The Hub City
With one foot in the past and the other in the future, Spartanburg captures the new soul of the South
What gives Spartanburg its allure? It might be the struggle and victories of the past, running like veins through the city. Maybe it’s the rich musical history or the culinary tradition. Or maybe it’s the people of today who seem to radiate excitement, progress and possibility. Heck, it could even be the whiskey and the bicycles. Regardless, one thing’s for sure: Spartanburg is a hub city with a recipe for everything. Sweet and soulful, trendy and nostalgic, there’s nowhere in the state quite like it.
True to its humble beginnings as a frontier trading post, Spartanburg has always been defined somewhat by commerce. At the height of the textile industry, seven different railroad lines stretched from the city’s depot like spokes on a wheel, and thus, the nickname The Hub City came to fruition. And while the city is no longer centered on everything industrial, the alternative moniker still stands because the meaning is two-fold. While it still makes sense to use the name for the city caught between the intersection of two busy interstates and substantial manufacturing epicenters, “Hub City” also refers to the subtle spark and growing vibrancy of a constantly evolving cultural center.
Spartanburg is not only the most bike-friendly city in the Southeast, and the home place of William Walker, the composer behind the ever-famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” it’s the grounds where the tides of the Revolutionary War began to turn in the patriots’ favor and where cheeseburgers are as plentiful as art galleries and hospitality. Old-fashioned, yet artsy with a quirky edge, The Hub City preserves the past while embracing the future.
The heartbeat of Spartanburg is the Main Street thoroughfare where outdoor art spreads across the landscape and live music fills the cozy pubs at sunset. Get further acquainted with the city through the Interactive Music Trail, a fifteen-minute, app-guided tour that allows the user to hear and read through the surprisingly long list of musicians that call Spartanburg home, including the famed Southern rockers of the Marshall Tucker Band, blues musician Pink Anderson who served as the inspiration for “Pink” in Pink Floyd, and Johnny Blowers, a favorite drummer of Frank Sinatra. After, hear the music come to life in the soulful underground Blues Boulevard Jazz joint.
Though some may say it’s possible that Spartanburg’s food scene is overshadowed by the neighboring culinary hotspots found in Greenville, the city can hold its own, especially in the locally-owned, no-fuss-no-frills department. For breakfast, try The Skillet for cook-to-order eggs and bacon, or the Cakehead Bakeshop for a goat cheese and herb breakfast biscuit while you browse the Hub City Bookshop next door.
And one can’t spend the morning in Spartanburg without mentioning Inn on Main. The immaculately restored historic home has watched over Main Street for over a century, and the homemade breakfast is almost comparable to the hospitality. Regardless of the breakfast of choice, it will pair nicely with a brisk walk and mug of “farm to cup” coffee from Little River Roasting Company on Marion Avenue.
Other favorite spots include The Farmer’s Table Restaurant for farm-fresh fare; Ike’s Corner Grill, The Nuway, and Cribbs Kitchen for some old-fashioned American cuisine; Two Samuels or Gerhard’s Café for fine dining; and Caribbean Sweetness or Renato’s for international dishes. An icon of Spartanburg is the Beacon Drive-In, where the chili cheeseburger is famous and where over 60,000 gallons of sweet tea is served every year.
Spartanburg has become increasingly known for its locally-made libations, which began in 1997 with the opening of RJ Rockers Brewing Company. The company’s signature brew, Son of a Peach, uses local crushed peaches. Over a dozen more varieties of beer can be found on tap or in stores across the Southeast, but the heart and soul of RJ Rockers is in their local taproom. With free live music, fiercely competitive trivia, spontaneous tours and five-dollar keep-your-glass beer, it’s the place to be Thursday through Saturday.
Motte & Sons is the new legal bootlegger in town. The sixteen-foot mahogany bar and the Spanish copper stills make for warm ambiance even before the vodka, whiskey and rum starts flowing.
Just a short drive to the countryside is the five-year-old operation, Palmetto Pickup Wines, which features a tasting room for their American and French-American hybrids. Just beyond the winery, is the town of Cowpens where French natives have transformed an old filling station into Baguette & Company—the place to enjoy a delicious croquet monsieur or pan de chocolate.
For The Outdoor Adventurer
Spartanburg is now one of the most bikeable cities in the country thanks to B-Cycle, the first bike sharing system in the Southeast. Find one of the conveniently located stations, and five dollars on a credit card will get you a bike for an entire day. Explore downtown or hop on the paved, nearly two-mile long Rail Trail to follow the path of the very first train that came to The Hub City in 1859.
For a higher intensity adventure, travel to any of the properties owned by SPACE (Spartanburg Area Conservancy). Glendale Shoals offers a chance to paddle from the foothills of the Blue Ridge to the Atlantic Ocean or just an exciting mile or two after a decent rainfall.
The walking trails follow Lawson’s Fork Creek and the lines of the obsolete Glendale Trolley line. The wooded trek follows a half-mile loop through the mill village that began in the early 1830s. History buffs, especially, enjoy the walk through the old village streets, past the original home of the mill founder and up to the rock-climbing wall now housed inside a repurposed church.
While South Carolinians aren’t strangers to history, natives of Spartanburg know their hometown is a standout as the site of the most Revolutionary War battles than any other region in the United States. Two of these are said to have been major deciding factors for the outcome of the war itself. Tourists and historians alike can immerse themselves in history by visiting Cowpens National Historic Site where they will learn about General Daniel Morgan’s surprising victory. It will be less surprising then, to notice Morgan’s likeness gracing both a Motte & Sons whiskey bottle and the iconic statue keeping watch over downtown.
Though Spartanburg saw no more military conflicts after the Revolutionary War, it was a training ground for both World War I and World War II. During the first, around 100,000 men were prepared for service at the site that is now Westgate Mall. During World War II, an estimated 200,000 men trained at Camp Croft, which is now Camp Croft State Park and a popular fishing and hiking spot.
Though Spartanburg’s old roots run incredibly deep, there’s a younger and creative vibe that has come to the forefront of Hub City life. This could be due, in part, to the eight colleges, universities and the recently opened medical school. Artistry and creative culture are on display for visitors during the Art Walk every Thursday when various galleries and organizations plan free events, exhibitions and displays. The West Main Co-Op and the Foothills Artisans Center, in particular, are great spots to stop and browse local goods.
Spartanburg also has an affinity for grass roots initiatives that are impacting the world. Globalbike, a Spartanburg brainchild and internationally award-winning philanthropic organization, sends a group to Africa every year to deliver bicycles—a simple idea, but one with a profound impact on the quality of life for others. WritefullyHis, a foundation that provides students in East Africa with access to paper and pencil through partnerships with nonprofits, sells an array of fair trade jewelry made by women from Tanzanian villages, not to mention beautiful stationery native to our own geography—all which go to support its cause. Hub City Press is a non-profit independent press that publishes well-crafted, high-quality works by new and established Southern authors. They are committed to high-caliber novels, short stories, poetry, memoir and works with a strong sense of place that emphasize regional culture and history.
To learn more about The Hub City or to plan a trip, visit www.visitspartanburg.com