TENT AND TRENCH
Chapter 8
An "Upset City": Dealing With 35,000 Soldiers

Camp Wadsworth had a tremendous impact on life in the city of Spartanburg.  Soldiers frequently made their way into the city whenever they could.  This was no small feat, considering the transportation difficulties that the men stationed at Camp Wadsworth faced.  The Vanderbilt Road remained notoriously dangerous throughout the camp's existence.  Dr. Charles E. Jefferson, who visited Camp Wadsworth in 1917, was as shocked by the road conditions as he was the weather.  In an articled titled "A Week In Spartanburg," he related that "The road from the city to the camp is worthy of mention.  Indeed there are several roads, all of them equally bad.  The one which seemed the worst was always the one which I took the last.  Somebody told me about these roads before I had been in town an hour.  I was tempted to buy a ticket at once for New York.  At the breakfast table Sunday morning, a man from North Carolina, not knowing I was to conduct a communion service in the camp that morning, related a tale which made my hair stand up.  He explained that the road was quite convex, and very slippery, and that I would see the wrecks of ruined automobiles all along the way."  A good road from Camp Wadsworth to Spartanburg was not fully completed until the National Highway opened on October 15, 1918.  Soldiers trying to reach the city by public car frequently claimed that they were gouged.  Some units avoided the public car operators all together by purchasing their own vehicles.  Another possible way to reach Spartanburg was the Piedmont & Northern electric railway.  The P&N laid spur tracks into Camp Wadsworth, but offered notoriously bad service.  Soldiers were baffled by Spartanburg's inability to improve the transportation situation.  In a letter to the editor of the Spartanburg Herald newspaper, one disgruntled soldier complained "It's a good day's work to get to and from town.  Some of the men in camp have pockets lined with money and they are anxious to spend this with the Spartanburg dealers and the theatres but rather than brave the perils of the Snake road, pay 35 cents jitney fare to points beyond the Hostess House or stall around for a couple hours waiting for the P. & N. to decide it's about time to run another train to and from Camp Wadsworth, they stay in camp, anxiously awaiting the day when they will be sent to another camp, near another city where the Chamber of Commerce is active, where the newspapers are fighting for the best interests of he community and where the merchants are awake to the possibilities of increasing their patronage and profits.  The men want to go to another town whose civic pride would not allow such conditions to prevail… As it is now, the soldiers are forced to believe that the people of Spartanburg do not want them to visit their city, to patronize their restaurants and stores and theatres and therefore they content themselves at camp, amusing themselves as best they may, longing for the orders that will sent them away from the Snake road and the P. & N. electric line."  Many men ultimately chose to avoid both the public cars and the P&N by simply walking the three and a half miles to town.

            Despite the transportation problems, Spartanburg was often filled with khaki clad soldiers.  Of Spartanburg, Dr. Charles Jefferson wrote "It is the most upset city in America, at least so far as my knowledge goes.  It has been upset by Camp Wadsworth, a new city of 35,000 inhabitants only four miles away.  This new city overflows in the old city.  Twice a week there is a genuine inundation.  I arrived on Saturday, and at first I was not certain whether I was in the camp or in the city.  Soldiers were everywhere.  The streets were full.  The hotels crowded.  The stores were overflowing."  New York National Guardsmen found Spartanburg quite different from the northern cities that they were accustomed to.  In a letter home, Sergeant Kenneth Gow wrote "Spartanburg is a typical Southern city.  It seems very old-fashioned to us.  The merchants are very obliging, and evidently are making a sincere effort to give the troops a square deal.  The people are sociable, and very much inclined to take things easy.  If you try to hurry them, you are worse off than ever."  Sergeant Gow found Spartanburg's businessmen wholly unprepared for the demands created by Camp Wadsworth.  He observed "If an enterprising merchant would open a store here, he would make his fortune.  The storekeepers in the town have not the slightest idea of what they ought to carry.  At the furniture store where I bought my table and chair I also tried to get two canvas folding-chairs for Lt. Wilson.  The owner said that he had ordered a big shipment of them, and that he expected that they would arrive at some indeterminate date in the future.  I asked him how many he had ordered, and he informed me that his order called for a hundred.  Just imagine!  And he thought that he was plunging in very deeply.  He could sell a thousand of them right now.  I told him to order five thousand, and went so far as to say that the M. G. Co. would guarantee the sale…"  Increased demand caused prices to rise rapidly in Spartanburg.  Military vehicles began to create traffic jams and speeding problems.  Military Police maintained a constant presence in the city.  The MPs dealt with everything from directing traffic to raiding houses of ill repute.

            Rock Creek Park and the Cleveland Hotel became important social centers for off duty soldiers.  Dances were frequently being organized, and regimental bands from Camp Wadsworth frequently gave performances at public events.  Intermingling between soldiers and local girls resulted in a fair number of marriages.  Many soldiers were accompanied to Spartanburg by their families.  A small village for officers' families was rapidly erected on the western side of Camp Wadsworth.  More affluent families simply rented houses and hotel rooms.  This resulted in a definite housing shortage in Spartanburg.     

 



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