History of Spartanburg Water 

Spartanburg Water is actually two entities operating under one name. We are Spartanburg Water System (a political subdivision of the city of Spartanburg, overseen by The Commission of Public Works of the City of Spartanburg, South Carolina) and Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District (a special purpose district established by the state of South Carolina and overseen by the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District Commission). Spartanburg Water System and Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District share many things: goals, facilities, business offices, employees, a general manager, even elected commissioners. Since both are legal entities established by legislation, their finances must be kept separate. However, the work is so interrelated, we have worked as one organization for years. To help the public better understand who we are and that one phone call to our customer service number reaches both organizations, in 2007 we began using the name Spartanburg Water to represent both entities. This page contains a brief history of both organizations, with milestones highlighting significant events.

In 2014, a new mural was installed in downtown Spartanburg, reminding all who pass by that Spartanburg – Hub City –  was founded in 1831. This mural encourages us to love where we live, and we do . . . and we love to serve where we live as well.  In fact, the story of Spartanburg Water and the story of Spartanburg are intertwined.  “Where water goes, Spartanburg grows!” may have been a tag line created by former Spartanburg Water General Manager John Andrea, but it still holds true today.  Join us on this tour through our history as we explore not only the growth of our organization but also the growth of our city and nation. 

Now, on to the story . . .

Fifty years after Spartanburg was founded, the statue of General Daniel Morgan was placed in what then became known as “Morgan Square,” and it was six years after that, in 1887, that Spartanburg’s first water works was chartered by the South Carolina Secretary of State as a privately held company, and the original water plant, the Chinquapin Filter Plant, was established at 250 Whitney Road in Spartanburg.   Chinquapin Creek was where Spartanburg got most of its water at one time, and the water flow was good in the creek until about the 1970s. 

Two years after the Chinquapin Filter Plant was established, Converse College opened, and the following year’s census (1890) showed that Spartanburg had 5,500 residents.  Two years later, in 1892, trolleys came to Spartanburg.   It is fascinating to note that in later Spartanburg Water infrastructure improvements, old trolley tracks were found on Magnolia and Broad Streets. 

The privately-owned Chinquapin Filter Plant went into receivership in 1898, and a year later, it was purchased by some businessmen with familiar names in the Spartanburg community: John H. Montgomery, Ralph Carson, D. E. Converse (one of the founders of Converse College and for whom the college is named), Jesse Franklin Cleveland, and John Bomar Cleveland. They named their water business the Home Water Supply Company.

Most unfortunately, on March 25, 1907, a fire started in a house on Forest Street that quickly spread and destroyed over 70 buildings and homes in the Spartan Mills area. After this "Big Fire," there was great interest among Spartanburg citizens to acquire ownership of the water company, so in June 1907, after a local referendum, the city of Spartanburg purchased the company. The first Commissioners of Public Works were elected in the spring of 1908, and in 1910, Samuel A. Bush was appointed the first General Manager of the Spartanburg Water Works. 

In 1911 in Spartanburg, the Textile Industrial Institute opened.  This institution would later become known as Spartanburg Methodist College.  In 1912, new pumps were installed at the Chinquapin Filter Plant. 

In 1916, Marvin M. Boyd was appointed General Manager of Spartanburg Water Works, and one year later, he would face the task of meeting the water service needs of Camp  Wadsworth, a 2,000-acre training camp, which opened in 1917 as one of America's premier army mobilization centers.  Before closing in 1919, 105,000 soldiers would be trained there (in contrast, the population of Spartanburg in 1917 was approximately 20,000).  The Cleveland Hotel was also built in 1917, and the Shoally Creek pump station supplemented the Chinquapin Creek water supply.

In 1919, R. B. Simms was appointed General Manager of Spartanburg Water Works.   In 1921, Spartanburg General Hospital opened and was followed four years later by the opening of the Mary Black Hospital (1925).  In 1925, construction work began on Reservoir #1 and a new modern filter plant on the South Pacolet River, and in June of 1926, the R. B. Simms Filtration Plant and Reservoir #1 began operation with a 6-million-gallon-per-day capacity, serving over 30,000 people.

Internationally in 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his first trans-Atlantic flight in May, and that October, he visited the  Spartanburg Downtown Airport for its grand opening as the first commercial airport in South Carolina. 

In 1929, against the backdrop of the Great Depression, when every bank in the city of Spartanburg closed in “the Crash,” the Spartanburg Metropolitan District (later the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District) was created by Act 556 of the S.C. General Assembly and was managed by the Commission of Public Works of the City of Spartanburg.

In 1930, WSPA-AM began broadcasting as the first commercial station in SC.  In 1931, the Fairforest and Lawson Fork Wastewater Treatment Plants began operations. The capacity of the Fairforest plant was 3 million gallons per day (MGD), and the capacity of the Lawson Fork plant was 1.5 MGD.  A year later, in 1932, Metropolitan Subdistrict B (the area northwest of the city, including the Southern Shops) was created. The city of Spartanburg was Subdistrict A, established by the original act in 1929. 

Spartanburg was once again poised to be on the forefront of training troops.  In 1939, World War II began, and the U.S. entered the war  in 1941.  In that year, Camp Croft training camp opened as a mobilization center, also known as an Infantry Replacement Training Center (IRTC).  (Approximately 250,000 soldiers would receive  training there until it was closed in 1946.)  In 1942, the Fairforest plant was expanded to provide service for the Camp Croft training camp, and in November 1945, the Simms Suction Well and Eight Million Gallon Pumping Unit were completed. 

It was during the 1940s that the Spartanburg Water Works building located in downtown Spartanburg.  Photos from this era show the building next to the Cleveland Hotel and the Masonic building.  The Water Works building is now a private residence, and currently, the Masonic building is home to the Little River Roasting Coffee Bar and the Hub City Bookshop.   

World War II ended in 1945.  On November 20, 1947, H. Taylor Blalock began serving as Commissioner.  He would serve from that date until November 20, 1959 and then again from November 20, 1961 until December 16, 1978.  Lake Blalock would later be dedicated to him in honor of his service.  From June 1948 to March 1950, additions of a chemical control building and a sedimentation basin were made to the Simms Plant. 

On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began, and America entered the war in July.  In July three years later, the war ended.  The Landrum Pumping Station site was donated in memory of J.E. Morgan in 1953, and also in that year and continuing into 1954, additions to the Chemical Storage building at the Simms plant took place.  Capacity at Lawson Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant was expanded to accommodate growth.   In 1958, Milliken Research Center opened, Interstate 85 was completed, and the Reservoir No. 2 Contract Letting was held.   

By January 1960, Interstates 85 and 26 intersected at Spartanburg, and the county population had increased to over 156,000 residents. A new dam was built, creating Lake Bowen (Reservoir Number 2), to increase the water supply to the Simms Filtration Plant.  By 1960, the average flow to the Lawson Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant was 2.7 MGD; the average flow to the Fairforest Wastewater Treatment Plant was 4.1 MGD.

In 1962, both the Spartanburg Technical College (later known as Spartanburg Community College)  and the “Jetport” (later Greenville-Spartanburg Airport) opened.

John Andrea began serving as General Manger in 1963 and would serve in that capacity until 1986.  In 1963, improvements to the Simms plants included two vertical pumps, a sedimentation basin, six million gallon filtration, pump room and suction well.  In 1965, the District acquired ownership of the Camp Croft sewage facilities and the Una Subdistrict was formed, creating Subdistrict C.

In 1967, Spartanburg Water acquired the Cowpens Water System, and USC-Spartanburg (later USC-Upstate) opened.   In 1968, Mary Black Hospital moved to Skylyn Drive, and additions to the Fairforest Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant began in July 1968 and were completed in October 1969.  During this time, the Vietnam War was raging (1969-1973), and Americans witnessed Neil Armstrong walk on the moon (1969). 

The late 1960s and the 1970s saw several important legislative actions passed.  Following the 1966 passage of the Endangered Species Preservation Act, the nation's first law to protect endangered species of native fish and wildlife, President Nixon formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 to enforce laws that protect the environment and public health. 

Locally, in 1970, Legislative Act 1503 was passed, changing the name of the Spartanburg Metropolitan District to the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District. Prior to this legislation, growth in the area had spurred haphazard development that included private sewerage systems that were sometimes inadequate, while in other areas, no systems were in place. The Spartanburg Metropolitan District lacked authority to construct collection lines to serve new development, or to establish standards for the construction and upkeep of systems.  The passing of this legislation expanded the boundaries of the District and gave it authority to construct sewer collection mains to serve users directly. It also allowed the District to annex areas by petition or by public necessity to serve areas beyond its initial established boundaries. 

The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, which placed a limit on the flow of raw sewage into rivers, lakes, and streams. Locally in 1973, legislation was passed that, among other things, established the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District Commission as the governing body of the District. This legislation was later changed by the State Supreme Court, reducing the number of commissioners from eight to seven.  Nationally in 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed to protect wildlife and expanded federal protection to plants.  Finally, in 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act outlawed pollutants to ensure water is safe to drink.

In the 1970s, a large expansion of the Fairforest plant was completed, increasing capacity to 10 MGD, and the Simms Filtration Plant was also expanded to ensure an adequate water supply for future growth.  Wastewater System improvements in Cowpens were completed in April 1971, and additions to the Lawson Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant were competed in November 1973, with an expansion project to this plant completed in 1977, increasing capacity to 6 MGD.   In Spartanburg history, the WestGate Mall opened in 1975. 

In 1976, the Commission of Public Works authorized the creation of the H. Taylor Blalock Reservoir (Lake Blalock) to further ensure an abundant supply of water for the future.  Lake Blalock was built by damming the North Pacolet River, construction was completed in 1983, and it was dedicated on November 1985 in memory of H. Taylor Blalock and in honor of his 29 years of service as Commissioner.

The Liberty Street elevated storage tank was built in 1985 as a twin to the Kennedy Street elevated storage tank, which was built in 1936. 

The years of 1986-1987 provided five opportunities to celebrate.  In 1986, Spartanburg Water System celebrated 60 Years of Progress at the R.B. Simms Filtration Plant.  In 1987, the System celebrated 100 years of existence from 1887, when it was established as a private water company.  Also in 1987, the R.B. Simms Filtration Plant was named an American Water Landmark.  The award, presented sparingly by the American Water Works Association, recognized the significant role the Simms Plant played in supplying superior water to Spartanburg and preserving our quality environment.  The Simms Plant was the only American Water Works Association landmark in South Carolina and still one of only two such designated places to date.  Additionally in 1987, the Fairforest Wastewater Treatment Plant was honored with the Burke Facility Safety Award.  This award, given by the Water Pollution Control Federation’s South Carolina Water and Pollution Control Association, was given in recognition of the “excellence of its active and effective safety program and safety record.”  Finally, in November of 1987, the John A. Andrea Water Quality Laboratory and Welcome Center was dedicated in honor of his 23 years of service as General Manager.

In 1988, Spartanburg Water acquired Una Water, and both the Lawson Fork and Fairforest plants were expanded again to include equalization basins at each facility and other process components.   

In the early 1991, the Joint Maintenance Facility (also known as Maintenance and Construction) was completed. The Joint Maintenance Facility houses the parts and equipment needed to maintain the water distribution system and the sewer collection system.  In 1992, Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District annexed the Pacolet Mills service area.

In a move that highlighted Spartanburg’s role in international business, BMW held a groundbreaking ceremony for its Spartanburg County manufacturing plant on September 30, 1992, with construction beginning on April 16, 1993, and the opening ceremony held on November 15, 1994.

In 1996, it became mandatory that public suppliers of drinking water provide customers information about the chemicals and microbes in their water.

In August 1996, construction began on the Lake Blalock Water Filtration Plant.  In 1997, the Commission of Public Works began the lengthy process of obtaining permits to raise the level of Lake Blalock in order to increase the capacity of the reservoir for future water supply needs. In August 1999, the Lake Blalock Water Treatment Facility began its operations.

Several acquisitions were completed during this time, with the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District assuming ownership of the Fingerville sewer system in 1997 and the Landrum sewer system in 1998.  Additionally, Spartanburg Water acquired the Pacolet Mills water system in 2001.

Seared into our nation’s history were the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and  a Palmetto State Flag framed in the entrance of the Collection & Distribution Services building  certifies that this flag was flown during Operation Enduring freedom in October 2007 in honor of Spartanburg Water System. 

From May 2002 to October 2007, a major project expanded and upgraded the Fairforest plant to a 25 MGD capacity, consolidating all treatment and biosolids handling at one location and thus providing for the eventual elimination of the Lawson Fork plant.  As part of this project, in 2006, discharge into Lawson Fork Creek was eliminated. All wastewater and biosolids are pretreated and diverted to Fairforest for final treatment and disposal.

In 2003, the Marriott at Renaissance Park opened in downtown Spartanburg.  In 2004, construction began to raise the dam at Lake Blalock 10 vertical feet to mean sea level 710.  Also that year, the Commission authorized the purchase of the Landrum water system, including the distribution system, water plants, and intake.  In 2006, the level of Lake Blalock was raised, increasing the storage capacity from 2.6 billion gallons to 5.5 billion gallons. 

In Spartanburg in October 2007, the Chapman Cultural Center opened. 

On January 1, 2008, the city of Spartanburg's sewer system was transferred to the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District.

On February 15, 2010, $30 million worth of infrastructure improvements began, with  improvements to Spartanburg Water’s largest water treatment facilities – the R.B. Simms Water Treatment Plant and the Lake Blalock Water Treatment Plant.  These improvements were designed to increase operational reliability and flexibility, ensure future regulatory compliance, and to provide sufficient treatment capacity to serve the projected needs of the Spartanburg region for the next half century.  In addition to meeting the region’s water needs, the Simms/Blalock projects would meet immediate needs for jobs and investment, with more than a hundred workers employed and nearly 50 new jobs created.

In the fall of 2011, the first classes at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Spartanburg were held. 

On October 22, 2013, the Commissioners of Public Works of the City of Spartanburg declared that the Blalock Water Treatment Facility should be further known and dedicated as the Myles W. Whitlock, Jr. Water Treatment Facility in recognition and gratitude for his outstanding 24 years of service to Spartanburg Water and to the citizens that we serve.  A ceremony was held on April 29, 2014 to celebrate this event and to commemorate it with the placement of a plaque in former Commissioner Whitlock’s honor. 

2014 was a major year for  Spartanburg industrial development. In February, Toray Industries announced plans to invest $1 billion to build a manufacturing plant on 400 acres in Moore.  According to the HJ Weekly, this was “the largest initial economic investment in South Carolina history” and will create 500 jobs.  In March, BMW Group announced a $1 billion plan to add production of the new X7, adding 800 jobs to its Spartanburg County plant by the year 2016.  In April, Bass Pro Shops announced their plans to build a store near BMW.  In September, the Upward Star Center opened its 120,000 square-foot facility on 60 acres at 9768 Warren H. Abernathy Highway. The Northside redevelopment effort continued, resulting in the November ribbon-cutting for Harvest Park on Howard Street, which became the new home in 2015 for the Hub City Farmers’ Market, the Butterfly Foundation, the Monarch Cafe and Fresh Food Store, and HCFM’s Urban Farm.

In November 2014, the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) named the R.B. Simms Water Treatment Plant and the Myles W. Whitlock, Jr. Water Treatment Plant Improvements Projects as the recipients of its “2014 Overall Best Design-Build Project in the Southeast.”  The projects also won two additional awards, including the best projects in both the Industrial/Process Sector and in the Infrastructure Sector.