Glenn Springs Preservation Society: Old Stone Church Project
Submitted by: Linda Smith Powell
BULLDOZE THAT DOWN! It's dangerous, dangerous, dark, desolate. You need to bulldoze that down. Those were the words we heard in the spring of 2007 when trying to raise support to save the Old Stone Church in Glenn Springs, SC. The ruin was one of 19 properties in the Glenn Springs Historic District listed on the National Historic Register. A group of 45 citizens had met in January and organized the Glenn Springs Preservation Society, with the purpose of saving the old ruins, collecting memorabilia and oral histories. But now we had eight or nine willing to meet each month, not one penny, and we didn't even own the property.
Our story begins with a handful of Presbyterians who began meeting in the parlor of the Glenn Springs hotel. Glenn Springs, once called "the Queen of the South", was a famed mineral water resort in southern Spartanburg County. From the 1830s to 1930s, more than a thousand visitors came to spend each May to September season, and the healing waters were shipped up and down the Eastern seaboard and to Europe. In the 1870s the governor and his entourage, the old money, and the nouveau riche, came to drink the healing waters. A railroad spur built from Spartanburg made travel easier. All this collapsed with the depression. 1939 was the last season of the hotel, and on the night of July 25, 1941, it burned to the ground. Glenn Springs became a sleepy little hamlet.
Those Presbyterians had chartered in 1883 and built a small clapboard church. When it needed repair, it was moved, and the stone church of Southern Gothic architecture was constructed on the same site. Completed in 1908, the stone church served the congregation until 1961 when they outgrew the building and built a larger church in Glenn Springs where they still worship today. The church did not own the old stone church property, so it was...abandoned.
Fast forward almost 50 years. Many of the grand homes and boarding houses have collapsed or burned, and the little stone church is in a sad state. Not only are the doors and windows broken out, but the rusted roof covers rotten timbers, and there are large holes in the rotten floor. Enormous cracks run from ceiling to floor. Pieces of the ceiling are hanging, and the walls are covered with mold, grime, and graffiti. And the property is covered in 50 years of kudzu.
By being on the National Historic Register, we could get a free assessment. Richard Sidebottom came from the SC Department of Archives and History, and said, "No one in SC was building anything like this in 1908. It was all little clapboard churches. Yes! This is worth saving!" Not only did he give us an evaluation and order of procedure, but more importantly, he gave us ENCOURAGEMENT!
We began meeting once a month, designed and printed stationery, wrote letters, called former church members and Glenn Springs families, designed a logo, copyrighted that logo, wrote, and printed. a trifold publicity brochure, wrote bylaws, incorporated, developed a website, called local papers for publicity. We encouraged tours, individuals, and groups, and talked about Glenn Springs' history and what we hoped to do. When a few dollars trickled in, we hired a structural engineer. With his report we knew the building was savable. We were umbrellaed under the Spartanburg County Foundation, so every penny went through them and was accounted for.
Our first event was a kudzu dig, one of many over the first ten years to clear the property of kudzu, dead trees, and brush. Our next project was a litter pickup. By the end of this year, we will have had 45 litter pickups in the Glenn Springs area since 2007.
For each stage of restoration, we got three bids, took one bid, and raised the money from fundraisers and individuals, for that work. Fundraisers included three tours of homes that were a lot of work with very little profit, barbeques, and oyster roasts. These include live music, usually blue grass, silent auctions, crafts, the BEST steamed oysters, chicken and beef chilis, hot dogs, homemade sides and desserts. See our website in September for tickets to the October 21st Oyster Roast. The property is tobacco free, alcohol free. So many fundraisers, SO much work!
The order of restoration for the Old Stone Church project was as follows: roof and rotten timbers removed and replaced, foundation stabilized with a system like Ram Jack, exterior cleaned and repainted, and the double paned, clad, hand milled windows and doors installed. With the exterior secure from weather, we could move to the interior. The rotten floor was removed to the ground and the huge coal burning furnace beaten into pieces to be removed. Floor was rebuilt from joist through subflooring. The original beadboard ceiling was repaired, walls sheet rocked and painted, state of the art heating and air installed, beautiful light fixtures and hard wood floors added. Property is landscaped and exterior lighting added.
The Old Stone Church, from January 2207 to November 2017, was now beautifully restored. In May 2018, the building was dedicated to God and for use by the Glenn Springs community. First phase complete, we continued digging. We designed an annex to connect to the back of the church with restrooms, bride's parlor, groom's room with small kitchen, and much needed storage. To this point our events, even a wedding, had used rented toilets. Again, we took bids for each stage, selected a bid, and raised the money for that work. The last storage closet of the annex was finished in February 2023. The entire project, over one half million dollars, is totally paid for. With not one penny of government or grant money, this has been a 100% volunteer grassroots endeavor. In 2013 we were able to purchase the two and a half acres including the Old Stone Church and the Cates Mercantile, which is our next restoration project.
In 2021 we became our own 501(c)3 nonprofit.
Obstacles? Just to name a few: We rush to paint before a wedding only to enter the church and see DARK brown chocolate walls because the contractor had reversed two digits on the paint number. An EFl tornado tears through Glenn Springs and brings down the great trees, but not the church. A terrific windstorm hurls a branch and shatters a window three days before a wedding. An exuberant father of the bride rings the repaired bell in the tower and the bell breaks into pieces, but now replaced.
How was this work possible? 1. Volunteers numbered only a few but they are faithful, hardworking and dedicated. 2. Community and surrounding communities and businesses have supported events, sponsored events, donated time, labor, materials, food, free music concerts, encouraged and supported with willing hearts and hands. 3. Generous Donors have continued to give, from $1 to $10,000. 4. And we PRAY, from beginning to end for sixteen years, before and after every meeting and event. When money wasn't there and we had to be patient, we made better decisions. We believe in the power of prayer.
We will have our 60th wedding this year and have had birthday parties, showers, family reunions, prom and bridal photo shoots, book readings, guest speakers, history courses from Wofford College's Lifelong Learning series, community Easter Egg hunts, and Christmas concerts and caroling. This preservation project is the glorious core of a changed community. Events are times of renewing friendships, meeting new neighbors, and making a community safer and stronger. It is a place of inspiration and peace. With new energy, new pride, and a "can do" spirit, we are NEW Glenn Springs.