the hotel burned in 1941, it was never rebuilt.
On March 8, 2016, the "Public News Hour," hosted by Judy Woodruff, broadcast a long feature on cities “that work.” Out of the dozen or so smaller cities across the country that reporters James and Deborah Fallows studied, my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina received the most acclaim for “getting it right.” No, we are not perfect, but the business, political and religious groups in my town listen to each other and work together to figure things out. But there is one more important ingredient to these cities that work, and that is “place.” The Fallows contend that successful communities need a place to live where a “there” is “there.” In my hometown, it’s our downtown area and accompanying textile heritage.
In Glenn Springs, thanks to Barbara, Linda, Rebecca, Margaret, Warren and Marion, their town now has a “there.”