TENT AND TRENCH
Chapter 2
"City of Success" - Spartanburg, SC In The Early 1900's

The government's plan for the creation of 32 cantonments resulted in intense competition and speculation in cities and towns across the United States.  Town politicians and merchants realized the tremendous economic benefits that winning a cantonment would bring, and enthusiastically lobbied the government to build one within their community.  Spartanburg, South Carolina, was among the many small cities competing for a cantonment.  Located in the South Carolina Piedmont, Spartanburg was a textile center of approximately 20,000 inhabitants in 1917.1  Numerous textile mills brought the city a relatively high level of prosperity by South Carolina standards.  Wofford and Converse colleges were both located in Spartanburg, and helped to give the community a reputation for higher education.2  The Cleveland Hotel, newly built in 1917, offered Spartanburg's visitors clean and modern accommodations.3  Despite the veneer of prosperity, Spartanburg also suffered from many of the problems that plagued the American South during the early twentieth century, however.  Race laws were rigidly enforced, and poverty reigned throughout much of the county.  This was especially true in the county's many mill villages and rural countryside.  Rural Spartanburg was characterized by poor white tenant farmers and African American sharecroppers.  Cotton was still king, and countless acres of Spartanburg land was planted with the snow white crop each year.  Intensive cotton planting and the county's hilly location resulted in serious erosion problems.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, rural Spartanburg was a largely treeless sea of cotton and red Carolina Piedmont clay.4 

            Spartanburg's hilly location was not an entirely negative feature, however.  The county's elevation offered the blessing of fast moving streams that could be harnessed for electrical power.  This helped give birth to Spartanburg's textile industry during the latter part of the nineteenth century.  By 1917, Spartanburg County was dotted with numerous textile mills and their supporting villages.  Mill owners constituted the elite of Spartanburg society.  Life for the average mill worker was far from ideal, however.  Hours were long, the work grueling, and the pay minuscule.  Mill village houses were often small ramshackle structures that lacked running water.  Many of those employed in Spartanburg's textile industry were originally from the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.  These people viewed life in the mills as a step up from the grinding poverty that existed in the mountains.  Despite the difficulty of life in the textile industry, a mill worker was guaranteed pay and housing as long as they could work.  Mill villages also provided a strong sense of community, and games played between different mill baseball teams became important sources of entertainment.  Still, endemic poverty remained a fact of life in Spartanburg's mill communities.5 

            Spartanburg was determined to win one of the 32 newly commissioned training cantonments.  Billed as the "City of Success" by local officials, Spartanburg had a number of advantages over other communities.6  The fact that Spartanburg was located in the Deep South made it ideally suited to year round training.  Spartanburg's mild climate also made the community a very desirable location for one of the new National Guard cantonments.  The government specified that National Guardsmen were to be cheaply housed in large pyramidal tents, not barracks.  This necessitated that the National Guard cantonments be located in climates with mild winters.  Of the 16 National Guard Cantonments commissioned by the government, 12 were built in the South.  Spartanburg County's rural nature ensured that plenty of land would be available for a camp and military maneuvers.  A number of Spartanburg's prominent citizens lobbied the government to construct a camp on the city's outskirts.  These included Spartanburg's Mayor, John F. Floyd; President of the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce, Ben Hill Brown; Chairman of Spartanburg's Cantonment Committee, John B. Cleveland; and the editor of the Spartanburg Herald newspaper, Charles O. Hearon.  The Spartanburg community raised a $200,000 guarantor's fund to further attract government interest.  Congressman and Spartanburg resident Sam J. Nichols helped support the city's campaign in Washington D.C. 7 Reverend W.H.K. Pendleton, rector of Spartanburg's Episcopal Church of the Advent, provided the city with an important link to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker.  Before assuming his position of the Church of the Advent, Reverend Pendleton had taught Baker at Episcopal High School in Virginia.  This gave Spartanburg an important edge in its competition for a camp.8  General Leonard Wood, commander of the Army's Eastern Division, was the man Spartanburg most needed to impress.  On May 29, it was disclosed that the inspectors sent to Spartanburg by General Wood had issued a positive report.  Only on June 21, however, did an excited Spartanburg receive definite assurance that it would receive a camp.  On this date, General Leonard Wood personally inspected Spartanburg and ensured the city of its success.  Shortly after General Wood's visit, the War Department officially announced that Spartanburg had won one of the 32 new camps.9    

For Notes please see Appendix C - Bibliography


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