Passing through the hamlet of Glenn Springs in rural Spartanburg, S.C., today, few would suppose that this remote crossroads was once a thriving hotspot of the summer season in 19th century South Carolina. From 1825 when John B. Glenn opened an “inn for the traveling public” beside the healing sulphur springs, until the early decades of the 20th century, Glenn Springs was a popular and bustling summer playground for generations of affluent South Carolinians. In its heyday, clientele also came from as far afield as Maryland, Texas, Michigan, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
In 1838, the Glenn Springs Stock Company built a grand new hotel and spa, described as the “ideal spot for health or pleasure seekers.” Sparing no expense, the hotel was extravagantly decorated with the finest furnishings from New York and Philadelphia, landscaped gardens, a ballroom, the best chefs, and tables supplied with the best of everything!
Many people came to Glenn Springs to partake of the healing spring waters. Glenn Springs Water claimed to cure an impressive list of maladies, such as “general debility, torpor of the liver, dyspepsia, liver complaints, female complaints, malarial diseases, jaundice, hemorroids, and rheumatism.”
Survivors of the Mexican War, “heroes of Monterey and Resaca de la Palma,” came in 1847 to recover from wounds and the hardships of war. During their stay, the soldiers were doted on by female visitors and “any civilian was thrown over mercilessly to give a dance to one of the Mexican Volunteers.”
In 1870, the Glenn Springs Hotel boasted private summer cottages, a bowling alley, a billiard saloon, croquet grounds, and a fancy ballroom. Stagecoaches ran from Spartanburg daily. An ad in The watchman and southron (Sumter, S.C.) touted that “this delightful Watering Place is unsurpassed by any in the South.” Many visitors spent entire summers there. A visitor from Columbia’s The daily phoenix newspaper described his stay in 1874: “a warm reception, a cool drink of water, a good cup of tea, and pleasant chats with old friends prepared me for me couch, and I slept like a top.” He noted that the hotel had changed little since his last visit in 1861, and the hotel’s success was measured “by those solid comforts and varied attractions, which are as equally necessary as the superb water itself, to make it a summer resort.”
In addition to taking in the mineral springs in the morning and evening, guests could partake in a variety of amusements, such as a ten pin alley, cards, strolls along the grounds, and dances. Calico balls were held in summer; one in 1874 sponsored by the Ladies’ Monumental Association raised 125 dollars for a Civil War monument to honor veterans of the recent war.
In the 1890s, the entrepreneurs at Glenn Springs built a bottling house and shipped Glenn Springs Water all over the country. By the end of the 19th century, they were also selling ginger ale made from Glenn Springs Water.
“By 1896, hotel keepers proudly advertised piazzas that stretched 580 feet across the front of the immense hotel, an Italian band, and two daily trains running from nearby Spartanburg. A store, post office, a male academy, and Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, grew up around the resort.
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 gaities.” One evening, “couples formed outside of the ballroom and marched in to the stirring strains of the Chinese Wedding March, rendered by the excellent Italian band of Washington, D.C.” At one dance that year, a merry party of revelers returned from a dance at 2 a.m. in the morning, cheering
“Glenn Springs! Glenn Springs!
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Water Soakers! Water Soakers!
Siss! Boom! Bah!”
Hotel keepers kept up with the times in Glenn Springs. In 1902, electric lights and electricity were installed. One ad notes that “at the request of any guests, electric fans would be put in bedrooms.” A 1914 Glenn Springs Hotel ad pointed out that “our Automobile Passenger Bus with Pneumatic Tires meets trains at Spartanburg.”
A full page article titled “Glenn Springs: Its History from its Discovery, with Personal Sketches of its Habitues,” published May 7, 1890, in The watchman and southron (Sumter, S.C.), presents many more details in an interesting portrait of Glenn Springs.
Around World War One, it seems that the hotel’s popularity began to wane. The advent of the automobile and improved roads are plausible factors leading to the demise of the hotel. The main hotel burned to the ground in 1941, after slipping into disrepair over many years.
Today, Glenn Springs is a small unincorporated community of about 20 extant structures and structural ruins. In 1982, it was designated as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. Far off the beaten path, Glenn Springs has maintained its historic integrity, has restored several of its historic residences and two churches, and has no discernible modern development.
Several buildings and ruins lie in overgrown woods. Visitors can take a great hike through these woods on the newly developed 7 mile Glenn Springs Passage of the Palmetto Trail, and see some of the ruins of this once “queen of the southern summer resorts.”
Glenn Springs appears in historic South Carolina newspapers repeatedly throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many additional details and events about Glenn Springs were not included here. Search for “Glenn Springs” or “Glenn Springs Hotel” yourself in Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, and see what you turn up!