Rainey Amphitheater Gives New Life to Former Clifton Mill
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Rainey Amphitheater Gives New Life to Former Clifton Mill

The Rainey Family

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Breathing new life into historic materials from Spartanburg’s textile mill heritage, the new Rainey Amphitheater at Converse College was dedicated during a celebration held Friday, June 24th.

Building materials for the project came from Clifton Manufacturing Company No. 2 Mill, which was built in 1888 by Converse founder Dexter Edgar Converse and dismantled in 2013. Spartanburg community member Nancy Rainey Crowley led the effort to save building materials from the mill and sought to honor the mill’s history by incorporating them into Spartanburg’s future. She found the perfect opportunity in the Converse amphitheater project. Funded by the Callie and John Rainey Foundation of Anderson, S.C. and completed this spring, the project expanded the College’s original amphitheater to create a performance and event space equipped to meet the needs of both Converse and community groups. The original amphitheater was built in 1933.

“One of the greatest gifts we can give artists is space to create.”

“One of the greatest gifts we can give artists is space to create,” said Dr. Boone Hopkins, dean of the Converse College School of the Arts. “The generous gift of the Rainey Amphitheater will provide generations of Converse performing artists with a beautiful setting to showcase their talents. I can imagine concerts under the stars and Shakespeare at sunset as rich additions to regular cultural happenings on our campus.”

The amphitheater was designed by Spartanburg architect Glen B. Boggs II, who served on the Spartanburg County Historical Association Board with Crowley for many years. “We both have admired and respected the local mills – Nancy from connections to textiles, and me from the architecture of these buildings and communities,” he said.

Rainey Amphitheater
The Rainey Amphitheater, Dedicated June 24, 2016

When the Clifton Mill was dismantled, Crowley led the effort to save its tower. “Textiles were the backbone of this community and I firmly believe that people should not forget the importance of our textile heritage. Reusing symbols from the past gives solidity to the future,” she said. The Rainey Foundation, of which Crowley is a trustee, purchased some of the mill’s bricks and woodwork along with the covering over its front door. That door covering is featured as the centerpiece of the Rainey Amphitheater’s main entrance.

“The fretwork and beams were so typical of the carpentry used when the mill was built,” said Boggs. “I studied the photos of the tower and its beautiful masonry work, and it became very clear that the brickwork and porch designs were very similar to the early structures on the Converse campus. So I used some corbelling, water table, and arch details from the mill that are also evident all over the Converse campus.”

Boggs envisioned the central, taller element of the amphitheater to reflect the mill tower’s original porch and main arched opening, and the curving side walls to both suggest the old mill’s arched windows and to reflect the curve of the amphitheater’s grass riser seating. “The icing on the cake came with the lighting that lights from the floor,” he said.

“Reusing symbols from the past gives solidity to the future.”

The Rainey Foundation funded the project in memory of Stanley Witherell Converse Jr. (1930-1985); and in honor of his son, Stanley Witherell Converse III, and his grandchildren, Clare Rainey, Chloe McCall, Caitlin Reid and Andrew Stringer Converse. Stanley Witherell Converse, Jr. was the great grandnephew of Dexter Edgar Converse and was vice president of Clifton Manufacturing Company.

“Dexter Edgar Converse (1828-1899) was the founder of Clifton Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1880. Having no sons of his own, he became close to Stanley Witherell Converse, the grandson of his brother, Francis Garner Converse. Stanley Converse moved from Vermont to join the company in 1923 and was the fourth president of the mill from 1945 to 1969,” said Dr. Jeffrey Willis, Director of Archives and Special Collections at Converse and Andrew Helmus Professor Emeritus of History.

Clifton Manufacturing Company consisted of three mills. Clifton Mill No. 1 began operations in 1881, and Clifton Mill No. 2 opened in 1889 nearly a mile away on the Pacolet River. The village of Clifton grew up around these mills. In 1895, Clifton Mill No. 3 opened about a mile from the other two. Mill No. 3 was also known as the Converse Mill, because the community that developed around it became known as Converse, S.C. It is the only one of the mill buildings that survives today.

“Today, we have an opportunity to reconnect Upstate South Carolina’s rich textile history to the education of new generations of students by reclaiming rather than disposing of our past.”

The Callie and John Rainey Foundation is named in memory of Converse alumna Caroline (Callie) Stringer Rainey ’37, mother of Nancy Rainey Crowley and of Converse alumna Mary Rainey Belser ’69, former chairman of the Converse College Board of Trustees. The foundation is a longtime supporter of Converse College, and established a music scholarship in honor of Callie Rainey in 1998. “Today, we have an opportunity to reconnect Upstate South Carolina’s rich textile history to the education of new generations of students by reclaiming rather than disposing of our past,” said foundation chairman Robert Rainey during the dedication. “It is our privilege to present this amphitheater to Converse College.”

Project partners for the Rainey Amphitheater include construction by Harper Corporation General Contractors, architecture by Glen B. Boggs II, brickwork including reconditioning of the Clifton Mill bricks by Helms Masonry, site work by Roebuck Nurseries, and electrical and lighting by J. Frank Blakely Company.