Monday, December 01, 2008

Two posts ago, I left off with Thomas Williamson donating (or selling... two sources differ) two acres of his land to the county for the construction of a courthouse, jail, and public square. The map I mentioned earlier suggests that his land may have been chosen because of its central location in the county, but I still wonder how those particular two acres ended up as the site.

Those couple of acres happen to be on the western face of the sloping ridge that separates the Pacolet and Tyger River watersheds. They're not on the highest spot of land on that ridge, and in fact there is land very close by that is situated at a higher elevation. So why wouldn't they have placed the town at the peak of the ridge? The answer may lie in the basement of a building on Magnolia Street.

I like to pay attention to topography... if you keep an eye out, sometimes you can catch a good view of distant hills or spot a tiny stream of flowing water on its way to the ocean. In an urban landscape, sometimes it can give you historical clues too. You might notice that Magnolia Street dips down a little bit between Morgan Square and St. John Street. Check out the parallel streets and you'll notice that a little valley begins at that little dip. On Church Street between Main and St. John, there's not much of a dip at all, but there's a pretty big one on North Spring Street in that block. Well, underneath the sushi restaurant on Magnolia, there's a tiny little spring that bubbles up and flows (now through underground pipes) towards Greenville Branch, a tributary of Fairforest Creek. Greenville Branch is piped under West Main Street near Wakefield's, but you can catch glimpses of it elsewhere on its course. It used to be the source of the mill pond at Spartan Mills.

Anyway, that little spring may be the reason for Morgan Square's exact placement. The original courthouse stood so that its front door was only a step or two west from where the Morgan Monument stands now. Across the Square, near where the fountain is now, was the original site of the jail. In addition to those two buildings, there was a whipping post, stocks, and a pillory. I believe that the jail may have also contained a scaffold for hangings. A tree nearby might have served the purpose also.

In the square's early days, there was little else other than the public buildings. By 1809, 22 years after its establishment, there were six small buildings on the square that served mainly as hotels for folks with business at court. In 1810, Jesse Cleveland supposedly became the village's first merchant when he built a dry goods store about where the old waterworks building is now. Others soon followed, and by 1831, the residents of the little village received a charter of incorporation and Spartanburg became a town with a mayor, elections, and the authority to tax.

More on the evolving shape of the "square" next time...

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