Monday, February 9, 2015

GPTS: Ministering in a Historic Southern Mill Town

GPTS: One of the new anchors on old Main Street in Taylors, S.C.

For more than a decade, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary has been a key player in the redevelopment of our home community of Taylors, S.C., and President Joseph Pipa Jr. recently discussed GPTS's role with a group of community backers.

GPTS moved from its humble beginnings in Greenville to the unincorporated suburb of Taylors in 1998, originally into a small former textile mill church building (formerly used by Methodists and Baptists) on Main Street, now occupied by Covenant Community Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Since 2008, the seminary campus has been located a few blocks west in the old Taylors High School building, which was abandoned in 1960 when a new high school was built. The building fell into ruin for several years until GPTS purchased it and undertook a five-year $3.5 million renovation.

Remnants of Chick Springs
The once-thriving textile and resort community of Taylors fell on hard times when Burlington Industries closed the sprawling 1924 Southern Bleachery and textile mill in 1965, along with homes in the mill village. Much of South Carolina's renown textile industry suffered the same fate as competition from Asian countries grew. In the 1970s, the community slowly began to recover economically with the addition of major new commercial enterprises along seven-lane Wade Hampton Blvd. The appearance on Main Street of the new seminary building, a large Baptist church complex, and public library were key developments in the street's revival. Dr. Pipa has long supported a proposed county park at the nearby site of a former mineral spa and hotel/sanitarium known as the Chick Springs, which opened in 1840 but failed during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The resort's spring house and a picnic gazebo are the only remaining parts of the resort on the proposed park property along Main Street (see photo above).

In recent years, a grassroots non-profit organization calling itself Taylors Town Square was formed to promote community relations and advocate for further development, including the establishment of cottage industries, shops, art studios and a farmers market at the old mill and bleachery now owned by a real estate developer (scroll down to see photo below).

Dr. Pipa speaking to the Taylors Town Square group
The organization invited Dr. Pipa to speak on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at which time he recounted his involvement with the Taylors Community Association and the seminary's renovation of the old high school, which he characterized as a former "eyesore, drug haven, and blight on the community." He noted that sizable stalactites had begun to form in the leaky old building, putting to rest the claims of "old earth" advocates that it takes thousands or millions of years for stalactites to form. One stalactite has been framed and preserved in the office of GPTS Librarian Andy Wortman.

Dr. Pipa noted that the seminary's Student Commons has been used for functions by numerous community groups, including the old Taylors High School alumni association, which has expressed delight over the rejuvenation of their old alma mater.

Southern Bleachery & Print Works being quickened with new grassroots enterprises

The fourth Chick Springs Hotel and Resort, 1914. Earlier structures burned.
This building became a military barracks and academy during WWI.

Original Taylors Schoolhouse

Taylors High School in 1952 (original building burned in 1945)

"Eyesore" Taylors High School in ruins, 2004

Greenville Seminary today

Entry foyer — Welcome to GPTS