Spring Water Festival celebrates mineral spring, prospering town

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By David Meade – Can you believe it has been 31 years since the first Spring Water Festival was held in Williamston?

One of the Upstate’s longest running festivals, the yearly event offers an exciting mix of family oriented events and entertainment in the beautiful setting of Mineral Spring Park. The festival celebrates the founding of Williamston around the mineral spring which is located in the park and still flows. The spring offers anyone who wants, a drink of fresh cool spring water that supposedly has medicinal qualities.

But do you know the rest of the story?

According to local author and historian Gene Welborn, in the late 1700s, a man named Samuel Williams moved from the upper part of Union County, South Carolina to Greenville County just across the Saluda River from Big Creek Baptist Church. He married his cousin, Mary Williams.

Samuel became a sizeable landowner in Greenville and Pendleton Districts. They had five children, Richard, Austin, Jane, Samuel Jr., and West Allen.

West Allen Williams was born in 1804. He settled in the White Plains area of Anderson County and was the first postmaster at the White Plains Post Office in 1839.

In the 1840s, he acquired land from his father on Big Creek in the area that is now Williamston and moved to the village.

West Allen’s daughter, Sara Ann, married a young doctor, William Brewster Millwee, from the Hopewell Community in1848. They built one of the first houses in what became the town of Williamston. It is the house long known as the “Dr. W. W. Wilson Place.”

It was in the 1840s that West Allen Williams found the mineral spring.

There are several legends as to the finding of the spring. One is that Williams was following a deer path in looking over his land and became very tired. He stopped to rest in the shade of the trees and was soon asleep. He dreamed of a crystal clear spring whose healing qualities were of benefit to all the sick and ailing who drank from it. He even envisioned hundreds of pale and feeble people improving miraculously from drinking the spring water. When he awakened, he was thirsty and went in search of water. Seeing the ground was damp, he pushed back the leaves and vines until he discovered clear water trickling through the debris.

Other legends of how West Allen Williams discovered the spring can be found in the book A Town Springs Forth, the story of Williamston, published by Welborn.

The 446 page hardback book contains many items of interest, from the founding of the town through the Williamston Centennial in 1952 and is an excellent source on the history of the Williamston area.

If interested in obtaining a copy of the book, Welborn can be reached at (864) 281-9264.

(The following information is from Welborn’s book)

After the town was chartered in December, 1852, several grand hotels were built in Williamston including the Williamston Hotel in the mid 1850s, and the Williamston Springs Hotel, which made Williamston one of the largest resort centers in the South just before the Civil War.

In 1860, after several very prosperous years, the looming war resulted in a disappointing year for the hotel, and the owners were forced to offer it for sale.

Offered by auction, no buyer was found and the next morning the building burned to the ground.

It was never determined what started the fire.

Another hotel was built and was eventually purchased in 1872 by Samuel Lander and became Williamston Female College. After the school was moved to Greenwood in 1904 and became Lander College, the building was reopened as the Park View Hotel until about 1911.

In 1905, the Williamston Hotel was located across from the Presbyterian Church on Mill Street. The building was destroyed by fire in November 1965.

Another hotel, the Williamston Hotel, opened in the late 1860s or early 1870s.

The Hotel Bon Air opened in the late 1800s and by 1900 had changed its name to the Wallace House. In 1910 it changed names back to Bon Air Hotel.

The three small hotels in the town during 1900 were not enough to accommodate the demand for rooms and in September 1900, The Williamston News ran an editorial expressing a need for more hotels in Williamston.

It read: “The fact has been fully demonstrated within the past few weeks that we are sadly in need of more hotels in Williamston. A large number of people from different parts of the state applied here for board and rooms recently, but our hotels and boarding houses have for some time been crowded to their capacity and no more could be taken.

This state of affairs should no longer exist in the face of the fact that Williamston is growing more popular every year and is known far and near as one of the most delightful summer resorts in the Piedmont country, with its fine medicinal springs, the curative properties of which have relieved many cases of suffering after all other remedies had failed. Besides, our climate is just what the people of the low country want. Then let us go to work now with a view to entertaining royally all who may desire to visit us next season.

The casual observer may look around and see that our town is no longer a “broad place in the road,” that it appeared fifteen years ago. But with the addition of the oil mill, ginnery, roller mills, bank, planing mills and big cotton mills now in course of construction, it would seem that we are an enterprising people and mean to keep abreast of this progressive age in which we live.”

Textile mills and other enterprises located in the Williamston and Pelzer area brought jobs and prosperity through the 1980s.

Today the town still attracts people from all over, just as in the early years, who flock to Mineral Spring Park for family reunions and to the annual Spring Water Festival in August.

This year the festival celebrates 31 years. For the third year in a row, it will be a two day event, beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 24 and continuing 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25.

The festival will kick off on Friday with crafts, children’s rides, food and live music by The System and the Out of Towners Band.

On Saturday, the fun will continue with the Spring Water Run, crafts and displays, auto show, fire truck rides, children’s entertainment and gospel music.

The amphitheater stage will feature Tom Fisch, Royal Scotsmen Band, Arvie Bennett, Jr., Austin Irby and Odyssey.

Local blues legend Mac Arnold and his band Plate Full ’O Blues will headline the entertainment on Saturday.

Lots of other entertainment will be offered throughout the day including an all day gospel showcase and children’s entertainment.

The 5K Spring Water Run will feature more than 200 runners on a registered course. Entry fee is $20 in advance or $25 on the day of the race. Registration forms are available in advance at The Journal and online at www.springwaterfestival.com or strictlyrunning.com.

For additional information contact Chris Bradberry at 864-420-3282 or email bradberry9600@msn.com.

Local businesses and non profits are invited to have a display at the festival to promote their goods and services. For more information contact Dianne Lollis at 847-5743.

The festival will again feature one of the upstate’s largest antique and classic auto shows, being sponsored by the Williamston Fire Department. To register contact Steve Ellison at 864-847-4950.

Additional infomation is available online, along with application forms at www.springwaterfestival.com.

The Journal will publish the Spring Water Festival Program Tabloid next week.  The program will be in The Journal and available at the festival.

31st year