History of Cowpens

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Compiled by the staff of the Kennedy Room of Local and South Carolina History, 2004
Property of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries; duplication is not permitted without consent.

• Established: ca. 1860s
• Location: Northeastern part of county, with town proper in Spartanburg County and part of outlying community in Cherokee County
• Fun fact: Home of the annual Mighty Moo Festival, which honors World War II crew members of the USS Cowpens

Revolutionary War Gen. Daniel Morgan boasted in a January 1781 letter that he had given British opponent Col. Banastre Tarleton “a devil of a whiping” (sic) at an Upstate crossroads known as the cow pens.  The battle at this holding area for cattle being driven to market put the British on the road to surrender at Yorktown.

The settlement of this area was slow until some 80 years later. By the early 1860s, a loose community had begun to form. But it wasn’t until tracks and a depot for the Piedmont Airline Railroad were built in 1869 due south of the battle site that the town truly developed. The depot was named Cowpens in honor of the momentous battle.

The focal point of the new town was a three-level, 30-room hotel built by John Terrell Wilkins to capitalize on the railroad traffic. Trains unloaded passengers four times daily, and the hotel’s parlor and large porch became a popular spot for courting.

The railroad was not the community’s only draw. Prospector John Vinson came to the area seeking gold. He didn’t find it, but stayed on to become the town’s first postmaster. Nearby Love Springs was purported to have healing powers and later was surrounded by marble slabs and used as a spa and a site for social gatherings.

A group of residents organized Cowpens Manufacturing Company in 1889. It started out with 75 employees and in its heyday of the first decade of the 20th century, it had some 200 employees with 400 living in the mill village. The mill ceased textile operations in 1955, though the building was used for other concerns after that. A 1999 fire destroyed the plant.

Today, Cowpens firmly honors the past with its annual Mighty Moo Festival and a memorial erected in 2003 to its military veterans.