The fair hills and woodlands beneath the beautiful Carolina blue skies of the upstate boast many mineral springs. One of the best known is Glenn Springs. Popular legend holds that Native Americans discovered the healing waters when a deathly ill brave arose well after several days of imbibing the waters. Another legend says they saw sick animals recover after drinking from the “deer lick” waters. Another is that a young boy recovered from a skin disease after being covered in the mud of the swampy area.
In 1752 the King of England granted Henry Storey 1000 acres in the Glenn Springs area. The Spartanburg District was becoming a densely settled region compared to other parts of the pre-Revolutionary backcountry and would play a fascinating role in the struggle for freedom for the 13 colonies. Gen. George Washington is said to have stopped at the springs on his way to Savannah as the guest of John King, a member of the famous Washington's Guard.
The extensive drought of 1800 dried the swamp and exposed the mineral spring. Around 1815-1820 James P. Means bought 1000 acres for $300 and built a two-story house on a hill near the spring. In 1825 John B. Glenn purchased 500 acres including the “powder spring”, the name associated with the strong sulfur smell of gunpowder for $800. He opened an inn for the traveling public and the area became known as Glenn Springs. Log cabins were built on the hill leading to the spring and affluent gentlemen were allowed to build their own cabins.
As popularity grew the area was strapped for vacancies and in 1835 “The Glenn Springs Company” was formed with 15 members paying Mr. Glenn $1000 each. They built a grand hotel that opened in July 1836, and quickly became known for its elegance, gentility, and the prominence of its guests. Where opulence was the standard, it became known as the unofficial capital of South Carolina because of the judges, US senators, representatives, and state officials who spent summers with their families at Glenn Springs. Nouveau riche joined old money in the quest to see and be seen. The Glenn Springs Academy was opened in 1842 and the Episcopal Church in 1848.
In 1877 during the Reconstruction years following the War Between the States, Dr.John W. Simpson and his son J. Wistar Simpson brought the property. Stately homes continued to be constructed and the Presbyterian Church was chartered in 1883. The Simpsons enlarged the hotel in 1894 to accommodate 500 guests. It had more than 58,000 square feet of floor space and 580 linear feet of piazzas. Polished curly pine covered the hallways. Entertainment was provided with nightly dancing to the orchestra in the ballroom, tennis court, tin pan alley billiard and card tables, bathing pool, shooting gallery, chess, croquet, and visits to nearby gold mines and Revolutionary War sites. Guest made frequent walks to the spring and often drank 15-30 glasses of water daily. The “true Elixir of Life”, as one resident called the water, contains calcium sulfate, sodium sulfate, calcium carbonate. meta-salicylic acid, and magnesium carbonate. The Glenn Springs Company shipped bottles and demijohns of the mineral water to most towns in South Carolina, across the United States, and to parts of Europe. It was kept in the United States Senate cloakroom as late as 1930.
Travel to the popular Glenn Springs Hotel became easier when the Glenn Springs Railroad opened in 1894. Operating ten miles of track from Glenn Springs to Pauline to Roebuck on the Port Royal and Western Carolina, the line owned one locomotive, one combination car, and one passenger car. The train, pulled by wood-burning locomotive #1226, made one round trip a day in the summer and three times a week in the winter with a fare of seventy-five cents for adults and thirty-five cents for children.
The popularity of the health resort never recovered from the Great Depression and the grand hotel was destroyed by fire on July 25, 1941. Today the Glenn Springs Academy, formerly the Spartanburg Boys' Home, owns the spring and the surrounding property.