The Rev. A.H. Cummings — who came to Spartanburg before the Civil War and served as an administrator at Spartanburg Female College — purchased property north of the college after the war and sold it to emancipated Blacks. This neighborhood came to be known as “Back of the College.” Many African Americans who have played significant roles in the city’s history lived in the area.
The Rev. A.H. Cummings — who came to Spartanburg before the Civil War and served as an administrator at Spartanburg Female College — purchased property north of the college after the war. This neighborhood came to be known as “Back of the College.” Many African Americans who have played significant roles in the city’s history lived in the area. For example, Tobe Hartwell, who came to Wofford in 1859 as Wofford president Albert M. Shipp’s enslaved bondsman, was one of the neighborhood’s earliest residents. He purchased a lot from the Cleveland family and built a house there. He became a cornerstone of the community that stretched from North Church Street past Cummings Street, and some consider even east and south of Wofford to the Silver Hill community off North Dean Street. The neighborhood was one of the first, if not the first, area of the city to be Black-owned. Land ownership was a marker of economic success, so the purchase of land represented another level of freedom and independence. At its pinnacle in the 1940s, the neighborhoods adjacent to the college were home to about 1,600 residents and contained about 400 houses and several important churches and grocery stores. College employees were among those who lived in the neighborhood. One of those was Russell Miller, who was a groundskeeper in the 1940s. His grandson, Dr. Douglas Wood, graduated from Wofford in 1990, and was the college’s 2018 Commencement speaker. Wood said his grandfather was his first teacher of Wofford history.
Wofford began buying properties adjacent to the college after World War II. Those purchases began extending into the neighborhood. Around 1970, Wofford students organized a program called “Happy Saturdays,” during which they would invite local children to campus for tours, games and meals. The invisible wall between the college and the neighborhood was crumbling, but by then, the neighborhood was already in decline. By the 1980s, the neighborhood was sparsely populated. Wofford became more intentional about buying property in the 1990s after the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, founded and owned at the time by Jerry Richardson ’59, agreed to bring their summer training camp to Spartanburg. By then only about 50 houses remained.
Cummings Street Baptist Church, Trinity AME and Walker Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church were all located in the area Back of the College. People in the neighborhood also attended Silver Hill United Methodist, the first African American Methodist Church in Spartanburg, located off North Converse Street, near what is now Barnet Park. These churches were the center of community life when the neighborhood was founded, and they remained places of hope, activism and joy until they relocated or closed their doors.
One of the final homeowners in the Back of the College neighborhood was Hattie Belle Penland, a longtime teacher at Cumming Street School and a mentor to countless children. She grew up in a home close to where the Gibbs Stadium scoreboard is now located and was a tough negotiator when she was ready to sell her property. Penland spent much of her childhood in the home of Professor and Mrs. J.A. Gamewell, where her mother was a cook. That home is now the Hugh R. Black Wellness Center.
In 1998, a group from the neighborhood erected a marker near the entrance to Gibbs Stadium to recognize the neighborhood and the impact of its residents on Spartanburg’s development.