September 2004 Contents
Message From the Executive Director:
Upstate Forever News:
Reflections On The Loss of Glendale Mill
by John Lane
Spartanburg’s Glendale Mill burned early in the morning on Sunday, March 21, 2004. That part of our Upstate is gone forever. I don’t even know how to begin to come to terms with this event. Our house, a half-mile upstream on the Lawson’s Fork, was littered with the ashes from the fire, a reminder of how quickly a building (or an important tract of land) can disappear from our heritage.
On that Sunday morning I became aware of the fire about 8:30 when I was headed to get some coffee. I saw the plume of blue-black smoke as soon as I turned right toward Glendale and I knew my worst fear was true. When I reached Glendale I saw a big water pipe blocking Emma Cudd Road and I could see the smoke billowing from the ruins. The scene was terrible. A news helicopter had landed nearby. A news truck with its portable antenna stabbed the air. Tired firemen in their yellow space suits were catching their breaths on the steps of the old post office. Women were crying. The streets were a snarl of pipes and in the morning air hung the smell of wet burnt wood and even a slight chemical smell. One Glendale fire truck was still pumping a huge plume of water on a small spot fire amid the burned-out walls of the mill. The bell tower was still standing, but burned out. There was one wall with “1890” etched on it standing. I looked on in dismay, filled with a sadness beyond description.
The Glendale mill site was one of the most historic industrial sites in the Upstate. An ironworks was there by 1760, and there were textile mill operations from 1836 until 1961. During the Civil War it produced cloth for the Confederacy.
The mill itself was stunning, located on a large shoals of the lower Lawson’s Fork. Since its closure in 1961, it had undergone none of the alterations we’ve come to expect of mills – bricked up windows, added wings for new processes.
The old mill store survived the fire, as did the original office building. Nearby stands a house that the original owner, James Bivings, built in 1840 when the village was called Bivingsville. In 1999 the Lawson’s Fork Festival showcased the old mill and thousands of people came to Glendale to celebrate. Now it’s gone. What was probably the best, most scenic example of an intact mill village in our area has now lost its centerpiece, its heart.
As I kicked at the ashes of Glendale Mill that morning, I thought about how good Spartanburg feels about itself right now – with all the new buildings downtown and its true sense of vitality – and how sad it is that a community is powerless against losing somthing as impossible to replace as Glendale Mill.
What lessons should we take away from this tragic fire? What resolve should we show toward saving special places? I hope that we will become more aware of threats against both historic buildings like Glendale Mill and important tracts of land.
Across the creek from Glendale Mill is the 13 acre preserve owned by SPACE (Spartanburg Area Conservancy). If not redeveloped, maybe the site of the mill can now be added to SPACE’s land holdings. Maybe this tragedy will be a way to focus some of Spartanburg’s leading citizens on the large tracts of wooded land up and downstream from the burned-out mill that can still be protected.
The loss of the Glendale Mill makes me realize how central the work of conservation is to the future of Spartanburg County and this region.