Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Colonial Blend

I had a great conversation with my friend, Denise Frazier last night about distinct ethnic-cultural groups and their blending and shifting over time.

Denise is from Houston, but has personal and family ties to Louisiana and especially New Orleans, where we both went to school. Denise went to grad school for cultural studies, and I studied anthropology in undergrad, so we have a common interest in culture and heritage and we can both talk about the culture of the Mississippi Delta.

Culturally, the Delta is very different from this part of the South, and I think that many folks assume that the South is a bit more uniform than it actually is. Down there, they have an entirely different background and it really comes out in the present culture and identity of the whole area. For one thing, English-speaking people had very little to do with that area for the first hundred or so years of its existence as a thriving colony. And it wasn't just the French that had a stake in things, the Spanish were also an enormous influence. Throw on top of that a rich and powerful West African blend, various Native American groups, and sub-groups among the European colonists, and what you have is a very fertile medley of culture.

Mix that up for 300 years and you end up with a diverse blend with shades of many, many distinct groups. And as a result, the Delta has a distinct identity. It's a unique sub-set of Southern culture.

I love that culture, and I valued my time there greatly. But what I really want to take out of it is a better understanding of the dynamics in my part of the South: the Piedmont.

New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana use that culture to promote the area and to draw people in. Once people understand something about those cultural dynamics, they better appreciate the area and its quirks. So what are those things that make the Piedmont (and Spartanburg in particular) unique among places in the South?

Well for one thing, this area has been firmly controlled by English-speakers since the beginning of colonization. It's true that Spanish explorers roamed through here, but they never got around to planting crops and building houses. But despite that English-speaking uniformity, there were some distinct subsets. It's well known that the Scots-Irish form the backbone of the population here. These are mostly Lowland Scots who left Scotland for a brief stay in Ireland before being ferried over the Atlantic to settle in the hills between the wealthier English on the coast and the potentially dangerous Indians in the mountains. They got cheap land out of it, of course, but essentially they were the pawns of the English, who wanted a buffer. They had served the same function in Ireland, where they buffered the English from the Irish.

I could go on about the current political implications of local Scots-Irish descendants serving the interests of the wealthy without taking part in that wealth, but I'll leave that to another time, perhaps.

There are also a healthy number of true English folks here too. They got interested in the available land at the same time that the Scots-Irish were first settling this area in the 1750s and 1760s. But unlike the Lowcountry English, they were mostly family farmers without huge slave workforces.

Slave populations in the Piedmont were never as large as they were even in the Midlands, which is one reason that West African culture did not remain a strong influence in the Piedmont. Also, because the hills made transportation from the coast difficult, those with West African heritage here were more likely to be a generation or two removed from Africa. Essentially, the fresh supply of African-born slaves less often made it up this far. That meant that West African cultural traits had been diluted by time spent in America away from fellow tribesmen. That's not to say those traits had disappeared completely. Take a look at the WPA Slave Narratives recorded here in the 1930s to see some of the fascinating details of local slave culture.

There are other groups here too, of course. There are Lowcountry descendants of French Huguenots who came to teach at Wofford College, a scattering of Swiss-German settlers, folks with Cherokee blood who came down from the mountains to work in the textile mills, not to mention growing communities of Hmong and Hispanic immigrants.

So what does all that mean for local culture? I'm not even close to answering that question. Denise and I got our feet wet by trying to identify some local idioms that might be distinctive, but we could only think of a few. Have you heard any phrases or expressions that seem unique to Spartanburg or the Piedmont?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A friend and I were chatting the other day about the popularity of time travel as a storytelling device and I thought I'd take this chance to flesh out some of my thoughts about the influence of one particular time travel story. There were only a handful of movies I watched in heavy rotation as a child, and without a doubt the one most often in our VCR from about 1990 on was Back to the Future.

I'm lucky to have a family with an interest in history and to live in a place with a deep historical record, but without the influence of Back to the Future, I'm certain that my interest in family and local history would have never developed as it has. That film had so many themes with far-reaching consequences for my interests, that I feel a list would be a better organizational method.

1. Local/Everyday History: One of the biggest ways Back to the Future differs from other time travel stories is that it doesn't involve any "major" historical event. As a kid, I was fascinated by the kind of everyday history depicted in this movie. Hill Valley is a fictional small town and the only noteworthy historical event depicted is the destruction of the town's clock tower. Finding depictions of the assassination of Lincoln or World War II are a dime a dozen, but it's rarer that you get to see an era encapsulated through a depiction of the everyday. This is also the reason I love another piece of popular historical fiction: Mad Men.

This kind of everyday history is at the intersection of history and nostalgia, which I see as a major access point for truly understanding history. Once you gain an appreciation for "what it was like," you can begin seeing history from a street-level perspective, one that values local history as much as the big national-level history. That's a theme I stress every time I speak to teachers and students: Local history is important because it has a personal and visible impact on the landscape most familiar to people. It can be a means for understanding national history, but it can also be a means to understand our own social and physical landscape, which is what we encounter on a daily basis. You might not ever see the Emancipation Proclamation, but this afternoon I could show you a slave cabin, or where a race riot nearly broke out in downtown Spartanburg in 1917; or I could explain why the south side of town has so much open space. These are big stories that resonate nationally, yet occurred in our midst.

An understanding of the everyday in different periods of history also makes possible a semi-imaginary world constructed from assembled facts, a world I operate in fairly regularly. On a tour, a person might ask me about Magnolia Street in the 1920s, so I assemble my memory of photographs and historical data and I create an imaginary street-view of buildings and people and events, and I interpret that vision to the person who's asking me. In those moments I like to imagine that I'm equal parts shaman and historian. Guided by my memory of historical facts, I imagine some shade of me is transmitting glimpses from a bygone era and that I'm sketching them out for my listeners. It's a fun exercise, and I think it makes for a more interesting experience of reality.

2. Theories of time: By the time I was a teenager, I'd caught on to the fact that there are a few different theories about time and causality. In the Back to the Future universe, it is possible to alter the past, which of course affects the future (or the present, depending on your perspective). This is the major plot element, in fact. Marty accidentally prevents his parents from meeting, so he has to spend the rest of the movie playing matchmaker in order to save his life and the entire course of events as he has known them. If a time traveling DeLorean really existed, a lot of deep philosophical questions might immediately be answered. One could imagine that due to his very existence, Marty might have been denied somehow the ability to disrupt the future. Or, as the movie shows it, he could end up being a relic of a reality that ceases to exist. A less interesting story might have shown Marty immediately disappearing the instant he prevented his parents from meeting. Free will, fate, causality... all of this could be sorted out in far greater clarity if time travel were invented. Of course I have no idea how this would work, and neither does anyone else. But this movie got me thinking about this stuff earlier than I would have otherwise. Thanks, BTF for opening up my mind a little bit more!

3. Psychology: It's only a tiny scene in this movie, but it left a memorable impact on me nonetheless. Early on in the movie, a reference is made to a wayward uncle who they call "Jailbird Joey." He's always in and out of prison and seems to be a source of frustration for the family. When Marty travels back in time, he meets this uncle as a toddler in his playpen and quips, "Better get used to these bars, kid!" He's then told that Joey cries whenever he's taken out, so the family leave him in there constantly. Wow! It's dangerous to treat this as a true case story, but the psychological implications are pretty intense. There are other psychological developments that occur as part of the plot, including Marty's recognition of his character flaws, especially as they compare with those of his father. Anyway, I felt that there were some interesting psychological issues addressed through what is otherwise a sci-fi/comedy.

Monday, January 03, 2011

History vs. Heritage, Pt. I

The Age of Enlightenment gave birth to the modern concept of Reason. And ever since, various human endeavors have been adjusted to conform to its exacting razor. Because of its unique way of trimming off irrelevancies and leading thinkers to productive ends, Reason is a sublime power of the human mind, and has transformed the world over.

Science, as a product of the study of nature through the lens of reason, is the best known result of this new Weltanshauung. What came before, alchemy for instance, was fundamentally hindered by the lack of a deductive method. Aided by reason, human understanding of chemistry alone has given us huge reaches of power that were entirely unavailable to our predecessors before the Enlightenment. It's really been quite remarkable. The imagination balks at how much power has been gained by our understanding (incomplete though it may be) of the mechanics of the Universe. Look at how much we now control! Understatement of the millennium: It's overwhelming.

One of the constant narratives of my childhood was Star Trek. Its gung-ho outlook on mankind's expanding horizon of control defined my early views about human progress. In the Star Trek universe, human technological control always barely exceeds the unexpected problems that result, so the net gain is always good. But over the years, I've grown to become wary of that perspective. I've gradually become squeamish about the controls of the planet being seized by squabbling, selfish apes. And what can I blame more than reason? To be completely fair, it's not that reason is flawed, but rather that there are supplemental ways of seeing the world that can prove more useful at times.

So my beef with reason only supplements the inherent problems that exist between reason and history. A reasoned approach to history equates stories with theories. But whereas a scientist can posit a theory and devise tests (or find additional examples) to bolster or refute that theory, historians cannot, because history is not a testable truth. Nonetheless, the practice is to read through the evidence, filter and rank the sources, comprehend the biases, and construct the most likely story to explain the evidence. Just like forensic investigators, but with far less evidence.

I don't much care for this approach. It can be useful, for sure, but it entirely misses the magnitude and usefulness of history. In my view, that approach is best used only as a tool to aid historians in their greater mission: to distill heritage. Heritage is about more than the recorded facts of the past, it's about sacred torches, passions, pride, regrets, groundedness. It's the stuff of myth.

"Myth" is a dirty word now, used to describe stories that are, at best, simply false, or at worst, dangerously misguided. But there's a sense in which myths can be useful and held proactively as a guide. I view myths as not true or false, but as ideology in narrative form. They are Rorschachian mirrors that can explain as much about the external world as they do about the internal culture. They're not exclusive of reason, they just illuminate areas where reason alone is inadequate. They can also be helpful in making sense of the past and charting forward into the future.

Myth and heritage are the heart of my interest in the past, as they are probably for most historians. But there are problems with using myth to interpret the past, the most glaring of which is the massive hangup people have with bias. The traditional approach in science, history, or any other academic field has been to attempt to ignore or cover up bias so that the evidence "can speak for itself." Of course there are also political reasons to disguise bias. Admitting bias can undermine academic authority and make results suspect. But it all seems like a lie to me. We're all either biased or apathetic and I want my heritage distilled by people with a passion. Besides, these days with Faux News and other overtly biased information sources, I think people expect that information reaches them with a bias already engineered in. I hope so, at least.

It's also fascinating to me that certain biases have "won out" so that they're now orthodox. Believing in racial equality and the evil of slavery are no longer biases, as they once were, they are now firm "truths," disputed by only a tiny radical fringe. Interpreting history to read in any way other than affirming these beliefs is fiercely heretical. I hold those beliefs personally, but I would be wrong to call them anything but a bias. So when I interpret history to conform to this bias, I'm dealing with myth... not in the sense that it is "false," but in the sense that it is an ideology.

Next time, I'll work up to applying these thoughts to that powder keg of Southern heritage: the Civil War.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Like many children of the 1980s, I had a bright red, plastic View-Master among my toy arsenal. For those who don't remember, the View-Master was a popular children's toy that allowed three-dimensional color images to be viewed by inserting paper disks embedded with color film.

Mine had a dozen or so discs, each containing seven 3D images. I don't really remember many of the scenes, but I suspect some were either heirlooms from my parents or picked up at yard sales during my childhood. I definitely remember a Sesame Street series of my era and I dimly remember the older ones having puppet vignettes and tourist attractions from out West.

I've had reason to think back on my old View-Master lately because of a quest I've been undertaking at work involving an earlier form of three-dimensional imagery. View-Masters had a much older predecessor called a stereoscope. Rather than using discs with transparent color film, stereoscopes used bulky paper cards that contained a single three-dimensional image. The cards show two nearly identical photographs, each taken at the same time from a different angle, matching how your eyes assemble a 3D image from two planes of vision. The stereoscope works by using two lenses that juxtapose the two images on top of each other. Here is a stereoscope:

Long before I began working for the museum or the library, a friend who understood how much I like quirky old stuff gave me a stereoscope and a few cards as a birthday present. Just as my 19th century forebearers had done, I have enjoyed passing it around to guests who ask about it. There's something magical about it. Not only are you looking at a 3D image, you're looking at a 3D image from over 100 years ago. My favorite is probably a night-time view from a roller coaster at Coney Island. There are thousands of antiquated light bulbs illuminating hundreds of smiling visitors, suspended in time in a place that is long gone.

Recently, though, my stereoscope has gained renewed relevance. A month or two ago, a library patron brought in a collection of stereoscopic cards he had collected that included several scenes made in Spartanburg. Since historic Spartanburg photography is my thing, I set about looking into just how many Spartanburg stereoscopic cards were made.

It turns out that there were lots of people making them. It wasn't something that anyone with a camera could do, but it seems that several local photographers dabbled it in. What's even more exciting is that one series (labelled "Southern Scenery: Spartanburg, S. C. and Vicinity") by Asheville photographer W. T. Robertson includes some of the oldest outdoor photographs made in Spartanburg. My professional Holy Grail is to uncover a photograph of Morgan Square that predates the iconic 1884 photograph of "Sales Day" (that isn't really sales day). That photograph was made by S. C. Mouzon, who had been working in Spartanburg as a portrait photographer since the Civil War.

Although I haven't found a Morgan Square image among Robertson's photos, several other views around town are shown, and they all date from around 1872. So far, I've found First Baptist Church, Church of the Advent, First Presbyterian, Wofford College's "Old Main," Wofford College faculty members, and the short-lived Carolina Orphan Home, which was on the former campus of the Spartanburg Female College. Conveniently for me, these images are each marked with a number from Robertson's Southern Scenery series. The numerical gaps tell me that there are at least two other Spartanburg images from the series I haven't yet found. I suspect they would include the only other church in town at the time, Central Methodist, and possibly the other college, St. John's College. Whether there are more, I can't say, but I'm looking very hard! Let me know if you come across any, even the ones I've listed!

Robertson's series may have been the oldest, but it was far from the only one. Someone was able to snap an 1876 image of the First Presbyterian parsonage and Gaffney's June Carr took a few photos nearby in the 1910s. The largest (and most professionally produced) series seems to have been made by Thomas R. Shuford of Gastonia, NC. He came into Spartanburg County in the days following the devastating Pacolet River flood of 1903 and took some 50 photographs of the wreckage and clean-up effort. The record they provide is quite remarkable.

The final series I've seen was made by an unknown photographer in the summer of 1910 during the South Carolina Confederate Reunion, which was held in Spartanburg. That event included the dedication of the Confederate monument then on South Church Street, but now in Duncan Park. I've only seen a handful of these stereoviews, and unfortunately none were labeled, so figuring out whether an isolated image goes with this series would take some research finesse.

I hope to have some of these images publicly available soon at the library. If you're interested in seeing them, come by and have a look! Here's one from the 1910 Confederate reunion, during a parade through Morgan Square:

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Face of Segregation

Most people need a connection to the past in order to appreciate the story it has to tell. Often my role when speaking to the public is to foster that connection in people. One of my great professional joys is to watch a person's reaction to a photo or artifact transform as that connection is formed.

Among photos, which are often my focus at work, the ones that capture my attention the most are usually images of familiar places. My own connection to an old photo often comes from knowing the place where a photo was made, even if the image I see differs vastly from the place as it exists now, or as I personally remember it. That's the connection for me: a shared place, usually anyway.

Something different happened recently when I was processing some photos donated by School District Seven. Most of the photos came with clear identifications because many of them had been published in a 1982 history of the district. Others had penciled notes, or were clearly identifiable. Only a few required some historical sleuthing, and one became all the more poignant as I tried harder and harder to uncover the circumstances of the photo.

The fact that Spartanburg was so late to fully desegregate its schools, which happened finally in the fall of 1970, should not go unnoticed. And despite the dubiously intended "separate but equal" ruling, on the administrative level, African-American teachers, students, schools, and materials were always secondary to their white counterparts. That disparity was highlighted in this 1964 photo of a retiring black schoolteacher receiving a certificate of recognition for her years of service from superintendent J. G. McCracken. Study her expression for a minute.

Mrs. Larcie Smith Browning with Dr. J. G. McCracken, May 28, 1964

She seems emotionally overwhelmed. Mixed up in her expression are uncomfortable humility, intense gratitude, and the restraint of someone who knows to stay in the place society has left for her. If her stifled tears and nervous smile weren't emotionally powerful enough, there's the white dress, white gloves, and white powder she has used to dress up for one of the biggest occassions of her adult life.

Growing up at the turn of the century, she would have come of age in one of the worst periods for African-Americans in South Carolina. The generation in power at that time went to great efforts to prevent the chaotic social upheaval that had marred their own youths during Reconstruction by constraining African-American progress. New voting rules legally disenfranchised blacks and the reinvention of the KKK ensured that African-Americans stayed in their white-defined place in society.

That sense of a "proper place," especially in regards to interacting with whites, defines this photo for me. As a black woman employed by this man, she very clearly has a subservient role to him. Yet, this photo documents a ceremony given in her honor. She seems to struggle with that place of honor while maintaining her "proper place," and I wonder if that is what her expression (and the awkward physical space between them) is all about. Combine that with all the memories of working for decades as a teacher in her struggling community and it's certainly an overwhelming experience.

This photo didn't come with any label and it took some effort to find her name. There was a newspaper article in May of 1964 that covered and photographed the retiring of three white teachers with a note in the final paragraph that a similar ceremony would be held a few days later for two negro teachers. As might be expected, no article or photo appeared in the newspaper for that event. I later found an older photo of teachers at Highland Elementary that included one of the retiring teachers, Mrs. Larcie Browning, the woman shown above. That provided the link to clarify her identity, and that's how I'm able to say who she was and what was happening in her life on May 28, 1964.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Regaining Site

It's probably not too surprising to hear that nearly every structure in downtown Spartanburg is less than 130 years old. Go back to 1880 and you'd see that Spartanburg was a newly-chartered city of 3,000 residents, and the city looked forward to a bright future as textile-induced prosperity ushered along substantial improvements and expansion. Over the course of that 130 years, a ramshackle village evolved into a bustling Southern city. In the mean time, buildings have come and gone, and after over a century, any single site is likely to have supported a few generations of buildings.

Those layers are what make the walking tours fun. I love showing off the few nineteenth century buildings left downtown, but I also love showing images and talking about what's no longer around. Ideally, the tours give folks an impression of the layers in the downtown landscape: from Cherokee hunting ground to backwoods courthouse village to railroad hub and onwards. Walking through those layers equipped with photos and stories seems to get people a little more engaged and aware.

More often than not, any site's individual layers don't really connect with one another. It doesn't really mean anything that the 1787 log-framed courthouse stood where the traffic island west of the Morgan monument is now. It's interesting, but not meaningful, that an ironworks stood where the library's drop-off area is. But at least in one area, there seem to be coincidences between the different layers that make you wonder if the site itself might have some sort of intrinsic significance.

The specific spot I'm referring to lies on what is now St. John Street along the hill around the intersections with Converse Street and Liberty Street. Now the distinct landmarks there include the George Dean Johnson College of Business and Economics, the Chapman Cultural Center, and Barnet Park. All of these are relatively recent developments that grew out of the Renaissance Park idea of the 1990s. Peel back a layer, before the Renaissance Project, and you'd see the old National Guard armory, an automotive repair shop, a bar or two, and a paper retailer. Go back a few more layers and you'd find two mid-19th century buildings.

One of those buildings, precisely where the business school now sits, may have been originally built as a residence, but in later years was used as a school. For a time, it was the Spartanburg Male Academy, a private school for boys. In 1884, it was purchased by the city's early public school system and used as one of three graded schools, a recent educational innovation. It continued to serve that function along with the female graded school, located where the entrance to Barnet Park is now, until the city built the old Magnolia Street School, where the courthouse now stands. The third facility, the graded school for black children, was rented from Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.

Here are some photos of all this:

Male Academy/Graded School (white children, grades 4-7), northwest corner of Elm (now St. John) and Liberty.

Female Academy/Graded School (white children, grades 1-3), northeast corner of Elm (now St. John) and Converse.

1891 image of Mount Moriah, S. Liberty Street, where the graded school for "colored" children was held from 1884-1891.

Magnolia Street School, western side of Magnolia Street, the first building outside of Charleston built specifically for public education in SC.

1923 image of Dean Street School, graded school for "colored" children from 1891-1939. Site later redeveloped as Alexander Elementary.

After the school was built on Magnolia Street in 1890, the old male academy building went on to serve other functions until it was reinhabited by the Hastoc School, a private school for boys that had been established by Wofford professor Hugh T. Shockley, sometime before 1908. The Hastoc School first occupied a facility on the site of the Chapman Cultural Center, but later renovated and moved into the old graded school.

Students outside the Hastoc School, formerly the Male Academy and Graded School

Today, this site is still a center for education. The business school, finished in 2010, and the Chapman Cultural Center, finished in 2007, are both vital ingredients to the city's educational atmosphere. It's really quite remarkable that they sit on a site with such deep schooling roots. And it's entirely by coincidence. To my knowledge, no one at the decision-making level knew about these earlier establishments, and even if they had, it would have probably mattered very little amidst all the other considerations that go into site selection. In another culture, or at another time, place history might have been the tap root from which our decision tree grows. That's not the case in Spartanburg in 2010, although I dare to hope that we Spartans are a bit more tuned into the history of our surroundings than we were only a generation ago.
Chapman Cultural Center

Spartanburg Co. School District Seven: The First Ninety-Eight Years, by Ella Poats (1982)
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Spartanburg County Historical Association

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Place Matters

I've got another post in the works, but I thought it might be good to make a stopgap post in the meanwhile.

It's a core value for me that place is an important component of existence. I suspect that most people don't dwell on what place means quite as much as I do. It's second only to time in how I go about viewing the world, which says a lot coming from an historian.

Place has a lot of aspects that are fascinating to me. A place is both a construct and an external reality. There is no unit of place. Units depend on boundaries, and fundamentally, the only boundaries between places are arbitrarily imposed boundaries. Yet, despite its indefinability, place exists. Nothing is in isolation and there is no place that stands unconnected to the places around it, and there are no hard and fast ways to separate one place from an adjacent place.

A place not only connects to the places nearby, but also to the things that inhabit the place now, in the past, and in the future. A place can dictate the actions of the things in it or it can be changed by the actions of those things. A place can be special, ordinary, or undesirable. A place can mean different things to different people. A place can change and a place's meaning can change.

I won't even get into what it means to "own" a place!

For me, place even takes on a spiritual side. Despite the attempts of some, no place in the world is the same. Every place has thousands of stories; dramas enacted over time. Places nourish us. Our connections to our social communities and the community of life are made evident through place. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe... all of these come from a place that matters (or should matter) to us. These things depend on these places. Our bodies are made from these places. The stories that shaped us happened in these places. The stories and nourishment that made our ancestors came from these places. If places are disposable or insignificant as so many people seem to think, then we are disposable and insignificant, because we are, in so many ways, our places.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Bridges to the Past

Public infrastructure is an important feature in understanding the basic mechanics of how a society operates. Think about the Romans, for instance, and their grandiose infrastructure will almost surely come to mind. The aqueducts and bridges that still remain scattered across urban and rural European landscapes are surely marvelous. But at least to me, they represent more than the technological achievements of an ancient culture, they demonstrate a certain attention to monumentality and cultural craftsmanship.

I don't make the mistake of imagining that every Roman bridge was precisely hand-cut from the finest granites, or inlaid with fountains and marble relief sculpture, but I do see a gulf that stands between what Romans seemed to value in their public infrastructure and what 21st century Americans value.

Up above I have an image of an old covered bridge, Campbell's Bridge in Greenville County. Bridges like that once crossed a lot of the smaller creeks and rivers throughout the county, especially in the mid- and late-19th century. Like anything, they fell into disrepair, and when the roads were widened, and the vehicles got heavier, it became the reasonable thing to replace them. Below is another beautiful Greenville County bridge, the 1820s Poinsett Bridge:

Later generations were swept up in the steel craze that funded Gilded Age mega-corporations and eagerly utilized steel to solve engineering problems too daunting for wood. The bridges and trestles that were made in this era exhibited a kind of raw Beaux Arts strength that welded structure with beauty through rivets, planks, and crossbeams. The best known example of such a bridge is at Glendale, but bridges like these were very common in the city and in villages and rural areas all throughout the county. This example was where Heywood Ave. crosses Lawson's Fork near White's Mill:

Bridges of stone and wood were constructed too, of course, some humble, others spectacular. Even reinforced concrete, the medium of nearly every modern Spartanburg County bridge, was used with taste and a sense of craftsmanship. The bridge where US-29 crosses the Pacolet is a wonderful mid-1920s example:

Somewhere along the way, though, an aesthetic of simplicity paved the way for minimalistic, bottom-dollar construction without any sense of local pride or monumentality. Even in highly visible areas, very few modern bridges attempt to do anything more than span a distance with the least possible cost, to the detriment of the communities that see and use them. Bridges now are nothing to be proud of, and it seems that more often than not, they're an outright eyesore. You don't need to look far to find an example. Below is the view at Van Patton Shoals, on the Enoree River, with a 1990s bridge in the near background and the remains of an older iron bridge in the far background.
Clearly, public dollars need to be spent with an appropriate sense of priority. The tremendous needs of a community with the size and demographics of Spartanburg can mean that less money is earmarked for public infrastructure. But with the recent waves of stimulus-funded highway projects and the emphasis placed on infrastructural improvements as a means of job creation, surely the decision-makers that give the go-ahead to these projects can budget the extra expense to give these projects a worthwhile design that will make our community proud for the decades (or centuries?) they will see these structures.

As a final image, I'll show a photo of the widening project on the Pacolet River bridge on US-29 in the mid-1970s. Rather than carry on the decorative elements from the original bridge, the widened portion features the unadorned reinforced concrete typical of all modern bridge construction.