Walking the Old Trolley Line

There’s been so much talk lately about master planning, connectivity of communities, trail building, and traffic that I decided to walk from Glendale to Clifton this week along the route of the old trolley.

The old trolley line was Spartanburg’s original “light rail,” and if you’ve traveled much you know it’s a concept that’s coming back in many communities. Our own electric railroad was operated from 1900 until 1936 by the Spartanburg Railway, Gas, and Electric Company. It left East Main Street at Pine Street, followed Pine Street to Country Club Road, and turned east to Glendale. From Glendale the line ran north all the way to Clifton.

I’m interested in this trolley route for several reasons. First, of all, I like anything that has to do with Spartanburg’s history, but I’m also interested in the trolley because Wofford will have its environmental studies program in Glendale next year, and with the price of gas, I’mwondering if there is any way to access more of the area without vans or buses. I’d like to get students safely exploring the surrounding communities-by boat, on foot, or on bike for academic and recreational purposes.

I enlisted two friends, Don Bramblett and John Simmons, and off we went on Monday morning. Don brought bright orange vests for us to wear so we’d look official walking the road. John contributed water, and I supplied the topo map.

There are few signs now of the old road bed, but Don assured us that if we followed the Duke Power poles along the right-of-ways we could pretty much figure where the old trolley ran.

It was cool and the dew was still on the grass when we left the old Glendale Methodist Church (now Glendale Outdoor Leadership School) and headed for Clifton. The two communities are about four miles apart and old line is mostly followed along Clifton-Glendale Road. The tracks were taken up long ago, and the road is quite busy at 8 a.m. I kept thinking of the cars rattling past carrying passengers toward town and back. It must have been quite an event for nearby children when the trolley came by.

The only places we could see remnants of the line were in a few hundred feet of elevated roadbed. Mostly the surviving embankments are back in the woods. But this winter if you drive along Clifton-Glendale road and keep your eyes open, you might see a ghost of the old trolley running through the woods along the way.

A little over half way there we paused and admired two tarnished parallel tracks emerging from under the pavement on a sharp curve just south old Sloan’s Store.

It took us about two and half hours to walk to Clifton, and I must admit we took our time along the way. There were a dozen times we stepped off the road and simply discussed where the trolley line might have passed. Other times we stopped to talk about Spartanburg County’s future or its past.

We all agreed we were sad that the trolley no longer ran to Glendale and on to Clifton, but that there’s little we could do to bring it back.

And what of the walk? It was great to be out in the air with my friends, but it wasn’t very pleasant really. “Utilitarian,” is how John Simmons described the road from Glendale to Clifton. Too many trucks use it as a shortcut. There are no sidewalks, and everyone drives too fast. The number of empty Sudafed boxes tossed out in such a short distance suggests Spartanburg is a community with a serious methamphetamine program.

In order to connect Glendale and Clifton with anything besides four miles of highway unfriendly to pedestrians and bikes, we’d need to change the consciousness of the whole eastside. We’d need a County Council willing and ready to regulate truck traffic. We’d need a traffic commissioner who believes bicycles have a right to be on the roads. We’d need private landowners with an interest in seeing trails pass near their houses.

We’d need more than the dream of connected communities.

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