city of greenville culture
History of Greenville
Indian Trading Post and Mill
The city of Greenville is situated on land formerly
belonging to the Cherokee Indians and briefly used by an Indian trader, Richard
Pearis, as his camp site. On this site Pearis built a house, a trading post, a
smoke house, stables, a dairy, a blacksmith shop, a grist mill, a sawmill and
slave quarters. Pearis also planted crops and an orchard. However, because he
was not a Patriot, all of these possessions he lost during the Revolutionary
Following the defeat of the Cherokee Indians and the British during the
Revolutionary War, South Carolina made available to Revolutionary soldiers for
first occupancy all of the land which composes both the City of Greenville and
the County of Greenville.
In 1797, having purchased the grant of land which included Pearis’ camp site and
which later had been purchased from the State by Revolutionary soldier, Thomas
Brandon, and having obtained several other tracts of adjacent land, totaling
11,023 acres, Lemuel Alston drew a plan for a Village with lots laid off and
containing a court house and a jail. This little village which he had named
Pleasantburg soon became known as “Greeneville” and was soon thereafter was
Lemuel Alston’s dream of development only partly came true. A log jail was
built, a log courthouse was built, lots were laid off but only a few lots sold.
In 1815, Alston sold all of his holdings and his very nice home, called Prospect
Hill (pictured), to Vardry McBee of Lincolnton, North Carolina.
Through McBee’s progressive efforts, which included not only the sale of real
estate, partnership with newcomers in new businesses, bringing trained
tradesmen, such as harness and saddle makers, brick makers, a mill wright,
carriage makers and house builders to the area, the village grew to a town.
In addition, McBee gave land to each denomination of religion on which to build
After becoming a trading center for surrounding counties, in time, the little
Town of Greenville also became a health resort for the low country people who
were escaping the malaria and humidity of the coastal regions. Stagecoaches
conveyed passengers and mail from Charleston and Asheville. Greenville’s first
newspaper, The Republican, began to be published.
From Village to Town
In 1831, the Village of Greenville became the Town of
Greenville and established a City Government with a Council made up of an
Intendant and four Wardens. The Council appointed a Clerk, a High Constable, a
Town Surveyor, a Bell Ringer and a Sexton who would care for the Town Cemetery,
later to be named Springwood Cemetery. The Council strongly advocated the
planting of trees along down town streets. To protect their trees, they voted to
fine those citizens who even tied their horses to the trees while on business in
Of the many log and weather boarded houses built in the town before 1850, only a
few remain and all are listed on the National Register of Historic Places -
Whitehall, also referred to as Governor Middleton’s
House; the Fountain Fox Beattie House, known as the Greenville Woman’s Club; the
Elias Earle Town House and the Josiah Kilgore House (pictured), which is home to
the Greenville Garden Club.
The 1850s were a time of rapid growth in the little town of
Greenville and its
immediate surrounding area. A new Court House was built and believed to have
been designed by the well known Engineer/Architect Robert Mills. Both Furman
University and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary came to town.
railroad, the Greenville and Columbia Railroad, built its terminal in the West
End area. The Greenville Female College was established and grammar schools
built. Greenville had a locally owned carriage and wagon manufacturing plant,
the largest in the south. Through the generosity of a citizen, Alexander McBee,
the City was provided with piped water.
Greenville ’s nearby mountains still provide an abundance of pure water and
shield the City from severe weather, such as tornados and large amounts of
The 1860s and The Civil War
The City Council had the patrols to become better organized and to be under the
direction of Marshals. Men were enlisted into military groups. Women’s groups
organized to knit socks and gloves, to prepare bandages and to care for the sick
Vardry McBee gave to the State of South Carolina a piece of land on which to
build an Armory for the repair and manufacture of rifles, particularly Morse
rifles, for the use of the Confederate Army. Morse, himself, moved to Greenville
to oversee the rifle making.
At the close of the Civil War, Greenville’s own, Benjamin F. Perry, an attorney,
was appointed provisional Governor of South Carolina. Federal troops, commanded
by Major John W. DeForest occupied Greenville for the duration of the
From Town to City - The Textile Influence
In February 1869, Greenville’s Town Charter was amended by the S. C. General
Assembly establishing Greenville, the town, as a City. Again, Greenville began
to grow. An African American church, Springfield Baptist, was built, the
Southern Railroad began operations through Greenville, a large cotton seed oil
mill was built on Augusta Street, a horse drawn street railway began operations
and the first real bridge was built for Main Street to cross the Reedy River.
Almost simultaneously, publication began of a daily paper, Greenville Daily
News, and a large textile mill, Camperdown, was built on the river in downtown
In 1876, Greenville’s first non-protestant church was built - St. Mary’s
Catholic Church. 1882 was a memorable year for a second mill, the Huguenot Mill,
was built within the City, telephone service was inaugurated, home mail delivery
had begun and the City School District was created. By the 1890, a second City
Hall had to be built along with a City Hospital.
In the late 1890s, Greenville hosted a U. S. Army training camp called Camp
Wetherill where soldiers were trained to serve in the Spanish-American
With the turn of the century came electric street cars, Southern Bell telephone
service, Coca-Cola and American Cigar production, the building of the Ottaray
Hotel and a local man, Martin F. Ansel, being elected to serve as Governor of
In the mid teens, with Greenville being known as the “
Textile Center of the South”, an Exposition Hall for the textile industries was
built, but WWII was soon in progress and another army camp was built. This time,
the army camp called Camp Sevier was outside of the City, but had a great impact
on the economy of the City.
New Residential Areas Evolve
With the increase in wealth because of textile manufacture and other industries
coupled with the establishment of a streetcar system, new residential
neighborhoods came into being, such as the Hampton-Pinckney neighborhood
(pictured), the Pettigru Street neighborhood, the Pendleton Street neighborhood,
the James and Earle Streets neighborhood and the Overbrook neighborhood.
The mid-20s brought the
Poinsett Hotel (“Carolina’s Finest”), the Chamber of Commerce building, South
Carolina’s largest furniture store and a theater.
Then, along came textile mill strikes and the Great Depression which affected
Greenville just as they did the rest of the country. Construction came to a halt
for several years and it was not until World War II and the building of
Donaldson Air Force base just south of the City of Greenville that the economy
in Greenville improved.
In the mid 1970s, Heritage Green, a cultural complex made up of The Little
Theatre, Greenville County Library, the Greenville County Museum of Art and the
Greenville Symphony Association, opened in downtown Greenville.
As the suburbs of Greenville showed great increases in both housing and
businesses, the heart of the City suffered a great decline. In the late 1970s, a
Downtown Revitalization Project was launched. The Hyatt Regency and Commons
Garage became an anchor to the effort which led to additional growth and
benefits in the downtown area.
A public/private effort was launched in 1985 creating a performing arts center
which became known as The Peace Center for the Performing Arts. The Peace Center
opened in 1990 providing six acres of new and restored buildings including the
Peace Center, the Gunter Theater, the former Coach Factory, the former textile
plant known as Huguenot Mill, and the former mayonnaise factory known as Wyche
The 1990’s brought attention to the West End District which had become run down
over time. The city of Greenville developed a restoration plan to turn two
cotton warehouses at the corner of Augusta Street and Main Street into a market.
For its efforts, the city of Greenville received the National Trust for Historic
Preservation’s South Carolina Honor Award. The Greenville Memorial Auditorium,
affectionately known as “the brown box,” was torn down in 1997 to make room for
the Bi-Lo Center.
While the arts have always thrived in the community, art literally took to the
streets during the 2000’s and became a vital part in the redevelopment of
downtown Greenville. From the founding fathers located on Court Square and the
students of Sterling High School standing proudly at Washington Street to the
Mice on Main hiding up and down the street, art in public places became
prominent at every corner of downtown.
With the welcome of a new millennium came the reopening of the Westin Poinsett
Hotel which was brought back to life with the elegance it possessed when it
first opened in 1925. Adding to the charm of downtown Greenville was the
redevelopment of Falls Park on the Reedy and the construction of the Liberty
Bridge which was dedicated in 2005. At a time when any other city would be
content with its accomplishments, the City took on a monster challenge of
building a baseball stadium in downtown Greenville modeled after Fenway Park,
home of the Boston Red Sox.
Development not only took place in the commercial areas of Greenville, but also
in the residential areas. The era brought more opportunities for home ownership
and residents accepted more responsibility for their neighborhoods creating
additional residential and historical districts. Federal loans allowed for more
community development and many residents who once lived in the suburbs returned
to Main Street by restoring upper floors of old businesses into residential
At the end of 2000’s Heritage Green underwent a major makeover with the addition
of the Hughes Main Library of the Greenville County Library System, the
Upcountry History Museum, the Museum and Gallery at Heritage Green, and the
Children’s Museum. While the economy of the late 2000’s has brought many cities
to its knees, the city of Greenville has continued to grow and thrive, bringing
citizens and visitors back to the river where it all began many years ago.