Glendale shoals was the site of the first large textile mill in Spartanburg County, SC and the surrounding region. Dr. James Bivings built a mill on the site in about 1832 and the community was named Bivingsville. It ran with 1200 spindles and 24 looms and was powered by an overshot waterwheel of 26 foot diameter and 12 foot breast. Nearly all early textile mills were built near steep sections of rivers so that they could be hydro-powered, first mechanically and later hydro-electrically. The mill dam is visible at the top of the shoals. Two large mansions built by Dr. Bivings still stand, one directly behind the mill and the other near downtown Spartanburg, SC. The mill was sold out of bankruptcy in 1856 to a group of investors, one of whom, Dexter Edgar Converse, became the principle owner after the Civil War. The original mill was demolished and a much larger five-story mill built in about 1867. The mill was expanded in 1890 and again 1902, eventually having more than 37,000 spindles in 250,000 square feet of floor space. The village was renamed Glendale in 1880 and the mill as well in 1886. Mr. Converse went on to become one of the founders of Converse College in Spartanburg. (On a personal note, my wife, Dr. Elena Mendez is a physics professor at Converse.) Sadly, the mill was destroyed by fire in March 2004. The mill had been closed since 1961, but was in the early phases of conversion into loft apartments.
The Elevation theme is represented several ways in this panorama. The dam elevates water to generate power; the abandoned bridge was used to elevate vehicles and pedestrians above the water; the tower visible through the trees was the main staircase for the old mill, which workers used to elevate themselves to the upper floors; and the mill that stood here elevated the economy of the region for more than a century.
Although the Glendale area has endured a long economic decline since the closing of the mill, there are a number of reasons to hope for a brighter future, many of which derive from the beautiful natural surroundings along the Lawson's Fork. The area surrounding the shoals was donated to the Spartanburg Area Conservancy (SPACE) in 1993 and is now the Glendale Shoals Preserve. There is easy access with connections to hiking trails and take-out above the dam and put-in below the shoals for canoeing the river. The single remaining mill building, the former mill office, along with three acres of land has been acquired by Wofford College in Spartanburg. Wofford will use this acquisition to create and host an environmental studies program, with classrooms, labs and offices in the old mill office building. The old Glendale United Methodist Church closed several years ago, but has been purchased by the Palmetto Conservation Foundation and now houses the PCF-run Glendale Outdoor Leadership School. All of these events point towards an elevation of the community spirit and economic future of Glendale.
One thing that is definitely not elevated is the water level: this area is in the midst of a serious drought.