First established in the 1780s as a courthouse village, Spartanburg may have been named for the Spartan regiment of the South Carolina militia. The city was incorporated in 1831, at the time of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Cowpens, a pivotal fight of the American Revolution that took place only a few miles away. The city’s streets and architectural record reflect the changes of the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Morgan Square, the city’s primary downtown hub, is the original courthouse village. It was founded adjacent to a small spring (now underground) on the western slope of a ridge, which forms the border of the Tyger and Pacolet River watersheds. The square's name derives from Daniel Morgan, the general who commanded the American forces at Cowpens. A statue of Morgan was placed in the square in 1881. The oldest existing buildings on Morgan Square date to the 1880s.
- The Magnolia Street Train Depot is one of the older buildings in Spartanburg and stands as a reminder of Spartanburg’s old nickname “the Hub City,” referring to the many transportation routes that connected Spartanburg with cities throughout the region. It is now the home of the Amtrak station, the Hub City Railroad Museum, and the Hub City Farmers' Market.
- Hampton Heights Historic District is the city's oldest intact downtown neighborhood, located a couple of blocks south of Morgan Square. Architectural styles in this neighborhood range from largeQueen Anne and Neoclassical homes to cozy early 20th-century bungalows.
Cotton mills have abounded in the Spartanburg area since 1816, earning Spartanburg the reputation as the "Lowell of the South." Although there were few mills in the area before the Civil War, technological advances, northern capital, and out-migration from the poor farms that made white labor available, created a wave of postbellum mill development here and in much of the Piedmont South. Additionally, the abundant streams and rivers in the area are just beginning their descent towards the lower-lying Midlands region. In many places, these waterways descend abruptly, providing a source for plentiful waterpower. Cotton mills were built along these rivers to harness this power, and so began the region’s servitude to King Cotton. These mills, their owners and their laborers dominated the politics and economy of the region for nearly a century. Although nearly all abandoned, many mills remain along the riverbanks, the Piedmont equivalent of Gothic ruins.
- Glendale Mill is located off Lawson’s Fork Creek southeast of the city. Although gutted by fire several years ago, a few towers and smokestacks remain, providing a dramatic backdrop to the dam, shoals and waterfalls of the creek below. The former company store now serves as the home of the Wofford College Environmental Studies Center.
- Beaumont Mill, north of the downtown, has recently been renovated to house the NCAA Southern Conference headquarters. The adjacent mill village has been designated as a local historic district.
- Converse Mill is located east of the city along the Pacolet River. It has recently been purchased by a developer. The mill was reconstructed in 1903 after a huge flood washed away the original mill.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, one of the sixteen divisional cantonments for the training of National Guard troops was Camp Wadsworth, which is located in the vicinity of Westgate Mall. Large numbers of New York National Guardsmen trained there in addition to many southern troops. During World War II, Camp Croft south of the city trained Army recruits. This is now a South Carolina state park with the same name. Some portions of the park contain the original quonset huts (1/2 metal tube structures).