This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.


greenville history tour

Recommended Posts

Please post whitehourseview. Would love to read and see the photos. You really know your Greenville history! :thumbsup: Not being from here, it's fascinating to hear more and learn more about GV's history.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


History of Greenville County, SC Part I, 1765 - 1810

A few years ago, I did a history tour of my home area Greenville County for a group of new and long time residents. What really motivated me to do this was the realistation of how little we are connected to the roots of the communities we live. Regardless of what community you live in now, I believe it is vitally important to understand the link between where you presently live and how it came to be that way. Pleasantburg, SC 1765 - 1810

At the end of 1810, Greenville County had about 13,000 residents. How it came to be and why those 13,000 residents lived there was a fairly typical story of the settlement of what was formerly the backcountry, the original "West" of early America. For the previous 500 or so years, local natives, primarily Cherokees used the land of present day Greenville County for hunting. Due to a variety reasons, most importantly overhunting, the herds of buffalo and elk disappeared from the area about 1765. Colonial businessman and land speculator, Richard Pearis set up a grist mill and Colonist/Native trading station on the banks of the Reedy River by its main water fall. This came about after the Seven Year's War, giving the British government free reign over North America to the Mississippi River; yet Colonists were forbidden to settle beyond the Appalachian mountains. T

he Reedy River flows at the base of thes mountains, so it was wise speculation for Pearis to start a trading post at the edge of the settled British Empire.Today, the small mountain that overlooks the city is named in honor of the town's founder, Paris Mountain. Unfortunately for Pearis, he chose the wrong side of the American Revolution, as he sided with the Tory cause in support of the British Empire. The only action during the American Revolution in what became Greenville County was the skirmish at the Great Canebreak in 1775, which was action of entirely loyalist versus patriot militia. Pearis and many other local loyalists were forced to flee the area at the end of the war, with Pearis settling in the Bahamas with his Cherokee wife. After the Revolution, the newly formed South Carolina state government, in need to retire large debts relating to the Revolutionary War, sold large tracts of land in the northern part of the state.

Just as today, real estate investors are concerned with magnamous approaches to the land they are trying to develop, and it was just the same in Greenville County. While just a small trading village along the banks of the Reedy, the town was named "Pleasantburg" to give potential settlers a gentle impression of the region. Most of the early settlers were nearly all Scots-Irish land speculators, farmers and small industrialists from Virginia and Pennslyvania, which meant they had a different culture and view of the world than South Carolinians who lived in the power centers of the state along the coast near Charleston.

The county has always been named Greenville, after the hero of the Southern campaign during the Revolutionary War, Nathaniel Greene of Rhode Island. The name of the town was changed to Greenville Courhouse formally in 1831, though it had been called that by locals for many years prior. In recent years, Greenville has turned an eye towards its roots by preserving the location of its founding at the Falls Park on the Reedy River.

Now instead of a lonely trading post and tavern at the edge of the British Empire, the falls are an urban park surrounded by churches, performing arts centers, and restaurants serving nouveau cuisine. Within the past year, the city has erected a single-cable suspension pedestrian Liberty Bridge over the site of Pearis' trading station, where it now attracts professionals on their lunch hour and families going for a stroll. The picture above is the view from the center of the Liberty Bridge looking towards the falls on the Reedy River with the modern city in the background. Next in this series will be: Vardry McBee founds a City, 1810 - 1850.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

History of Greenville County, SC Part II, Vardry McBee founds a city 1810 - 1850

I of a five part series. See Part I here In 1850, the population of Greenville County was about 20,000. Much had changed over the previous 40 years. The settlement had risen to be one of the few towns of any size in the Upstate of South Carolina. Still, the Upstate was politically insignificant to the power of the Lowcountry. Yet residents who lived this forty year time period were astonished at the level of growth and how the town had changed.

The catalyst for nearly all the organized growth in the community can be linked to one man, the virtual father of Greenville, Vardry McBee, a North Carolina real estate speculator and small industrialist. Essentially, the town was dying in an organized sense. McBee, sensing an opportunity, bought most of what is now the downtown area and then sold it in a controlled for profit and development. The design of the city's streets was basically created by McBee. McBee founded many of the early, small textile mills along the Reedy River, especially in what is not present day Mauldin, SC.

He eventually moved to Greenville to a stone house on a hill over looking the town where the Greenville Water Works building now sits, which is a model a twice the size, of the Virginia House of Burgess in Williamsburg. McBee was a dedicated philanthropist as well as a businessman. Though hardly noticed today, he incorporated into the design of the downtown the central element of a Christian cross. He gave land to four churches of four different denominations to build an outline of a cross into the city. Looking towards the north, one finds Christ Church, Episcopal at the base of the cross, about 5 blocks north, First Presbyterian as the center, about two blocks to the west is the old First Baptist structure and about two blocks to the east of First Presbyterian is the Buncombe Street Methodist Church. These three were all founded at about the same time, and McBee, being a Scots-Irish Presbyterian ensured that land for a Presbyterian church would be at the center. The fourth church was a Roman Catholic congregation about 3 blocks north of First Presbyterian that came several decades later, on land for a church to be designated. The emphasis on the closeness of the land given for these congregations should emphasis that there was a great deal of historical cooperation amongst them at the time.

But as these 40 years rolled on, the Second Great Awakening amongst conservative Protestants erupted, dividing many of the denominational churches in ways they have yet to recover from. Also, at this time, Greenville became a resort center for families and individuals from the South Carolina Low Country. Though families now travel the exact opposite route in the summer now towards the beach, the pre air-conditioned South meant that only those with means could travel north towards the mountains from the relief of the summer's heat. Slavery was never the large concern in Greenville County that it was in the lower parts of the state. Yet, the fear of a slave inserrection nor the need to maintain the Southern master/slave relationship was never far away. On July 4, 1825, near what is now the Allen Temple AME church off of South Main Street, a runaway slave was burned at the stake. The picture above is a recent addition to Greenville's Main Street. It represents Vardry McBee in what was the historic courthouse square of the village.


Vardry McBee statue on Main Street, Greenville, SC

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

History of Greenville County, Part III, Union, Disunion & Reunion, 1850 - 1876

This is the third in a series on my home county of Greenville, SC. In 1876, the population of Greenville was about 37,000. The previous 25 years had seen the hardest times in the history of Greenville County. Of course I'm speaking of the the secession crisis, the following Civil War and the dark days of Federal Reconstruction that followed. The arrival of Furman University from Winnsboro in 1851 and its accompanying Baptist Seminary (later to be Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY) and the Greenville Baptist Women's College in 1855 had infused a calmer, more civilised influence into city life.

The new Furman staked its claim on the rise just west of the Reedy River Falls, with the Baptist Women's College and the Baptist Seminary just a few blocks away in the center of the city. The arrival of a college gave an intellectual climate to the town that had not existed before and the existence of the Baptist Seminary and Women's college shut down the nascent red-light district just to the South of Main St, where Spring St. now is. The town was still growing as a resort center with a rising middle class. Yet, like the rest of the South, the sectional crisis was the gathering storm that overrode all discussions.

Greenville was different than most towns in the region. As previously mentioned, the Scotch-Irish settlers who made up the town had a different worldview than the rest fo the state. Combined with a more industrial focus in the town's mills and the small tenant-farmers who lived in the region, there were just different definitions about the level of crisis with the Federal government and the Northern states than in the low country of the state. Most of Greenville's political and civic leaders before the war were Unionists and differed with the counterparts in the rest of the state. The leader of this group of Unionists was Benjamin Perry, who lived in his Sans Souci estate north of the city.

After the Civil War began, 15 companies of soldiers (over 2000 men) from Greenville County served in the Confederate military. Many Low Country residents fled the Federal occupation and took up residence in Greenville as war refuges. The only military action during the Civil War in Greenville County happened after Lee had surredered his army. A Union calvary regiment came down the old Buncombe Road looking for Confederate President Jefferson Davis, rumored to be in the area (he was not, he was on his way to Abbeville, SC). The Union calvary broke through a few stores in the center of Greenville, but left quickly.

The below picture is of the Poinsett Bridge in northern Greenville County, built by the former US ambassador to Mexico and developer of the popular Christmas plant Poinsettia, Joel Poinsett. It was on this bridge that Union calvary came down towards Greenville from North Carolina. After the war, Greenville was able to rise more quickly than the rest of the state because little had been destroyed in the way of either men or material, and the county's land and small industry were more capable of growing in the midst of the economic ruin after the Civil War. Greenville native, Benjamin Perry, served as South Carolina's interim Governor for several years at the onset of Reconstruction.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

History of Greenville County, SC Part IV, Textile Capital of the World, 1877 - 1945

In 1940, the population of Greenville County was about 136,000. The previous few decades had seen the local community embrace the industrial revolution with a pace to catch up after lagging behind the rest of the nation in economic and social development. The availability of rail lines and being nearly the midpoint between Atlanta and Charlotte sparked a large post-Reconstruction economic boom. The Western part of the city benefitted tremendously from this boom with the establishment of large, assembly line driven textile mills known by names such as Poe, Brandon, Dunean, Woodside, Camperdown and Mills.

On on map, these mills were referred to as a "Textile Crescent". With the collapse of many of the smaller farms in the region, many families and individuals moved to the area to work in the mills. As a community, a larger identity was lost as individuals became identified more with their employer and the surrounding mill village instead of the city as a whole. The mills became self-contained communities with the idea of drawing and keeping families for years as stable employees. Stores, sports teams, schools, and community groups were built around the center textile mill. Sometimes, several generations of families lived in the same neighborhood, working for the same employer, and traveling the same roads.

At the start of this time period, the county had an announced church membership rate of 37%. By the end of this time period, this figure had jumped nearly 30%. Much of the reason why has to do with the textile mills piggybacking on the Protestant work ethic concepts and establishing many new churches on mill land, primarily Methodist and Baptist. One of the city's more famed residents was baseball great Shoeless Joe Jackson, known to many for his involvement in the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal. He grew up playing for the Brandon mill team and returned to the area in later life to run a liquor store, dying in 1951.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, a patriotic fervor swept the community that had not existed before. Camp Sevier was established near what is now Wade Hampton High School to serve as an army training base for the nascent American Expeditionary Force to France. Later, when World War II started, the US Army Air Corps opened Donaldson Air Base, named after a local resident who died in World War I, in the southern part of town. During the 1920's, the downtown area began a rapid expansion, as hotels and department stores like Sears that were previously only found in cities like Atlanta opened for business.

As the modernist/fundamentalist controversy of the early 20th century raged across American and Western Europe, Greenville was not immune. Liberal and conservative groups fought over control of churches and ministries like the YMCA throughout the 20's and 30's. Public services increased, especially at the beginning of the 20th century, as the Greenville Hospital was founded, a group of Fransican Sisters of the Poor started St. Francis Hospital and a tuberculosis santitarium was established north of town. Furman grew in influence over this time period, as noted pschyologist John Watson, Noble prize-winning (for inventing the laser) physcist Charles Townes, and numerous business, political, and Baptist church leaders developed on the campus. Even Albert Einstein would come to lecture occasionaly, while visiting his son who lived in Greenville.

The county resident's eagerly supported the American effort in World War II, sending several thousand to contribute to the military, with many thousands more at home supporting them through efforts in war-related industries. The recent picture is of the old Greenville County courthouse on the left and the recently renovated Poinsett Hotel on the right. Both were built in the 1920's. Neither has changed much from their original appearance.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

History of Greenville County, SC Part V, Towards a New South, 1946 - present

The picture below is of the recently revitalized Falls Park on the Reedy River in downtown, Greenville. It is where this online tour began and of course where the city began over 230 years ago. This now pastoral area, home now to mothers and their strollers, professionals on their lunch hour and young couples out for a walk has witnessed British Imperial trading with Cherokees, the rise of the industrial revolution, the emergence of the city as a part of the modern world in textiles and at the start of this section, as what I remember it as from my youth just 15 years ago: as an industrial sewar and crime-ridden area that no one with any sense ventured to in the evenings. This park's transformation to an internationally recognized urban revitilization center is indicative of the city's transformation over the past 30 years or so.

In the year 2000, the county's popluation was over 360,000, over double what it had been just 50 years earlier. Probably surprising to many people, is that the county percentage of those claiming church membership had also double, to 65%. The influence of the various varieties of the Christian faith on the community cannot be underestimated, from fundamentalist to liberal, from traditional Protestant to a rising tide of Roman Catholics, the city's faith communities are nearly all growing at healthy rates.

Politically, in South Carolina, Greenville's rise as an economic and cultural power gave growth to more prominent politicians. From 1979 - 1995, city residents Richard Riley (a later Clinton cabinet member) and Carroll Campbell served consective terms as Governor. Both altered the state's economic climate towards more diversivication, grew the quality of the state's educationaly systems and streamlined state government. Recently Greenville resident (and my former state legislator) David Wilkins left his post as state house speaker to become United States ambassador to Canada. US Senator Jim Demint, elected this to replace Charleston area resident Earnest Hollings, is a native Greenvillian as well - the city's first Senator in over a hundred years.

In 1946, it would have been unheard of for any local political leader to call himself a Republican, after 80 years, the Civil War and Reconstruction memories had not yet died away. The leftward movement of the Democrat party throughouth the 50's and 60's and the Republican movement towards small business and traditional values have made Greenville a natural center for the GOP. Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign visit and parade down main street made it publicly acceptable for many to claim themselves as Republicans. Today, just about any serious Republican contendor for the White House will make frequent stops in Greenville in the run up to primary season.

Scientifically, a Greenville resident and Furman University graduate, Charles Townes, made one of the more significant discoveries in history with his invention of first the MASER and later the LASER. He won the Nobel Prize for physics for his research and recently won the Templeton Prize for advancement in religion. In higher education, this time period saw greater opportunities open for Greenville's residents and recognition for the area's higher education institutions. Furman University merged with the Greenville Baptist Women's College and left its campus downtown (later to be a strip shopping center and then county offices) for a former farm in the northern part of the county. The newly constructed university, similar in design to colonial Williamsburg, continualy receives recongition as a top-flight academic school and attracts students from across the nation. The university, originally founded by the South Carolina Baptists, left the Baptists and became totally independent in 1990 in a dispute over theological liberalism.

In 1946, Bob Jones University arrived in Greenville and also built a campus on the site of a former farm. The fundamentalist school of over 5000 students has received recognition for his arts and business programs as well as controversy for being one of the last institutions in the state to keep students of different races from dating each other and for forceful condemnations of Roman Catholicism by its now former president. In the 1960's, Greenville area high school graduates were offered vocational and pre-university training at Greenville Technical College, now the state's 3rd largest institution of learning.

Greenville, unlike many Southern areas, did not have as many difficulties in implementing changes in Civil Rights among the various races. One of the first civil rights marches occurred in the late 50's when baseball great Jackie Robinson was denied access to the local airport's facilities. Many local black leaders later marched the airport in a peaceful manner. Later there was an occasion when several young blacks, including a young man by the name of Jesse Jackson were denied access to the local library. Local business leaders, like Charles Daniel and Max Heller took notice and the city's facilities and businesses were steadily and quietly integrated. Including Jackson, the city has been home to several Civil Rights leaders like local doctor William Gibson. The county's schools were integrated in 1964, by Federal court order, leading to the closing of several historically black schools. Recently, the county's leadership was involved in a now resolved problem over the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. by a local government holiday.

At the beginning of this time period, Greenville was locked into a textile manufacturing economy with some service industries. As textiles became more of an imported, cheaper commodity, city leaders with foresight insured the financial success of the area by insuring that the local economy became diversified. The arrival of German auto-maker BMW to the area, along with its host of suppliers has insured that the region will grow for some, economically beyond the rest of the region. The city has become an engineering center, with large sectors of financial services to assist. The recent ground-breaking of the ICAR center, an automotive research park developed by nearby Clemson Unversity, BMW, IBM, Microsoft, and locally headquartered Michelin had now potentially made the region a research hub.

Back to the picture. The Falls Park on the Reedy River is a symbol of where the county has been and a living symbol of where it is now. With a revitilized downtown where individuals are paying a lot to live in, a new, Fenway Park - like replica minor league ballpark set to open next year and many other attractions like the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, the city has become a regional hub with a nod to its traditional Southern heritage and embracing a globalized world.


Thanks for reading, and comments, positive and negative are appreciated!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

What I've read so far is great! :thumbsup: Looking forward to picking up on the rest tomorrow. Thanks for posting this for everyone, whitehourseview.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.