Wednesday, June 10, 2015
By Betsy Teter, HubCity Writers Project
There are a few other Hub Cities in America, but certainly none more enthusiastic about the nickname than Spartanburg, where there has been a veritable explosion of local institutions adopting that moniker.
And from where I sit in the offices of the Hub City Writers Project, well, we Spartanburg writers just might have had something to do with that.
All this hub talk in Spartanburg appears to have started way back in the 1880s, when local boosters looked at all the railroad tracks coming through town and made this observation: “A glimpse at the map will show the city of Spartanburg to resemble the hub of a great wheel with spokes running in five directions … Spartanburg is emphatically the gateway to the Western World.”
The Hub City Writers Project, founded in 1995, loved that quote so much we included as an epigraph in our very first published book (Hub City Anthology, obviously). Even today, at our bookstore in the center of town (Hub City Bookshop, what else?), you can purchase a t-shirt that declares us—the bookstore—“emphatically the gateway to the Western World.”
Why let a great slogan like that go to waste?
But back to Hub City.
By the turn of the 20th century, if you were traveling by rail, Spartanburg was on the way to just about everywhere. Rail lines crossing at the Magnolia Street Train Depot would take you—or the cotton fabric coming out of a dozen major Spartanburg County textile plants—in all four cardinal directions. In that era, Spartanburg called itself “the Lowell of the South” in a reference to the textile boomtown in Massachusetts. (And if you were alive in the 1970s, when Lowell was the most down-and-out town in the nation, you probably know why we dumped that nickname.)
In order to get their goods to market, Spartanburg’s industrialists went on a frenzy of track-building: the Spartanburg & Asheville RR, the Atlanta & Charlotte Air Line, the Piedmont & Northern, the Charleston & Western Carolina, the Spartanburg & Union, and the Clinchfield. And in 1925 along came Hayne Shop, a gigantic train car repair facility established by Southern Railroad, bringing hundreds of high-paying jobs to the city.
A light bulb went on in the heads of the men at the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce. Today we’d call it branding: Hey, Spartanburg is the Hub City of the Piedmont!
Thus ensued the first Hub City wave in Spartanburg. In 1926 Hub City Ice Cream opened, followed closely by Hub City Lumber Co., Electric Co., Barbershop and Candy Store. By 1930 there was a newspaper called the Hub City Observer, a diner called Hub City Lunch (which lasted until 1955), and Hub City Garage. In 1938 somebody opened The Hub department store, a Radio Service, and a Feed and Building Supply store.
The 1940s brought Hub City Oil Co., Hub City Courts public housing, Hub City Auto Sales and—my favorite—Hubba Hubba Ice Cream. And then the Hub City craze was over as quickly as it began. A lone Hub City Finance company was established in the 1960s, as Spartanburg moved on to more sparkly nicknames: The Crossroads of the New South, and, yes, Sparkle City.
The Hub City era was over … until a little group of writers gathered in a coffee shop on Morgan Square in the mid-‘90s and decided to resurrect this name. Hub City was a link to our past. But it also was how we would stake our claim to a new Spartanburg—culturally creative, progressive, and a beacon for writers and artists.
It started slowly. The Hub City Writers Project, after all, had no office and was releasing just one book a year at that point (most with Hub City in the title).
But the meme was working itself into the community consciousness. A Hub City Bakery emerged in 2002, followed by Hub City Coffee and Hub City Grille. The Writers Project gave birth to HUB-BUB, an alternative arts venue. A farmers market, a church, a railroad museum all adopted the name. There was Hub City Hog Fest, the Hub City Connector rail trail, Hub City Empty Bowls charity project, and a hot dog shop named Hub Diggidy. Our own Hub City Bookshop opened in 2010. Soon thereafter: Hub City Delivery, Hub City Health Studio.
Now we’ve got the Hub City Animal Project, Burrito Hub, the Hub City Brew Fest, Hub City Bees (a drone photography and videography company, not an apiary), Hub City Speed Shop, and more popping up every day!
So with this crazy flurry of Hub City activity, we writers have something to say to all the other Hub Cities—from Lubbock, TX to Hattiesburg, MS, from Crestview, FL to Albany, OR , from Lafayette, LA and Aberdeen, SD to Marshfield, WI, Oelwein, IA and Elizabethtown, KY. Give it up. You are beaten.
A quick Google search of business names will confirm: Spartanburg is the undisputed Hub City champion. We are the Hub of the Hubs.
Write it down.
Betsy Teter, HubCity Writers Project
Betsy Teter is the executive director of the Hub City Writers Project, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2015.