Between 1760 and 1770, Richard Pearis, the first European settler in what would become Greenville County, established a trading post and grist mill on the banks of the Reedy River. He married a Cherokee woman and records indicate that the Cherokee tribe thought so highly of him that he was given several tracts of land by the Cherokee Indian tribe. Following the defeat of the Cherokees and the British during the Revolutionary War, Pearis lost all his property and South Carolina made available to Revolutionary soldiers for first occupancy all of the land which composes Greenville County, established in 1786 and named for an early resident, Isaac Green or Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene.
In 1797 Lemuel J. Alston, a prominent resident, offered a site for the courthouse in Greenville County. Alston marked off four hundred acres around the courthouse plat, laying out the village of Pleasantburg. His real estate speculation did not pan out, however, and Alston, disappointed in his real estate endeavor and embarrassed over a political defeat, sold 11,000 acres to Vardry McBee in 1815 and left Greenville.
McBee would come to be regarded as the “Father of Greenville”. He was instrumental in moving Furman University from Edgefield to Greenville in 1851 and in securing Greenville’s first railroad in 1853. McBee encouraged the construction of mills to take advantage of Greenville’s proximity to fast-flowing water, the Reedy River. Soon the town was the home to a number of grist, textile and paper mills and the largest carriage factory east of the Mississippi. By the end of the 19th century and into the next, Greenville industry was expanding up and down the banks of the Reedy River.
By the 1920s Greenville being touted as the “ Textile Center of the South” and was the second wealthiest town in South Carolina. In a building boom the 12-story Poinsett Hotel, billed as “Carolina’s Finest,” and the ten-story Chamber of Commerce Building were both completed in 1925. That same year the state’s largest furniture store and a theater were also built in Greenville.
In recent years Greenville’s urban renewal efforts have been among the state’s most vigorous. Although it still contains many structures and residential neighborhoods of historical and architectural significance, most of the city’s housing and commercial stock in downtown have been replaced. To see what remains and what new wonders line the streets, our walking tour will begin on the banks of the Reedy River where a landscaped park preserves the site of the city’s first settlement and the succession of mills that once stood there...
601 South Main Street at Camperdown Way
The 28-foot Reedy River Falls is the site where Greenville’s first European settler, Richard Pearis, established his trading post in 1768. Later he built grist and saw mills at this same location that was the hub of early industry in Greenville until the 1920s. Three textile mills and a cotton warehouse operated here, all contributing to the pollution of the Reedy River. Beginning in 1967 local citizenry and the City of Greenville began four decades of clean-up and restoration to transform the park into a regional jewel. The $4.5 million Liberty Bridge does more than span the Reedy River -- it serves as the focal point of Falls Park , showcasing man’s creativity alongside nature’s beauty. The bridge is 355-feet long, 12-feet wide, has a horizontal curve radius of 214-feet and 90-foot towers weighing 26 tons each. The unique design, created by architect Miguel Rosales of Boston, shows a distinctive curve and is cantilevered toward the waterfall.
LEAVE THE PARK AND WALK NORTH ON MAIN STREET.
Peace Center For The Performing Arts
Broad Street and Main Street
The $42,000,000 Peace Center opened in 1990, named for the family who donated substantially to its construction. Included in the complex are the 2,111-seat Peace Concert Hall, the Dorothy Gunter Theater and an amphitheater along the Reedy River.
TURN RIGHT ON BROAD STREET. TURN LEFT ON FALLS STREET. TURN LEFT ON COURT STREET.
John Wesley United Methodist Church
101 East Court Street at Spring Street
Built between 1899 and 1900, this two-story brick cruciform structure represents a local version of the Gothic Revival Style. The church was started in 1866 by Reverend J.R. Rosemond, a former slave. Beginning before the Civil War, the “Slave Preacher” started 18 churches in Greenville County and over 40 churches in the South Carolina Upcountry.
American Cigar Factory
25 East Court Street at South Main Street
The American Cigar Factory operated five factories around the South. When this one was constructed in 1902 it was one of the largest brick buildings in Greenville. Situated in the heart of the central business district, it soonemployed 400 girls at the wage of $60.00 per month. By November 1907 the factory was turning out one million cigars a month. This land was the site of the Richard Pearis homestead. The American Cigar Factory purchased the land for $2,000.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
Main Street between East and West Court streets
In the late 1780s Lemuel Alston came to this area and began to buy land. Alston had purchased 11,000 acres and planned for a settlement to be called Pleasantburg. He had a plan for his village, which extended two blocks north and two blocks south of this square. As soon as the courthouse was built (right in the center of this square so that the road went around it the village became known as Greenville Courthouse. You can still see the outline of the four park areas. The statue of Charleston-born statesman-diplomat-naturalist Joel R. Poinsett was sculpted in bronze by Zan Wells. On July 4, 1851, Poinsett stood near this site and made a speech in favor of preserving the Union. He founded the National Institute for the promotion of Science, forerunner of the Smithsonian Institute. He was the First Minister to Mexico from the United States and served as Secretary of War and as Congresssman. While serving as Minister to Mexico in 1825, Poinsett introduced to America a species of the Euphorbia pulcherrima plant later named Poinsettia in his honor.
Old Greenville County Courthouse
130 South Main Street
The Greenville County Courthouse, the fourth building employed in this capacity, is significant as an example of early twentieth century public architecture on a monumental scale in the piedmont South, for the high quality of its design and construction, and for its association with prominent Georgia architect Phillip Thornton Marye. The courthouse is the only existing public Beaux Arts style building in Greenville County. Behind it rises an eight-story tower. The building served as the courthouse for Greenville County until 1950.
Westin Poinsett Hotel
120 South Main Street
The Poinsett Hotel marks an era of Greenville’s building boom and growth in the 1920s. Named after Joel R. Poinsett, the Secretary of War under President Fillmore, the hotel was built on the site of the Mansion House, an 1824 resort hotel. William L. Stoddard, a New York architect and high-rise hotel specialist, designed the classical skyscraper that took $1,500,000 to build. The four-story base is highlighted by tall arched windows that span the second and third stories. A wide cornice separates the base from the unornamented shaft. A broad frieze with terra-cotta festoons and urns between small transom windows is above the capital story windows. A full cornice with dentils and modillion blocks surmounts the frieze. When it opened the hotel, now managed as a Westin guest house, featured a ballroom, a convention hall, a main dining room, private dining rooms, a grill room, a lounge, eight to ten shops and stores, and 210 guest rooms, each with a private bath.
Chamber of Commerce Building
125 South Main Street
The ten-story Chamber of Commerce Building was one of the first skyscrapers to be built in Greenville, constructed in 1925 during a period when Greenville was enjoying a high level of prosperity. Architecturally, it is a fine example of skyscraper design of the early twentieth century under the influence of the Chicago School that emphasized composition in a tripartite Neoclassical design with base, shaft, and capital based on the classical column. The skyscraper has brick sheathing laid in Flemish bond and a first story with smooth ashlar stone quoins. The two-story base has classical detailing: stone sills and architraves, a stone door surround featuring two eagle motifs, and stone keystones over the first floor windows. The roof story features tall arched windows above a stone belt course. A brick and stone frieze with transoms and stone panels is below the broad cornice that caps the building. It stands on the site of the old Record Building, a creation of Robert Mills that served as county courthouse until 1855.
First National Bank
102 South Main Street
The National Bank of Greenville was South Carolina’s first nationally charted bank when it was organized in 1873. In 1917 Fountain Fox Beattie, grandson of founder Hamlin Beattie and president of the bank, commissioned Atlanta architect S.L. Trowbridge to design a new bank building at the corner of Main and McBee streets. That building served the bank until 1938. After surviving the Great Depression, in 1938 Beattie invested over $100,000 for the construction of a new building, also designed by Trowbridge. This new bank building utilized the existing foundation and walls of a nineteenth-century commercial building adjacent to the 1917 building. The Art Deco design showed a two-and-a-half-story structure sheathed in sandstone with a polished black granite door frame. The earlier building was rented to a succession of tenants until swallowed by a 1950s expansion. The First National Bank is Greenville’s only major Art Deco commercial structure.
Stradley and Barr Dry Goods
14 South Main Street
During Reconstruction after the War Between the States, Greenville's’ commercial district clustered in this area of South Main Street. By 1876, downtown Greenville had some 30 dry goods stores in its central business district, plus groceries, tobacco shops, banks, drug stores, bookstores, tailor shops and hotels. In 1882 two store clerks,, George T. Barr and Charles D. Stradley, looked around on the blossoming prosperity and decided to strike out on their own. By 1898 they were successful enough to purchase this land and erect a brick-and-stone retail showcase in the popular Romanesque style of the day. The building featured prominent, elongated windows recessed into the facade and capped with granite flat-arches. The top of the building sported a distinctive stone and masonry parapet with dentil-studded parapet. Beneath the parapet and running the entire length of the front façade are high-style small stone arches and Doric columns. With this handsome new emporium Stradley and Barr was entrenched as a destination for luxury in Greenville. The partnership eventually dissolved and Stradley opened a new store a few blocks north at Coffee Street. In 1919 Barr retired and sold the property, claiming, so the story goes, that he made more money on the sale of his building than he made in 30 years of merchandising. It became Elfird’s Department Store for four decades and, while ducking the wrecking ball, was severely compromised by contemporary alterations. This century it was rescues and rehabilitated in 2005, returning the storefront to its appearance from the 1910s, the earliest that photographs could be found. It stands as one of downtown Greenville’s oldest surviving historic structures and as an excellent and largely intact example of the late nineteenth century city streetscape.
American Legion Post #3 War Museum
North Main Street
The War Museum displays include the history of military bases in Greenville and South Carolina. There are pictures of leaders and local people that were involved with the military conflicts of American history. Displays include actual war artifacts from the following eras: The American Civil War, The Spanish/American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. A featured exhibit of the museum is one honoring Major Rudolf Anderson of Greenville. Major Anderson was shot down in October of 1962 while flying his U-2 plane over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
North Main Street bordered by Academy Street, Church Street and Elford Street
Springwood Cemetery, only one acre in size at the time, was first opened to the public for burial in 1829. The original South Carolina grant on which Springwood Cemetery stands was a grant in 1784 to James Hamilton. Less than one month later, John Timmons received a grant of 473 acres, which included the land on which the present‑day cemetery is located. The overflow of a spring once passed through the cemetery, for which it is believed the cemetery was named and what later became a small family burial ground for her daughter and son‑in‑law, Elizabeth Blackburn Thompson and Waddy Thompson. From these beginnings grew the Springwood Cemetery, known for its beauty, landscape, and rich history. The cemetery is the resting place for many of Greenville’s most prominent citizens. Over the years Springwood has been known by various names including Elford Cemetery, the Old Graveyard and the Old Village Burial Ground. Springwood features a formal, planned design. A series of winding paved roads run throughout the cemetery and dissect it into several sections labeled chronologically from A to T. Sections dating from the mid to late nineteenth century feature circular and semi-circular walks designed by Gottfried L. Norman, a landscape architect inspired by the rural cemetery movement. In subsequent years, additional acreage was added, including a public section for African Americans, dating back to before 1863. it is now the resting place of more than 10,000 Greenville citizens from all walks of life, with approximately 2,600 graves with no headstones. Gravemarker types and materials vary dramatically from natural fieldstones to raised brick tombs to elaborate Victorian monuments to Greek peristyles and sculptures to contemporary marble headstones. The variety and style of monuments reflects the long history of the cemetery as well as the socio-economic diversity of those buried there.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH ACADEMY STREET.
560 North Academy Street
The Kilgore-Lewis House was built in 1838 by Josiah Kilgore on a site near Buncombe Street Methodist Church in downtown Greenville. Local tradition says that the copper-roofed, Palladian-style house was actually a wedding gift for Kilgore’s daughter Mary Keziah who got married in the front parlor of the newly built home. For 130 years, the house would remain in the family. In danger of being torn down in the 1970s the Greenville Council of Garden Clubs raised over $100,000 to move, restore and furnish the house. The house was actually moved to its new brick foundation on April 24, 1974. The move was so successful that not one window was cracked en route. Since that time the Kilgore-Lewis House on North Academy Street has served as the headquarters and showcase for the Council.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
Greenville County Courthouse
305 E. North Street at Church Street
This Revival-style courthouse mimics the curved staircases favored by South Carolina architect Robert Mills and a classical pedimented portico. It was built in 1950 and is the fifth courthouse for Greenville County.
Christ Episcopal Church
10 North Church Street at North Street
Christ Church is Greenville’s oldest organized religious body (1820) as well as the city’s oldest church building (1852-1854). It has traditionally been recognized as an outstanding example of Gothic architecture. Each addition has been in keeping with its style and original plan for a cruciform building. A magnificent stained glass window by Mayer of Germany is a memorial to Ellison Capers, rector of Christ Church (1866-88), bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina (1893-1908), and Confederate brigadier general. In the churchyard surrounding the building are buried former governor of South Carolina Benjamin Franklin Perry, several Greenville mayors, many Confederate war dead, and the first Greenville man lost in World War I. Also interred here are the parents and son of the first Bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, Vardry McBee, the “Father of Greenville,” and many other church and civic leaders. The Reverend John DeWitt McCullough is the credited architect.
TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
C. F. Haynsworth Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse
300 East Washington Street at Church Street
This handsome limestone edifice was a Depression-era project, initially a post office when it was completed in 1937. It replaced a Victorian Romanesque post office on South Main Street that was swapped for this property. A reported crowd of 3,000 was on hand for the dedication ceremony.
First Presbyterian Church
200 West Washington Street
The First Presbyterian Church was established as a congregation on the last Sunday in February of 1848. Sixteen founding members oversaw the completion of the first building in 1851. That edifice was torn down in 1882, and 225 members greeted the completion of their new building in 1883. In 1911 the sanctuary was enlarged, and in 1928 a red brick church building was added and then extended further to the west in 1958.
TURN LEFT ON RICHARDSON STREET.
Imperial Hotel/Greenville Summit
201 West Washington Street at Richardson Street
The Imperial Hotel stands as Greenville’s first skyscraper, illustrating the commercial growth of the city, and as the third example of early high rise architecture in South Carolina. Designed by Greenville architects F.H. and J.G. Cunningham as a seven-story, ninety-room commercial hotel, construction was begun in 1911 by W.M. Jordan of Greenville and completed in 1912. By 1930 the hotel of buff-colored brick veneer over a steel frame was the largest in Greenville with 250 rooms. The building has a flat roof topped by a metal boxed cornice supported by brackets. There are Art Deco influenced decorative moldings applied below each set of brackets. The first floor lobby area sported Terrazzo tile floors, marble stairs and baseboards, brass rail detailing and pine paneling. Today the building survives into its second century as an apartment house.
Downtown Baptist Church
101 West McBee Avenue at River Street
Constructed in 1858, this large Greek revival church was designed by Samuel Sloan, a leading Philadelphia architect who specialized in country villas and churches. Set upon a high raised basement, the building boasts six Ionic columns supporting a pediment and tall central spire. The church was built of brick and stuccoed over. Organized in 1831 with ten members, by 1930 the Baptist congregation was by far the largest church in Greenville.
Centre Stage/Citi-Smith Barney Building
501 River Street
Founded in 1983 by Douglas P. McCoy, Centre Stage was formed with the intent of becoming a professional theater. The theater’s first performance space was inside the Greenville County Museum of Art and its first full production was presented in the St. Mary’s Church gymnatorium. For the next four years, Centre Stage performed in the Greenville School District’s Fine Arts Center. For the next ten years Centre Stage leased a building on the corner of Washington and Academy Streets and produced all of its plays there. In December, 1996 ground was broken for the theater’s current location where it occupies 10,000 square feet of the 30,000-square-foot Citi-Smith Barney Building. Centre Stage took occupancy of this venue on October 1, 1997 and staged its first performance in the space on October 2, 1997.
Historical Industrial Complex/Huguenot Mill
West Broad Street at Reedy River
Greenville County’s textile industry began in 1820; however, mills were not built in the City of Greenville until the 1870s. Huguenot Mill was the second mill in the city and its plant, coal-fired even though it was situated on the banks of the energetic Reedy River, made plaid fabric. The mill office was built in the 1890s and is now part of the Historical Industrial Complex of Greenville, re-developed for a variety of adaptive community uses.
PICK UP ONE OF THE RIVER TRAILS AND TURN LEFT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT DOWNSTREAM IN THE PARK.