Travel: Spartanburg a historical symbol of unity
SPARTANBURG, South Carolina — A monument to American unity stands at the heart of this Southern city in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“ONE PEOPLE,” proclaims the memorial on Morgan Square in downtown Spartanburg.
“No North. No South. No East. No West. One Country — One Destiny.”
The memorial, erected in 1881 to mark the centennial of the Revolutionary War Battle of Cowpens, was undoubtedly optimistic for its time. (It might still be, for that matter.)
But, still, the first stop on my visit to Spartanburg was an encouraging and heartening historical symbol of unity.
Many Northerners (and perhaps Southerners, too) might be surprised to learn that South Carolina saw more Revolutionary War battles than any other American colony except New Jersey.
The town and county were named for the “Spartan Regiment,” a local militia that fought the British during the Revolution. And the nearby Battle of Cowpens was a crucial American victory, led by Gen. Daniel Morgan, whose figure tops the monument in the square named for him.
Another inscription on the Morgan Monument notes, “One hundred years ago, the men of the North and the South fought together, and by their blood secured the Independence … of the American States.”
Today, the monument marks the beginning of the Spartanburg Revolutionary War Trail, the first of a dozen stops at battlefields or other important sites in and near Spartanburg County.
Another stop on the trail is the Walnut Grove Plantation, which served as a mustering site for the local militia. The plantation was established about 1767 by the Moore family, one of the first British families to settle in the area; the Moores later supported the American side in the revolution.
The plantation is now a historical site operated by the Spartanburg County Historical Association. Visitors can tour the old manor house, which is undergoing renovation. Also on the site are a re-created barn, kitchen, dry cellar and schoolhouse of the era.
The town of Spartanburg wasn’t incorporated until decades after the Revolution, in 1831. The town grew to become a center of the textile industry and a place where seven rail lines met, earning Spartanburg the nickname “Hub City.”
That railroad heritage is honored at the small Hub City Railroad Museum in the historic Southern Railway Union Depot. In addition to its railroad and Spartanburg memorabilia, the museum allows visitors to hop aboard a 1947 Southern Railway caboose that sits alongside the still-active tracks of the Norfolk Southern.
More town history is on display at the local history museum at the downtown Chapman Cultural Center. The museum offers an interesting overview of town history — and one of the best collections of antique maps from the American colonial period that I’ve seen in any small museum.
The Spartanburg Art Museum, also located at the Cultural Center, is well worth a stop. During my visit, the museum was hosting the exhibit “Off the Wall,” a colorful and, yes, off-the-wall display of contemporary sculptures made mostly of reused materials. The exhibit runs through Aug. 5.
Although the nearby city of Greenville gets a lot of tourism love and attention (with good reason), Spartanburg also has a surprisingly vibrant, and growing, scene in and around its old downtown. Visitors will find plenty of intriguing shops and good places to eat and drink, such as Carriage House Wines, a friendly wine bar and wine shop in a historic commercial building right off Morgan Square.
Beer lovers will find several craft breweries, including Ciclops Cyderi and Brewery and RJ Rockers Brewing Co. taproom. RJ Rockers also serves all its beers at the adjoining restaurant, the Silo, which conveniently opens at 8 a.m. for breakfast or even a morning beer tasting.
Spartanburg is also a part of the burgeoning craft distilling movement, with tastings and tours offered at Motte & Sons Bootlegging Co. and the tiny Rock Bottom Distillers.
This being South Carolina, there’s plenty of good barbecue, too. Some of the places most highly recommended by locals are Carolina Barbecue and Bubba’s BBQ & Bash, the “bash” in question being the restaurant’s famous calabash chicken.
I’ve tried barbecue all over this great land of ours, but I, myself, am partial to the fare found in this part of the country. Try it, and you just might agree.
If you don’t? That’s OK.
If we must be divided, barbecue versus barbecue is a better reason than most.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveStephens.