Monday, January 22, 2018

Strolling Downtown Spartanburg

Spartanburg is the second-largest city in Upstate South Carolina, and is just 30 minutes from Greenville, with the two cities sharing GSP airport. Possibly best known as the home of Wofford College and the Carolina Panthers training camp, Spartanburg is also the site of headquarters for Denny's and is home to the BMW Spartanburg factory. On the other hand, the city has been around since 1753 and is packed with historic attractions, cultural sites and outdoor activities. Spartanburg became a hub city back in the late 1800s when seven train lines fanned out from the city like spokes on a wheel, and today the nickname “Hub City” is still appropriate, although it is highways that connect the city to Altanta, DC, and Charlotte just 80 miles to the east. Recently the city has been energized in a rebirth, and nowhere is this new prestige as a tourist destination more evident than on a stroll down Main Street.

A great place to start is Denny’s Plaza, the greenspace adjacent to Denny's Corporate Headquarters. Denny's main offices were located California until 1989, at which time the office was moved to Spartanburg, headquarters of the parent company Trans World Corporation that acquired Denny's in 1987. The Plaza is home to fountains and gardens, as well as seasonal attractions such as the “Dickens of a Christmas” holiday tree.

Denny's headquarters and plaza

Headed west you’ll pass multiple popular stores including the Local Hiker and Hub City Scoops. Shortly before reaching S. Church St. you’ll find Fr8yard, the one of a kind, family friendly, outdoor entertainment and restaurant complex that opened last year. The venue is a community gathering place that was bustling even on a chilly January day.

You’ll notice multiple light-bulb sculptures as you walk, a part of the large-scale public art project headed up by the Spartanburg Art Museum. The project is titled “Lighten Up Spartanburg!”and features 28 light-bulb sculptures in public spaces around Spartanburg’s Downtown Cultural District, each decorated by a local or regional artist, designer or architect who was given free rein to paint, shape and decorate the sculptures.

Wall Street is the pedestrian thoroughfare that features multiple restaurants and stores. The ‘festival street’ is a good example of how the city has recently invested in Spartanburg to make it more bikable and walkable, and is part of a larger trails plan that will eventually connect 200 miles of countywide bike lanes and trails.

There is a different type of trail that runs through downtown as well - the Spartanburg Music Trail. A 30-minute walking tour of the city’s music history guides you from Daniel Morgan Avenue up Main Street to Liberty Street, colorful markers describing various artists at each point and appropriate music audible through your smartphoneIt was Southern Rock superstars the Marshall Tucker Band who put Spartanburg on the musical map, but you’ll also learn which Spartanburg bluesman lent his first name to British rock group Pink Floyd, who played electric guitar for Elvis Presley, who wrote “Duelin’ Banjos,” and who put the words and music together to create the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

Along with the light bulbs you might also notice metal cycling statues scattered around, part of a ArtCycle scavenger hunt that has participants searching for the 11 pieces created by local artist Hoondirt. The art is in honor of Spartanburg’s bicycle-friendly designation from the League of American Bicyclists (SC’s first), as well as being the first city in the Southeast with a bike sharing program.

You’ll want to plan to spend some time in the Masonic Temple, today home to Hub City Writers Project and Cakehead Bakeshop. The award-winning bakery (in 2012 their cajun tater biscuit was judged the world’s best biscuit at the International Biscuit Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee) shares the ground floor with the Spartanburg publisher and bookseller. The Opera House was at this location from 1880 until demolished in 1907, and while several smaller buildings occupied the site in the interim, several Masonic lodges pooled resources to build the current space in 1927, designed by Spartanburg architect Frank Collins.

The Masons still meet at the location regularly, the upper floors housing an elegant auditorium. We picked up coffee roasted by local Little River Roasting Co. at the coffee bar, and after browsing for almost an hour at the bookstore, selected the second edition of “The Underground Guide to Spartanburg.” Printed by Hub City Press, this volume is the perfect guide to finding great stuff to do in the city.

Hub City Press publications

Back outside and continuing east, you’ll notice that for a brief period the opposing lanes of traffic on Main Street are split by a small pocket park. In the center is the clock tower; originally a feature of the Opera House, then a fixture of the Magnolia Street courthouse, the bell and clock were moved to the present location in 1986.

The north block Between Magnolia Street and Church Street is devoted to Morgan Square. At the west end is the Daniel Morgan Monument, the 1881 memorial a tribute to General Morgan’s victory at Cowpens. In the center is a fountain, and during the winter months you’ll find the skating rink to be a fun stop.

Just across the street on N Church St. is the Growler Haus, the Upstate chain that offers multiple seasonal and tasteful craft/micro beers and other libations. Comfy couches, local craft beer (and cider & komboucha) and knowledgeable bartenders will convince you to stay awhile.

On the next block over, 127 Dunbar Street (it has frontage on both Main and Dunbar) is the former location of the chain department store Woolworth’s. On July 26, 1960 the lunch counter was the site of a sit-in to protest the store’s all-white lunch counter service policy, part of the momentous national movement. You’ll find a plaque to commemorate this historic event.

Just a bit further and you’ll find yourself back in front of the Denny’s Plaza, however this should not be the end of your Spartanburg tour as there is much more to do in Hub City… Car enthusiasts should not miss touring BMW Zentrum, the German car maker’s only museum and manufacturing plant in America. Hiking often brings us out to Milliken Arboretum or Hatcher Garden & Woodland Preserve, while Croft State Park is a mere 15 minutes south. The Spartanburg International Festival draws more than 12,000 people to Barnet Park every October, while every summer the Carolina Panthers practice can be easily combined with a day in downtown by utilizing the free shuttle to Wofford. However you choose to spend your time in Hub City, you’ll find that it’s a dynamic city, full of history and culture – that will only pique your interest in coming back.

For a historic tour of Spartanburg, check out this guide by Hub City Tour. It features a few of the sites on Main Street in addition to a wide range of attractions throughout the city.


  1. Interesting... We've been through Spartanburg so many times --but have never checked out the city... Neat what they've done to an old city--in offering walking and biking trails/areas.....

    I've eaten at a Woolworth's Counter many times as a child --but in different cities.... So many memories of Woolworth's!!!!!

    I have no idea that Denny's began there.... Thanks for sharing.


    1. Should have said that Denny's 'home' site is there now... I know it didn't begin in Spartanburg..... Sorry--I wrote that wrong....


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